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

The Stamp Collection: Amman’s assault on the senses.

The light of Amman, Jordan is strikingly similar to many parts of Australia, perhaps derived from the age of both areas – their vibrancy worn by thousands of years of activity.

The light is dry, bright, harsh and shallow – like the contrast has been turned up on the TV. It refracts off the ubiquitous sandy grey surfaces of every building, leaving few shady refuges. The glare is intensified by the doggedly cloudless sky, making you lose  sense of distance and scale as the cinder-block buildings roll over the endless hills. Continue reading