It was nearing 2 AM and my travel mate and I– two women, obviously tourists, alone in the middle of the night on the empty streets of Damascus— were desperate for a hotel room.
We’d been wandering from full hotel to full hotel for half an hour when we saw a small neon hotel sign in a window—far up in what looked like a residential building. We entered the quiet, litter-strewn stairwell. There was graffiti on the walls. We wondered to each other if the building was abandoned.
As we rounded the corner to the next landing, a hand-printed sign that only read “Hotel” with an arrow urged us to continue up the stairs.
“I don’t know about this,” Sarah said.
“What choice do we have?” I asked her. “Look, let’s give it another flight or two and if we don’t see it, we can get out of here.”
She agreed and we continued up.
After another two flights, we heard voices and strains of music. A light shone from above. We pushed on.
We entered the “hotel”– which looked more like an apartment– out of breath, hunched over from the weight of our large backpacks. Three Syrian men sat in the living room, drinking tea and smoking cigarettes, the TV blaring classical Arabic music.
My Arabic speaking companion was too out of breath to speak, so I gave it a try in English. “Is there a room?” I wheezed.
The men looked at each other.
“Sit, sit!” one insisted.
I didn’t want a chair. I wanted a bed. Dawn was just hours away. I wanted to sleep. “No, no, we need a room,” I said.
They looked at each other again, spoke rapidly in Arabic. I glanced at Sarah. She shrugged that she didn’t understand them.
Finally, they turned to us. “Yes, we have a room,” one of the men said. He offered it to us for 10 dollars and suggested we see it.
“That’s OK,” I said. “We’ll take it.”
The small room had a sink, three single beds, and an armoire. We flung our packs down on one bed and didn’t bother with changing or washing, we each got into our own bed.
“This room is sort of dirty,” Sarah said.
I looked around. A pair of reading glasses rested on the edge of the sink, as did a used bar of soap. A button down shirt was draped across the slightly open door of the armoire. Three pairs of slippers—one pair next to each bed.
It hit me. “Sarah,” I said. “They gave us their room.”
OK, so the sheets weren’t clean, and neither was the room, but I was so touched it didn’t matter to me. I slept deeply that night and woke up content and relaxed, ready to see Damascus, hoping to encounter more people as gentle and friendly as the men who gave up their beds.