I couldn’t find flowers the colour of your smile

my work was recently published in the HARAKA issue of Azeema magazine

my work was recently published in the HARAKA issue of Azeema magazine

I recently wrote a piece for Azeema mag titled “I couldn’t find flowers the colour of your smile”, a title inspired by a letter my father wrote to my mother in the late 1980s. At the time, my mother was living in Damascus and my father was serving in the Jordanian military making letters and postcards the only viable form of communication. I found these letters as well as a set of photographs that my mother kept stashed away in a worn out tie-dye album, and began examining them. These pieces of my parents’ history began to form a a larger picture in my mind of who I am - like pieces of a puzzle I have been trying to piece together for the longest time.

After interviewing my mother and asking her a million and one questions about why she never showed anyone these letters and photographs, I began writing an ode to their relationship. I never realised how much the Occupation had influenced their connection and it dawned on me that, had the Occupation never happened, there was a very high probability that my parents wouldn’t be together today. I worry that this take might romanticise the Occupation - but that is far from my intention. My intention is to showcase the ways in which the Occupation was a source of incredible pain for my parents and their families as well as a mobilising force of love; love that was passed down to me and my sisters. The Occupation taught us resilience, and in this case my parents’ love is a form of resilience.

I always felt a responsibility to be part of a movement to re-write our histories. This piece is my way of re-writing the narrative about the Palestinian experience, through a personal and individual lens. Global forces have made sure that the Palestinian experience was always written for us, and my writing aims to combat that by sharing a more humanising story within a larger story of what it means to be Palestinian today.

To read the whole piece, you can either grab a copy of Azeema’s HARAKA issue or through this link.

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.

the unexpectedly therapeutic ritual of archiving

I’ve been thinking about archiving a lot recently. I’ve been thinking about how important it is to archive and how little regard we have for it as a culture. Some of the world’s greatest museums exist because someone thought of archiving the present in the past. Entire cultures are able to feel pride and shame because archives exist.

I’ve also been thinking about how archives make us feel. They give us access to the past in ways that no other human invention ever will. Archives hold the power of time travel.

I’m always excited when I come across a project based on archival research. The idea that someone pieced together a story based on bits of recorded history is so satisfying to me.

I somehow unknowingly always knew this. That’s why I’ve been doing my own form of archiving for as long as I can remember. I keep scraps of paper from trips, including air tickets, hotel card keys, museum passes, matchboxes, maps, notes, directions, even the smallest bits of recorded memory.

I recently went through my collection. I dug through postcards, art, stickers, photographs, tickets, maps, cards, and all sorts of travel related and non-travel related memorabilia from my life. I found the pieces to so many great stories that I never got the chance to tell. It was so therapeutic for me, to travel back in time and see all that I’ve experienced over the last few years. I smiled to myself, knowing that so far, I’ve had a relatively full life. No matter what twists or turns life throws at me, I am satisfied knowing that when I was able to, I chased my dreams and desires fiercely, and got to collect all these stories on the way.

That’s why, I’ve decided to put together a set of short stories, made up of mainly those scraps and some images. This way, you can go back in time with me, and meet the people and see the things I’ve seen. Below is my first story from my time in New York City in November 2016.

“The Opening”

NEW YORK, NOVEMBER 2016. I’m a really sentimental person so when I travel I usually keep every little scrap and paper I come across on my travels. On this particular trip I was on a layover in New York City before heading to South America. I took the subway from Brooklyn to Manhattan, started the day in Chinatown and made my way to Washington Square park. That’s where I met Rahim, a Moroccan immigrant who almost beat the world chess champion and won the title himself. If you google him you’ll find an article about him on the New York Times. Anyway, Rahim asked me if I had some time to spare and I said yes so we spent almost three hours at the park playing chess. He taught me a strategy called “The Opening”. The Opening is basically a set of rules to follow in chess that make sure you win the game. I used “The Opening” against a few players that day and won. He wrote them down for me on a paper (pictured here) and even though I’ve forgotten how to play I’ve kept it. Rahim used to be a mathematician in Morocco but left that life behind him after moving to New York. Now he’s a full time chess teacher and hopes to break the chess world record again. I’ve kept all the bits of paper from that day with me, and although I wasn’t as skilled at taking photos back then as I am now, I am glad I have these photos to go along with my scraps.

- - -

Also, here are also some photos from my archive that I took around Dubai from 2017 - 2018. I wanted to share them cos they’re so cute to me. I wanted to share these alongside the story cos I couldn’t just share one thing at a time.

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. 



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

daily inspiration: tanya habjouqa 



I think I've found my forever woman crush. Tanya Habjouqa is everything I aspire to be - witty, smart, confident, vibrant, emotional, energetic, spirited and a world-class photographer. She's the winner of the World Press Photo (Photo of the Year) in 2015 and was my recently my mentor at Gulf Photo Plus Photo Week 2018. From 7 - 12 February I was part of a workshop lead by Tanya (workshop of my dreams frankly) that brought together a group of 10 Arab photographers working on long-term documentary projects. I can't even express how I feel about the last 5 days. Being around Tanya for that long was just... rejuvenating. I never felt more motivated to go out there and share the stories I believe matter so much. 

It was an experience I am so humbled to be a part of, mostly because I got to see some of Tanya's most recent work - which often touches on the political tensions of Palestine/Israel as well as the war in Syria - and also because I got to be intellectually stimulated by an Arab woman I fiercely admire. Tanya's work challenges the Occupation and Israeli apartheid in subtle ways making the audience question the short stories in each image. Her work also shares tragic stories of love and loss in the aftermath of the Syrian refugee crisis. My most favourite project of hers is "Tomorrow There Will be Apricots" - a title that insinuates sunshine harbours darkness when translated to Arabic. "Tomorrow There Will be Apricots" is a metaphor for broken dreams and wishes unfulfilled. Tanya's intense passion for the stories of the people photographed is awe inspiring. 

For more of Tanya's work click here or here

daily inspiration: moroccan photographer hicham gadaf

Source: Arab Documentary Photography Program

Source: Arab Documentary Photography Program

After two intense days doing this workshop at Photo Week 2018, I am so full of new ideas and inspiration that I feel almost hung over. I have so many stories and artists I want to share, but I don't want to overwhelm my page  - maybe I'll release some of this inspiration gradually in coming issues of my newsletter. 

Anyway, for today's inspiration, I want to share the work of documentary photographer Hicham Gardaf. Hicham is of Moroccan origin and focuses on topics related to urbanisation and identity specifically in his home country. The image above is my favourite from his collection titled "Intersections" which explores city 'fringes and borders' and their coexistence with contemporary society. I love the mood and the feel of Hicham's work and you can view more of the project here

daily inspiration: photographer abbas habiballa


I stumbled upon Sudanese photographer Abbas Habiballa's work while scouring the internet for more resources about Sudan (I have an article currently under construction and looking for references). I love finding the work of photographers who lived before our digitalized age because it shows the true extent of their talent - no easy digital equipment to make everything look good. It takes true artistry. 

From what I gather Habiballa was born in the 1950s and pursued photography in the 60s and 70s, during the era of Sudan's post-independence, post-modern aesthetics. He took everyday photos around his neighbourhood and hometown. Sometimes you just need plain old raw artistry to shake and move you. 

I love this photojournal of his work. 

update: i'm back from sudan

I got back from Khartoum last week and I am having major withdrawals. I miss the busy-ness of Khartoum, the traffic, the heat, the noises and the crowded streets. I miss the smell of Sudanese incense (which is overpowering in some parts of the city). I miss how lovely everyone is - so kind, graceful and appreciative of a good joke. But most of all I miss how I did not have a care in the world when I was there. Life is so simple in Sudan. 

In any case, photos from my trip are now up. It only took a week. Also, a bunch of Sudan articles and travel writing is coming. I'm trying to make them all happen before the end of this month. I promised myself that this time I would pace myself and not rush - I usually put so much pressure on myself I actually start to lose the plot. 

Anyway, hope y'all enjoy my photos. Much love. 

Darah xx

daily inspiration: arab female photographers

This year has been the year I discovered a number of incredible Arab female photographers. As an aspiring photojournalist and storyteller, this discovery was transformative. For as long as I remember, I always wanted to tell visual stories - but growing up I never knew any Arab women who were involved in visual storytelling. This was because a) most photographers/filmmakers who make it to the mainstream are men, and b) many female photographers that do make it often aren't WoC. 

On some level, I think this discouraged me from ever believing that I could one-day share stories and be taken seriously or heard. But this year, things changed. Thanks to technology, more than ever before, WoC are able to share their work and be heard. And that's something that has encouraged me to fearlessly share stories. I am so proud to see so many incredible Arab women smashing glass ceilings and telling beautiful stories about us

So, for today's daily inspiration I am sharing the work of female photographers/photojournalists from the Arab world that I fiercely admire. Here's to a year of catching dreams and telling stories.

In the photos above are works from Yumna Al-Arashi (Yemen/Egypt), Tasneem Al Sultan (Saudi Arabia) and Tamara Abdul-Hadi (Iraq).