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

Beirut, beyond the Corniche

By Alex Ray

For every civilisation that has arisen on the territory now occupied by Beirut, one asset has been central – its harbour. Nowadays the port district (Al Marfa in Arabic) has an air of neglect. It remains vital to the economic life of modern Beirut but is barely visible to most inhabitants of today’s sprawling, chaotic city.

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