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

Storms bring ideal waves for surfing, but also trash

This article appeared in the print version of Lebanon’s Daily Star on February 27, 2018. It can be accessed online here.

by Alex Ray
BEIRUT: When storms lashed Lebanon in January, they delivered an abysmal reminder of its garbage crisis: a coastline carpeted in trash. Being the middle of winter, Lebanon’s famed beaches were mostly deserted after the mess. But one group could still be found diving headfirst into the waste. Continue reading

A taxi driver told me: “A woman’s body is like a piece of meat…”

Alex Ray

Amman, Jordan April 2013.

The taxi pushed through the ceaseless traffic of the capital’s wealthy western suburbs. Gazing out of the open window, I was met by a blast of hot air. It was spring and by Australian standards, certainly shorts and T-shirts weather. My decision to wear knee length shorts to class that day had caught the driver’s eye. Continue reading

Unis need proper links with Arab countries

Through my own attempts to study Arabic in-country in my undergraduate years I became aware of a shocking lack of support for Australian students interested in studying in the Arab world.

While opportunities for students wishing to study abroad in North America, Europe and increasingly East Asia, are vast, not one Australian university offers students the chance to spend a semester or more on the ground in an Arabic speaking country. Continue reading