Green Culture and The Middle East: Trash Theatre, Eco Cartoonists and Nature Literature

Over at, I have been enjoying a writing stint covering more cultural issues across the Arab world. It’s been really fun and I’ve loved writing about the region’s growing environmentally-conscious cultural scene. I’ve spoken to Lebanon’s Trash Theatre which looks at how people (consciously and unconsciously) deal with garbage and the entire set, props and costumes are upcycled from trash the artists collected. 10453: A Story About Life in 1 km2 of Trash is a (B)IM project and will be touring the coast of Lebanon with IndyACT which is a local environmental organisation.

I’ve also written about Tunisia’s anonymous cartoonist ‘Z’ whose iconic pink flamingoes were inspired by his campaign to protect the bird’s natural habitat from Gulf-style development. That post in particular got some negative comments from people asking me whether I supported his more controversial work on Islam in his home country. I may not agree with everything he draws but I do support his environmental work and I also support his right to draw whatever the hell he wants. It’s a free country after all, isn’t it?

I also covered a short story by Qatari-based Autumn Watts in which she talks about the state of animal rights in Qatar and also the hidden animal cities across Doha. Her story ‘The Cities of Animals’ is a must read. In it she talks about the dark and abandoned places that animals such as birds, cats and horses learn to live and also harsh ‘kingdom’s of asphalt’ where they die. Here’s a snippet of the story and also what she told me inspired her to write it.

City of Birds 

In Qatar, the birds have built their own hidden city. They live in the towers and stairwells of an abandoned palace. Their feathers carpet the ground. They build nests in the sinks of the empty bathrooms. Leave their clean, thin bones in the white sand of the courtyard. They say djinn live there, but this isn’t true. There is no room for djinn in that papery dusk of a thousand sleeping wings. The call to prayer wakes them, sends them winging aloft. I once stood in the wind of their passing. The blink of shadow and light.

Autumn Watts: “The Cities of Animals was inspired by a few things; for one, my Doha urban exploration with Kristin Giordano. The “bird palace” really exists; it was a beautiful, magnificent old derelict that we found our way into, only to discover hidden generations of pigeons living there undisturbed: layers and layers of feathers and nests and eggshells.

“Another thing was the terrible plight for street animals in Doha. I work with a local rescue organization called Cats in Qatar, which is entirely donation and volunteer driven. Street life here is extremely harsh, and there’s a shockingly high rate of abandoned animals, especially Persian cats. People will pay a lot of money to buy these status breeds, who are bred to be docile and human-centered, and then get tired of the cat or move away, and they dump them on the street. The poor things don’t stand a chance. Saluki dogs are another common dump–again, too many to count. And I’ve seen abuse injuries and other horror stories.

“But finally, what made this story crystallize was this line from Qur’an 6:38: “There is not an animal on Earth, nor a bird that flies on its wings, but they are communities like you”. Islam instructs compassion and care for animals, which is really beautiful to me. I think there’s a basic moral failing in what we’ve done, and what we continue to do, to animals and the environment–not just here in Qatar, but everywhere in the world.  As a species, we’ve fallen short in so many ways, and there’s a deep, resigned sort of sadness in that.”

: Qatar bird photo via Kristin Giordano

:: For the full articles and more, you can follow my work at here. 

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