Syria Series: A Syrian Welcome--Ahlan wa Sahlan

This journal entry is from our first week in Damascus, September 2003:

This is the barber's buddy; their shops were on opposite sides of the alley. This guy couldn't actually stand up straight but perpetually bowed to all around him, because he ironed all day, every day of the year. He is one of the coolest people I've never known.

Last week, Joey and I met an old barber who owned a tiny shop down the narrow alley near our hostel. Pleased to meet Westerners who could carry on a conversation in Arabic, he invited us into his shop and began chattering the slurred, jovial talk of cheerful old men. 

Although I understood nothing of what he said, I found him nonetheless entertaining with his coffee-darkened teeth, sparkling eyes, and stooped shoulders. As he spoke, the old man casually reached for a bottle of oil on the shelf behind him and began fumbling with its rubber stopper. When his trembling fingers finally managed to pry the stopper free, he wetted it with the bottle’s contents and touched it to the back of Joey’s hand and then to the back of mine. The man smiled briefly but gave no explanation; the scent of perfume spoke its own reason. We had just been anointed. 

Today I read accounts in the Bible where oils and perfumes were offered as gestures of hospitality. The fragrance lingered on my skin that night and for much of the next day, cheering me as it reminded me of the old man’s kindness. The Bible also mentions that the Holy Ghost can also be a kind of anointing, comforting and cheering us when we notice it with us.