The Bleak Desert Highway

Journal Entry

Tuesday May 7 2019, Palmyra, Syria

The shelling had been non-stop from sundown to sunrise. Despite global headlines announcing the looming defeat of ISIS, dozens of  soldiers have been killed in swift ISIS raids in the steppes surrounding Palmyra recently.

Luckily we only learnt this after our visit. Continue reading

The hidden lives of Arabs in Cuba

This article was published in the Middle East Eye on August 26, 2019.

By Alex Ray

Amid the brass and percussion that echoes along the Paseo del Prado, Havana’s main drag, another sound can be heard.

That shrill celebratory cry is the zaghrouta, the distinctive ululation Arab women let loose at weddings and other special events. Continue reading

The gardens of Damascus: Can Syrians reconnect with nature?

An edited version of this article appeared online in the Middle East Eye on May 26, 2019.

By Alex Ray

“When people pluck these flowers, it’s like they are plucking my heart,” said an emotional Fareed Notafji as we drank sweet, strong ‘labourer’s tea’ in front of the guard shed at Damascus’s Botanic Gardens.

The sound of the fast-flowing Barada river accentuated the gardens’ dreamy setting beneath the old city walls.  The location made it possible to momentarily forget the ongoing war outside the Syrian capital. Continue reading

A taxi driver told me: “It’s not the traffic, it’s the people.”

by Alex Ray

“Look, it’s not the traffic, it’s the people’s character,” the Amman taxi driver told me, as the beaten-up Nissan crawled from glitzy Abdoun to the core of the capital at Jebel Amman. The remark caught me off guard; he was the second taxi driver to deliver the same line that day.

Such frank self-criticism was comforting and took us straight past “Where are you from? What is your job? Are you married?” and into the melange of factors contributing to Amman’s often-aggravating public culture. Continue reading

Sound of Spring

Spring has sprung late this year in Amman, with the first noticeably warm day being April 7. The markets are full of strawberries, green almonds and local garlic, below is what Amman’s central fruit markets sound like on a morning stroll, as vendors vigorously announce the prices of their fruits and vegetables.

People come and go, veges stay – Amman

Appearances are everything on Amman’s Culture Street

by Alex Ray

Culture Street Shmeisani

A tiny blue and grey Tourist Police kiosk sits at one end of Culture Street, a 350 metre strip of low-rise apartment buildings in Shmeisani, an inner suburb of the Jordanian capital Amman. The area attracts tourists mostly from the wealthy Gulf states: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the U.A.E.

Continue reading