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.

'48 hours of holiness' 

Gemmayzeh, Beirut 

Gemmayzeh, Beirut 

Just a quick public service announcement: my Beirut photo-journal '48 Hours of Holiness' is now live! Check it out here

"Unlike many places around the world, Lebanon’s diversity is synonymous with religion. There are 18 officially recognized religions in Lebanon — the majority of which are either Christian (Maronite, Greek Orthodox, Protestant) or Muslim (Sunni, Shia, Druze). Lebanon also has the largest community of Christians in the Arab world. Religion is a strong marker of identity in Lebanon, and Lebanese pride in the traditions, rituals, and history of their respective faiths is clear throughout the country. Many publications and outlets have made Lebanon’s religious diversity the scapegoat for its political instability. Yet it seems that it is precisely it’s ‘holiness’ that brings peace to many of those passing through.

Below are a series of images captured in the two days prior to Easter Sunday where biblical symbols and rituals are prominent particularly in the outskirts of Beirut. Each image tries to capture the spirit of the capital as well as the stories of those who have come to Lebanon precisely for a type of peace they believe only it can provide." 

Hope you enjoy it. All comments and feedback welcome <3


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

Bliss Street, Beirut.&nbsp;

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

update: photojournalism and travel

Taken in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Taken in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

I'm back from Nicaragua and there's already so much on my plate. But oh what an amazing experience it's been. What I love about going so far from home is how different I am when I am back. I learn so much, see so much, know so much. Although, this time, I'm really different. I am currently working on a photo journal that's slightly different from what I usually write about. Most of the time my work is cheerful and positive - this time the photographs I took, and how I felt, wasn't so cheerful. And I guess in a way, that's just part of the journey - every destination is unique and how you feel about it is unique. 

Hopefully, I'll be done working on the photo journal and this month's issue of follow the halo soon. This month we're talking about diaspora, a topic I feel hits way too close to home. 

Until then. 


update: i'm in nicaragua

Lake Nicaragua

Lake Nicaragua

Travel and writing have always been therapeutic to me. Since I can remember I've travelled (with my adventure-loving parents) and written about it in Winnie-the-Pooh notebooks and teenage journals. Now I am older, an adult (whatever that means), and I chase adventure - often alone. I enjoy the solitude of travel. It gives me time to reflect and reconnect with myself. It gives me the space to figure out what I truly love and what matters to me. 

But this time, this trip, being alone is difficult. I feel agitated not to share this beautiful country with loved ones. Sometimes independence can be stressful and doing it alone can be difficult, even though I've done it many times before. The beginning of this trip was smooth, but for some reason, I can't seem to enjoy the solitude. I feel disconnected from myself in a way I haven't experienced on a trip before. Not to mention that being female, Arab and Muslim poses its own set of difficulties on a trip like this (if you're interested I wrote about it here). 

In any case, I won't be hiding the fact that travel can be difficult. I am heading out to a yoga class now (on the terrace of my hotel overlooking the Pacific ocean) and hopefully, the mindfulness will put my feelings at ease. I look forward to sharing more of this trip, this beautiful culture, and my truth on here. 



anti-travel post: god loves dead gentrifiers

all eyes on you - found in Wynwood, Miami&nbsp;

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


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

update: i'm in sudan


Khartoum is just next level. I never expected to be so *surprised* at life in Sudan, yet here I am re-evaluating everything I know about this country. It's full of mixtures, fusions and beautiful contradictions. Everything is so diverse from the food to the dialects spoken. I think the theme of this trip is that Sudan is "diversely diverse". 

Khartoum is nothing like I expected and more. Unfortunately due to lack of access to the internet as well as not having my laptop charger with me, I won't be able to update my blog regularly like I planned to. Although I do promise that there will be posts once I'm back as well as something published here or there. 

In the meantime you can follow me on Instagram and Twitter to get updates on my time here.

Love, Darah xx

travel: what I am intellectually "packing" for sudan

artwork by Sudanese visual artist Abdallah Abbas 

As I welcome the new year today, I am bursting with excitement. I fly out to Khartoum, Sudan tonight and I cannot be more emotional. It's funny how you can have a longing for a place you've never been  - I think that word is "hiraeth" - and feel frenzied at the idea of meeting it finally. I can't wait to capture Africa's most hospitable capital at last. 

My connection to Sudan began after meeting my best friends Ahmed and Salah at University. They spoke so proudly of Sudan, always excited to go back, often making social commentary about Sudanese society over coffee and cigarettes. Fast forward 5 years, and I've become under the influence. I've soaked up everything I could from friends, the internet, from exhibitions, galleries, Sudanese creatives in the UAE and so on. I'm in awe of its people, its food, its arts, its culture.

Sudan reminds me of my own Palestinian roots in so many ways, and yet is so different. I am particularly intrigued by Sudan's Arabness/Africanness - to what extent is Sudan "Arab" or "African" - a question I continue to ask Sudanese friends and loved ones. I ask not because the answer matters, but because I just love hearing the processes of explaining what is "African" and what is "Arab". The conclusion I've come to is that Sudan is the epitome of cultural fusion, a testament to the influence of Africa on the Arab world and vice versa. 

In any case, I digress. Today's post is the daily inspiration, so I'm sharing what I am "packing" intellectually before my trip to Khartoum (in true anti-travel blogger fashion): 


One of the most influential works of literature in contemporary history is the novel "Season of Migration to the North" by Sudanese novelist and thinker Tayeb Salih. My reading of this book is long overdue, and I can't wait to delve right in.  Check out this fantastic review of the book by The Independent. 


Sudanese people are notorious for loving music and dance. As I prepare myself for my flight, I am listening to Sammany Hajo. Sammany is a young Sudanese producer and musician who's known for sampling traditional Sudanese music with modern sounds. You'll definitely find his music in the background of my insta-stories this week. 



Sudan was once renowned for its arts and culture scene. Unfortunately, due to international sanctions it has become increasingly isolated which has affected the creative community's visibility. Thanks to the internet, however, I've come across some incredible Sudanese artists. I personally admire the work of  Dar Al Naim @daralnaimart, Abdallah Abbas @abdallah_abbas, Alaa Satir @alaasatir, and Rayan Nasir @popkhartoum. They all touch on Sudanese life and culture in a way, and tell stories of home. Their works are below: 

Other things I am packing are my trusty Fujifilm X-T2 and Sony a5000, and a heart full of "hiraeth". Can't wait to share more when I get there. 

I do things "just because"


My mantra this year has been "just because". I think for women especially, we're often expected to justify why we do anything. As a woman you're expected to justify every want, desire, thought, ambition, behavior, action, choice and so on. From the most trivial to the most significant choices, we are constantly expected to provide explanations. Whether its a choice of clothing or the right to have children, we are constantly expected to provide answers, as though our value or self-worth can only be taken seriously if we provide coherent (and often conforming) backstories. And, honestly, I can't be sicker of it.

As this year comes to an end I realise that my most prized accomplishment was doing whatever the hell I wanted to do without answering to anyone. It's interesting because rarely are women asked the justify the things that are deserving of justification. At work meetings, I am often interrupted in the middle of justifying an action plan - but god forbid I forget to justify why I travel solo. 

I find it not only ridiculous but also ostensibly hilarious that men get away with life without justification. Men go all their lives not having to justify where they are going; not having to justify the way they dress or even life choices. A recent example comes to mind: a morning Arab talk show spent an entire hour on air discussing why and how Arab women wear make-up. Why a show would spend an hour dissecting the intentions and justifications for why women wear makeup sounds ridiculous to me. No self-respecting show would ever dedicate an entire hour of airtime discussing why Arab men choose to spend thousands of dollars on gym fees and valuable time getting buffed up. If anything, it seems more insane to me that men can be vain and have no one question it, but when women - many of whom are covered and have no intention of sharing that vanity with anyone - choose to wear make-up, its called into question. In my opinion, it's none of anyone's business what I choose to do and not do with my face, with my body, with my life or with my work. 

This year, solo travel was my solace and my internal revolution. It has been the "just because", the thing I do specifically because I'm expected to justify it. And yet I answered to no one. At first, solo travel was a battle for me. Firstly, it was a battle with myself, fighting the fear of being alone and what would family think. Then it was a battle explaining where I am going and why. It makes me angry just to think that I once cared what others though. But now there's nothing more liberating than flying all the way to the other side of this earth (that's why I love traveling around South America) with my middle finger figuratively blazing. I get no better rush than the rush of getting on a flight and leave people on the ground wondering. Solo travel is, in my opinion, a revolutionary act in and of itself. 

This year I've ditched the justification bullshit in all aspects of my life. I do things for me and me alone. I do things "just because" and because I want to. If there's anything I've accomplished this year its that I've come to peace with justification - and that the only person I need to prove anything to is myself. Everyone else can just second guess. And I don't really care because it has nothing to do with me. 

I really encourage any woman reading this to track back in her life and notice all the moments society expected justifications. If there are any resolutions you should begin within 2018 its to do whatever you want "just because". No matter what you resolve to do in the new year, do it without having to justify it to anyone. Have a happy 2018 from me, and I hope you do all the things "just because".