I had just finished my chocolate ice cream laden with pistachios which had a very chewy texture at the famous Souq Hamidiyah late one night in Damascus, when an old man passing by asked if I was from China. When mentioning that I was from Malaysia, he kindly said, “Welcome to Syria.”
Seconds later he asked if I was hungry. Despite saying I wasn’t, he kept gesturing for me to come with him and have some food as he pointed to the plastic bag he was carrying in his hand. I called out to my dad and said we should see where this goes – we could be up for an interesting experience with a local.
The old man who I later found out was called Zuhri, took us through alleys we hadn’t been to before and I was especially happy because I believe we passed the spice souq section.
I even saw shops selling gold – happy to finally see a part of the souq selling something other than shoes and clothes.
After several minutes following him down winded alleys with no clue where we were, my dad and I grew quite skeptical particularly as we had left the main well-lit roads. However Zuhri’s strong command of English and constant assurance that we would soon be there kept us going.
He made several stops, making small talk with some random people who started talking to us and welcomed us to Syria. One of them was a 17 year old teenager who spoke some English and gave us oranges and had a shisha next to him. I asked if we could shisha and Zuhri said of course, and took it with him as we kept walking.
It was quite a walk with many stops including one in front of a mini market. Another person named Michael went into a house and came out with a big plastic bag with bread and 2 spoons.
Michael asked me to smell one of those little perfume things and asked if I liked it. I said yes and he said “Present for you.” I thanked him and we continued walking.
Zuhri lived in a house with 7 rooms – he occupied one of them. It was a huge mess. There were bottles, paper and just about everything else on the floor. He tried cleaning up before inviting us in.
We sat on his “bed” as he carried a table towards us and started laying the food out. It was rice and some small lady’s fingers in a curry like broth which was very salty. Zuhri said he hadn’t eaten since the day before and looked really hungry.
Michael started the shisha going and my dad had his first try and was almost successful with blowing some rings.
Zuhri gave me 4 necklaces as a parting gift. After tea they walked us back towards the Umayyad Mosque (Great Mosque of Damascus) from which we made our way back to our hotel.
I feel lucky to have been to Syria before the unfortunate war happened. It was a raw city with so much history. Another topic to blog about another day.