The formalities over, we're asked whether we'd like coffee, and of course we accept. The coffee ceremony then begins, an important ritual in this part of the world. First of all, incense is put into an incense burner. The sweet, heady scent soon fills the room. Then some coffee beans are taken and roasted; the roasting pan is brought towards each of us in turn so we can savour the aroma. The beans are crushed using a pestle and mortar and put into a special coffee pot, a jebena, with water. This is put onto the fire to boil. The coffee is decanted back and forth into another container, and eventually it's ready for us to drink from small handle-less cups called cini. It's rich and black, and tradition dictates we must have three cups. Whilst we drink, there's plenty of time to relax and talk - a key component of this ceremony.
This occasion - and there were other similar ones - was particularly memorable because of the aromas of incense and of coffee, and their association with social time and relaxation. The smell of roasting coffee and of a particular sort of incense evoke the memory of that place and those people. Thinking more widely, I've been reminded of one of my grandfathers whenever I've smelt a particular brand of pipe smoke.
St John recounts how Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, anointed the feet of Jesus with pure nard, a very costly perfume, and then wiped them with her hair. 'The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.' It's one of only two direct references to smell I can think of in the Gospels, the other being Martha's concern a little earlier at Lazarus's grave: 'Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.' No doubt the contrast is deliberate, illustrating death and resurrection through the sense of smell. But it also serves to associate Jesus, and the action of Mary, with the nard.
There's undoubtedly a reference here to the Song of Solomon, a book which is both an erotic love-song and an allegory of love for God. 'While the king was on his couch, my nard gave forth its fragrance' (1.12). Mary is expressing her devotion to Jesus and proclaiming him as king, foreshadowing his triumphal entry into Jerusalem the following day. And who knows - maybe that action of Mary inspired Jesus to wash the feet of his disciples so soon afterwards.
Perhaps St Paul was familiar with this incident. Writing to the church in Corinth, he used the imagery of fragrance and the way in which, unseen, it nevertheless overcomes all else around us in an evocative and memorable way. God in Christ 'through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. For we are the aroma of Christ to God ...' It's both a statement of what is and a challenge of what is to be: that others should be able to sense our faith through our lives.