03 June 2008

Syrian Hospitality

A couple days ago I went up the mountain to the town of Zanadabi. Looking down the hillside, I could see some neighborhoods with lots of trees (most of the mountain is bare), and it looked so inviting I decided to try to get there. I ended up walking 2 miles down the main road that goes back to Damascus, without seeing a side street that went where I wanted to go. Just as I was deciding it was time to turn around, I came up to a type of garage half-filled with sacks of cement, and a man sitting on a green plastic lawn chair.

He looked up at me, smiled, and immediately got up and offered me his chair. I accepted, and he got another chair and sat down beside me, and we tried to converse, but without much success. He offered me tea, and had to run across the street for water, which he got started boiling on a hotplate, then ran up the street to a little store to buy the tea. All that for a stranger who was just passing by. I sat there for about 1/2 and hour, and we exchanged names and contact information.

Although I am subject to a few wary looks, most of the people I have talked to are very friendly and helpful. One evening I asked a man for directions back to my hotel, and he seemed not just pleased, but honored to be able to point me in the right direction. There is a characteristic gesture, putting the hand over the heart, that they make in these cases. I don't understand it's exact meaning, and when it is proper to use it, but the general message of good will is very evident.

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