Prince Harry and Meghan start Aussie tour with baby gifts

Britain's Prince Harry and his wife Meghan walk down the stairs of Sydney’s iconic Opera House to meet people in Sydney on October 16, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 16 October 2018
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Prince Harry and Meghan start Aussie tour with baby gifts

  • The royal couple announced their pregnancy after arriving in Sydney
  • Harry, 34, and Meghan, 37 have stepped to the fore in the last year as the British queen reduced her public appearances

SYDNEY: A beaming Duke and Duchess of Sussex thrilled thousands of fans outside the Sydney Opera House on Tuesday during their first meeting with the general public since the former Meghan Markle’s newly announced pregnancy.
Prince Harry and Meghan spent longer than the 20 minutes allocated in their schedule to speak to and shake hands with as many well-wishers as possible. Meghan, wearing a beige trench coat over a sleeveless cream dress by Australian designer Karen Gee, accepted cards and flowers from an enthusiastic crowd.
The news of the pregnancy was announced after the couple arrived in Sydney on Monday and 15 hours before their first public appearance. The two are on a 16-day tour of Australia, Fiji, Tonga and New Zealand that their Kensington Palace staff said would not be altered despite confirmation that the American former actress is pregnant.
Among those taken by surprise by the announcement were their Sydney hosts, Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove and Lady Lynne Cosgrove. The governor-general, who represents Queen Elizabeth II, Australia’s head of state and Harry’s grandmother, sent staff to hastily buy a toy kangaroo with a joey in its pouch and a tiny pair of Australian sheep skin boots for their pregnant guest.
“Here’s your first gift for the nursery,” the governor-general told the couple during the official welcome at his official residence, Admiralty House.
“Thank you, that’s so sweet,” Meghan said as she received the toy.
The pregnancy has made front-page news across Australia.
The Sydney Morning Herald ran the headline: “A smooth ride to Sydney, but royals reveal bump on the way.” Darwin’s irreverent NT News chose the headline: “Ginger Pregs” — a play on a long-running Australian comic strip about a mischievous red-head boy called “Ginger Meggs.”
Outside the Opera House on Tuesday, Harry lingered longest with war widow Daphne Dunne, 98, whom he hugged as they chatted.
It was the third time that they had met since Harry’s eye caught sight of a Victoria Cross medal on her chest during a Sydney visit in 2015. She explained that her first husband Albert Chowne had been given the highest award in the British honors system after he died in Papua New Guinea in 1945.
This time, Meghan joined Harry in greeting the Dunne, who admires the prince’s work with veterans.
“Oh my goodness, is this Daphne?” Meghan asked.
Dunne later said Meghan told her “she had heard all about me; she’s so beautiful.”
“I wished them well with the baby on the way and said this is what Harry has been waiting for so long,” Dunne added.
Before Megan donned her coat, her tight-fitting dress barely revealed a bump as they were welcomed at the first event of the day at the Sydney Harbor-side mansion where the two are staying.
The main focus of that engagement was to meet Invictus Games representatives from the 18 countries competing in the event that starts Saturday. The sporting event, founded by Harry in 2014, gives sick and injured military personnel and veterans the opportunity to compete in sports such as wheelchair basketball.
Several of the representatives congratulated the couple on their baby news. Meghan replied: “Thank you so much. We are very excited.”
The couple later traveled by boat to Taronga Park Zoo where they opened a research center and met two 10-month old koalas that had been named after them.
They watched an indigenous dance company rehearse inside the Opera House before meeting the public.
The announcement of the pregnancy confirms weeks of speculation from royal watchers about why Meghan was not joining Harry on his Sydney Harbor Bridge climb set for Friday.
Harry, 34, and Meghan, 37 — along with Prince William and his wife, Kate, the duchess of Cambridge — have stepped to the fore in the last year as the 92-year-old queen slightly reduces her public schedule.


The scent of soap making returns to Aleppo

Syrian businessman Ali Shami arranges olive soap bars in a factory on the outskirts of Aleppo. (AFP)
Updated 23 March 2019
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The scent of soap making returns to Aleppo

  • Shami carried out limited renovations — just enough to produce more than half of his pre-war output of around 800 tons a year

ALEPPO: After years of war, the scent of laurel oil once again wafts from a small soap workshop in Aleppo, signaling the revival of a landmark trade in the battered northern city.
Surrounding soap workshops in the Al-Nayrab district still lie in ruins, badly damaged in the four-year battle for the former opposition stronghold. But for Ali Shami, hanging up his apron was not an option.
“I never stopped making soap throughout the war — even if it was just a little,” says the 44-year-old, who fled his home city during the fighting.
“But this workshop is special,” he tells AFP. “It was here that I started more than 30 years ago.”
Shami reopened his soap workshop last month after shutting it down in 2012, when Syria’s second city became a main front in the eight-year-long conflict.
The scars of war are still visible on the building, its walls punctured with holes caused by shelling. Rushes of wind gust through the gaps.
Shami carried out limited renovations — just enough to produce more than half of his pre-war output of around 800 tons a year.
He installed a new metal door and refurbished the main rooms where the soap mixture is heated and then poured out to dry.
He watches as five workers stir a thick mixture of olive and laurel oil in a large vat.
Beside them, another five workers slice cooled and hardened green paste into cubes and stack them in staggered racks.
Shami says he was able to resume operations quickly because Aleppo soap is handmade.
Its production “relies on manual labor, a successful mixture, the passion of Aleppo’s residents, and their love of the profession,” he says.
After closing down in 2012, Shami tried to continue his work in other major Syrian cities. “My existence is tied to the existence” of soap, he says.
He moved to the capital, Damascus, and the regime-held coastal city of Tartous, but Shami says the soap was not as good.
“Aleppo’s climate is very suitable for soap production and the people of Aleppo know the secret of the trade and how to endure the hardship of the many stages of its production,” he says.
Shami, who inherited the soap business from his father and grandfather, boasts about the superior qualities of Aleppo soap, the oldest of its kind in the world.
“Aleppo soap distinguishes itself from other soaps around the world as it is made almost entirely of olive oil,” he says.
“European soap, on the other hand, includes animal fats, while soaps made in Asia are mixed with vegetal oils but not olive oil,” he says.
The Aleppo region is well-known for its olive oil and sweet bay oil, or laurel.
Shami says the Aleppo soap industry was hit hard by the fierce clashes that rocked his home city, before ending in late 2016 when the army took back opposition districts with Russian military support.
While conditions are less dangerous today, soap producers still grapple with shortages of raw material and skilled labor, he says.
“We are struggling with the aftermath of the battles,” he says.
Dozens of soap producers are still waiting to complete renovations before reopening their workshops. Hisham Gebeily is one of them.
His soap-making center in the Old City of Aleppo, named after the family, has survived for generations, dating back to the 18th century.
The three-story stone workshop covers a space of around 9,000 square meters, and is considered among the largest in the city.
But the 50-year-old man was forced to close it in 2012.
The structure still stands, although damaged by the fighting: Parts of it have been charred by shelling and wooden beams supporting the roof are starting to fall apart.
“Before the conflict, the city of Aleppo housed around 100 soap factories,” he says.