Anyway, after a delicious Omani lunch (dinner to western standards), my sister-in-law brought out the infamous Bukhoor. It smelled amazing of course and Leah was curious about its history and what its used for yahda yahda yahda...
When my sister-in-law tells her to stand up, Leah looks at me for approval. I smile, knowing exactly what is about to happen. She stands shyly and my sister-in-law lifts up her make-shift abaya and puts the burner under her dress. I watch Leahs face change colors as the burner moves higher up her dress. As the smoke seeps through and while my sister-in-law is trying to tell Leah that she will smell so nice and that her husband will be all over her etc, I can't help but crack up just watching the look on Leah's face. Her cheeks turn all bright red and she is so flushed and embarrassed that I almost think she might cry. I tell my sister-in-law I think thats good enough and Leah sits down besides me and whispers "Oh my God she went under my dress" through a fake smile.
For most people this is no big deal. But for Leah (and when it first happened to me), for some reason, putting something under our dress is... embarrassing? You just don't expect something like that, its strange. Now I am so used to it and welcome it. I laughed even more when Leah later shared with me she was wearing a thong that day and was afraid my sister-in-law would somehow figure that out. Don't worry Leah, your secret is safe with me (ha ha).
As a parting gift I gave Leah enough Bukhoor to keep her non-Omani husband all over her for years to come!
What is Bakhoor?
Bakhoor (Arabic بخور) is the name given to scented woodchips (Oudh the Arabic name for Agarwood/Aloeswood) soaked in fragrant oils and mixed with other natural ingredients (resin, musk, sandalwood , essential oils and others) . These scented chips are burned in charcoal or incense burners to perfume the house and clothing with a rich thick smoke. It is nearly essential to use on special occasions like weddings or during Eid.
Bakhoor in Salalah
In Salalah it is used daily to perfume the house and is said to have natural healing powers. Many Dhofaris make their own bukhoor and keep their secret recipes for family only. Each bukhoor formula has a different cleansing, healing or purifying effect. Although very effective, it is not just a way of masking bad smells, but a way to refresh your heart and mind. Many believe that it can even ward off bad spirits (jinn)!.
During Ramadan in Salalah it is burned in the Mosques in hopes of altering ones mood by bringing peaceful, refreshing and inspiring feelings and to honor the holy month. It is also noted for its memory increasing power and is burned when reciting Qur'an.
It is traditional in Salalah and many Arab countries to pass bukhoor amongst the guests in the Majlis (Arabic مجلس, sitting/living room) this is done as a gesture of hospitality. Men will usually place their kumma or ammama (turban) over the smoke to get the fragrance and women put the smoke under their clothing until the smoke seeps through leaving a wonderful smell.
Heres a typical traditional recipe for homemade Dhofari bukhoor. Pound and mix ingredients, adding perfumes. Leave the blend for at least 10 days in a tightly sealed jar to ferment, then use.
3 cups sandal oil
1 cup musk
1 cup tola snails
1 cup oud oil
How to use Bukhoor
1. You will need to get a hold of a Mabkhara (traditional incense burner), there are a few names for this. You can get an electric one as well, however I find the traditional ceramic ones to be better for burning the bakhoor slowly and more effectively.
2. You will need charcoal which you can get virtually anywhere around here. Place a piece of charcoal on your stove and heat it until the edges burn red, do not leave it for two long. Transfer the burning charcoal into your incense burner (use tongs!!)
3. Then put enough bakhoor to sit on the charcoal and it should start smoking immediately and expel a nice fragrance. If it smells like burnt toast this means your charcoal was too hot and the bakhoor is burning too quickly. You can perfume a room by closing the windows and leaving the Mabkhara there for a few minutes.
4. To perfume your clothing just place the cloth directly over the smoke and allow it to soak up the smoke for about 3 minutes. Scent can certainly have a deep subconscious impact on a person. For me, bukhoor relaxes me and puts me into a tranquil subdued mood. It reminds me of my days in Medina.
My two cents: If you have allergies bukhoor is not for you as it takes up a lot of oxygen in a room. Burning bakhoor unattended is obviously very dangerous and Salalah is known for "unexplainable" fires. Please do not burn bakhoor too much around small children, although many argue its benefits are great, it is afterall smoke inhaled and deposited into your lungs.