anti-travel

hello havana

HAVANA, CUBA, APRIL 2017. Prior to my arrival in Cuba, I didn’t think I would meet anyone from the Arab world. I spoke little Spanish, and although I knew an Arab population existed, I didn’t know much about the Island nation apart from its turbulent political past. To my surprise, the very first person I met in Havana was an Arab. I met Mr Jorge Luis Coury del Castillo, my taxi driver, on a wet Thursday afternoon on the way from the airport to my casa. Jorge is very proud of his Lebanese heritage, and told me of his Arab roots as soon as he knew I had just flew in from the Middle East. If you didn’t catch the Arab hint, it’s in his name - Jorge Luis “Coury” a.k.a Khouri (خوري). According to Jorge, his paternal grandfather was a Lebanese immigrant who left Lebanon 1930s, and had settled in Cuba in hopes of starting a new life. Although Jorge didn’t speaking a word of Arabic, he clearly inherited our warm hospitality, because he gifted me a rare Che Guevara Cuban peso (pictured here) and invited me to stay with him and his family next time I’m in town.

This story is part of a series of vignettes I put together from the archives of past trips. To read my New York piece, check it out here.


update: i'm back from beirut and it gives me hope

Bliss Street, Beirut. 

Bliss Street, Beirut. 

Beirut, Beirut, Beirut... where do I begin?

I just got back from three amazing days in the Lebanese capital. It's been 8 years since my last visit. The last eight years have been disastrous for our region and it saddens me that the turmoil and destruction have kept me away from Lebanon for so long. Political instability and speculation about war have kept many of us from venturing around the region; a kind of ban on mobility and a barrier to exploring our history, culture and who we are as a people. Coming back to Lebanon brought back memories of summers there as a kid and premature partying as a teenager. It also made clear to me how disgusting the war in Syria really is.  My earliest memories of Lebanon have always been connected to a transit in Damascus - we often drove to Beirut from Amman through Syria - a kind of right of passage for any Levantine Arab. Syria connected us all by land, by history, by culture, by identity. 

Today, we fly over Syria to get to Beirut. The idea that I may never feel effortlessly connected to Lebanon in the way that I used to as a child makes me angry. And it makes me realize that the imperial drive to destroy the region is calculated - destroy the mobility, the connection - to drive animosity and difference. But in any case, seeing Lebanon once again made me feel hopeful. Beirut is relentless - it continues to be the home of art, culture and contemporary critique that we (as a people) always admired. 

I spent three nights in Beirut before Easter. On my second night, we danced till late to political songs of freedom and resistance. "I breathe freedom" - the lyrics of a Julia Butros song I still can't get out of my head. I almost cried that night while dancing and watching young Lebanese drink to the lyrics of resistance. It almost felt like we were no longer in 21st Century Middle East - we were transported back in time to the victories of the Civil War. My nostalgia was real. 

In any case, I am preparing a Beirut photojournal that I've yet to decide the title. I can't wait to share it with you all and show the beauty of Beirut that we haven't had the priviledge of seeing in a long time. 

xx 

Darah

update: nicaragua photojournal "hidden in plain view" is out

lake apoyo, nicaragua

lake apoyo, nicaragua

After being back for a few weeks, and working night and day, my first whack at visual storytelling is finally out. I put together a photo journal titled "Hidden in Plain View", a visual piece on the negative effects of tourism on local life in Nicaragua. Here's an excerpt from my work: 

"Many view travel as an experience that is positive for all those involved - the traveler and the local. Travel is linked to ideas of cross-cultural exchange and prosperity for the local community. Through my own travel experiences and my interactions with locals across cultures, I've realized that this is a misconception. Below I share stories from the everyday life of this introverted nation in hopes of shedding light on the often obvious, yet unspoken, effects of tourism on local life." 

In this piece, I take the audience on a journey through Nicaragua telling stories I've heard and witnessed that reflect the ways in which tourism can cause chaos in the lives of communities. This is a topic that is close to my heart since I've been on a mission to always be mindful of communities that I come across. Travel shouldn't be the consumption of communities, but the celebration of them. 

On another note, I am proud of this piece as it's my first time to put photography before writing. I've always had a thing for visual storytelling, and it has been a while since I put visuals before words, and I am grateful to have ventured into this. I am currently doing a photography course in hopes of upping my photojournalism game and hopefully, one day become a visual researcher of sorts. 

Please do check it out, you can view it here

anti-travel post: god loves dead gentrifiers

all eyes on you - found in Wynwood, Miami 

all eyes on you - found in Wynwood, Miami 

I won't lie. When I got to Miami, I was excited. I wanted to make the most of my 20-hour layover before heading to Nicaragua - and naturally, I wanted to see art, drink coffee and have a good burrito. Drink good coffee and have a mouth-watering burrito I did. See art? I don't know if I would call what I saw "art". 

Everyone recommends seeing Wynwood, Miami's gentrified neighbourhood. Now, I've had my fair share of gentrified neighbourhoods but Wynwood is next level. It's gentrification on steroids. Although now that I think about it, what separates Shoreditch from Wynwood is probably the histories of the original communities pre-gentrification - at the end of the day all patterns of gentrification are the same (foreign invasion, "artsy" makeover, increase in property value) - so maybe they're not that different? But I digress. My main point is that I am over gentrification. 

Gentrification is the opposite of authentic storytelling. It's the re-writing of the history of original communities and covering its reality with "art" and "culture", to make more attractive to white, upper-class, educated folks. That's why for Wynwood, and especially after taking Tanya's workshop, I decided to document it differently from how I usually blog about places I visit. I call this the anti-travel blog post. 

little tourist in Wynwood

little tourist in Wynwood

Wynwood was formerly known as Miami's "Little San Juan" (interesting due to its proximity to Little Havana and Little Haiti) for its huge Puerto Rican community that immigrated in the 1950s. Wynwood's current redevelopment began in 2005, and walking around the neighbourhood it's difficult to see remnants of its past as a Puerto Rican neighbourhood. What was obvious, however, was the southernness of Wynwood - very much a deep south neighbourhood. Florida is a southern state after all and isn't foreign to issues of gun control, racism, poverty or police brutality. 

There were some signs of dissatisfaction towards the gentrification of Wynwood. I found a poster that said "God loves dead gentrifiers" right under a "Love, Miami" graffiti. I laughed at how bold it was although overshadowed by a sea of fluorescent street art. In any case, it was interesting to see the differences between gentrification in huge urban centres like New York or London in comparison to a laid-back southern city like Miami.

If you're coming to Miami, I wouldn't necessarily head to Wynwood for the art but maybe to drink mojitos and speak to locals to get a genuine story on the history of the neighbourhood. 

women's second hand clothing boutique in Wynwood

women's second hand clothing boutique in Wynwood

In a cab heading home

In a cab heading home

Sunset in Miami

Sunset in Miami

For now, bye bye Miami. Next, Nicaragua... See you soon xx

Darah