From the now somewhat long series, “A Failed Adventure”
My experience in the market put me on edge, and made me suspicious of all the attention I had received from Syrian men. It became difficult to discriminate between kindly displays of Syrian hospitality and creepy sexual innuendo and misguided expectations of an American girl. Do I accept tea because it is polite? Or refuse it because it is only a vehicle to keep me inside longer?
I thought I got my answer later that evening as I was walking home from a little late-night semolina ice cream topped with crushed pistachios. After a productive afternoon shopping and buying enough to merit the purchase of another suitcase to get it all home, I had purposely left my wallet at home to avoid the temptation to buy anymore. But as I walked home though the handicrafts section of the market, I was caught by a young man speaking unaccented English. “Miss!” he cried out. “Miss, please, come inside. See my jewelry.” He smiled widely and brightly in that way that just exudes kindness and hospitality. I stepped to the side and admired his craftsmanship.
The handicrafts portion of Souq Al-Hamidiyya
“They are beautiful,” I said, “But I don’t have any money with me tonight. I left my purse at home, so I can’t buy anything.”
“That is ok,” he said. “I like to show my art work. Please, I have my own workshop and gallery around the corner, next to Al-Azzam Palace. Will you come see my work?”
I weighed the balance in my head: was this safe? Would it be rude to say no? So I took the plunge and walked with the young shopkeeper a few blocks around the corner to a big, well-lit multi-artist workshop. Inside, the walls were lined with beautifully hand embroidered scarves and tapestries, woven blankets, and intricate gold and silver jewelry. The young shopkeeper/artist, whose name I had learned was ‘Omr, offered me a cup of tea and a seat on a red velvet upholstered bench. After showing me much of his jewelry and giving me a brief tour of the other artists’ work, he asked about me and my trip.
After hearing my story, ‘Omr demonstrated the famous Syrian hospitality in full force. “Please, why don’t you come out with my friends and me tomorrow night, and we will teach you to play backgammon?” he offered, and I accepted graciously. “Come by my shop tomorrow, at around 2:30, and we will choose a time and go out and have fun.” I agreed, and went home to bed having made a new friend.