Prince Harry raises Invictus Games flag over Sydney Harbor

Britain’s Prince Harry,left, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison, second left, and Invictus Games representatives climb the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Sydney on Friday, October 19. (AFP)
Updated 19 October 2018
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Prince Harry raises Invictus Games flag over Sydney Harbor

  • The sporting event, founded by Prince Harry in 2014, starts on Saturday
  • Prince Harry and his wife, American former actress Meghan Markle, will attend the opening and closing games ceremonies.

SYDNEY: Prince Harry scaled the Sydney Harbor Bridge on Friday to raise a flag marking the arrival of the Invictus Games, his brainchild and the focus of his current royal tour of Australia and the South Pacific.
The sporting event, founded by Harry in 2014, starts on Saturday. It gives sick and injured military personnel and veterans the opportunity to compete in sports such as wheelchair basketball and to find inspiration to recover.
The fact that the Duchess of Sussex never planned to climb the world’s tallest steel arch bridge with her husband had fueled speculation that she is pregnant. The speculation was confirmed on Monday when Harry and the former Meghan Markle announced that their first child is due in the northern spring.
Harry, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, four members of the Australian team and the widow of an Australian veteran climbed more than 1,000 steps up the back of an arch to raise the Invictus Games Sydney 2018 flag.
“The Sydney Harbor Bridge is an Australian icon and I can think of no better place to raise the ... flag,” Morrison said in a statement.
During the descent, Harry hugged fellow climber Gwen Cherne, a games ambassador whose husband Peter Cafe, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, took his own life in February.
“We were talking about mental health and really working on changing the way that our global community looks at mental health and deals with it,” Cherne said later.
The flag will fly 134 meters (440 feet) above Sydney Harbor until the games close on Oct. 27.
Harry and his American former actress wife will attend the opening and closing games ceremonies. Around 500 athletes from 18 nations will compete in venues around Sydney.
The couple earlier Friday walked barefoot on Bondi Beach to meet a group of surfers focused on mental wellbeing.
The group, OneWave, meet weekly in an “anti-bad vibe circle” on the sand.
While the group dressed in loud and outrageous fluorescent outfits, Harry and Meghan were more subdued, but their message to the group was clear.
“They’re super passionate about mental health. They are showing that mental health does not discriminate,” OneWave co-founder Grant Trebilco said.
Charlotte Connell, a OneWave member, said Harry spoke of his own experiences seeking counselling more than 20 years after his mother, Princess Diana, died in a car crash in a Paris tunnel in 1997 when he was aged 12.
“Harry said it took him not six months, but 18 months to find the right person to speak to. ‘You’re not going to find the right person to speak to straight away,’” Connell said.
Both Harry and Meghan used exercise as a way of keeping well, Connell said.
“Even in her jetlagged state, she got up in the morning and did yoga at 4.30am,” Connell said.
“She said it’s so good for healing her mind,” Connell added.
After Bondi, the couple made an unannounced visit to Macarthur Girls High School in Parramatta in central Sydney.
The shrieking students gave the couple a rock star welcome to a school assembly.
“When they walked in, I felt like my heart stopped. Their presence just made everyone shocked,” 15-year-old student Rhiannon said.
The couple finished their day’s events with formal meetings with Morrison and opposition leader Bill Shorten.
Harry and Meghan will also visit Fiji, Tonga and New Zealand during their 16-day tour.


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.