Hookahs. Who would have thought such controversy – from Slice to North to South – would come from a simple photo of a hookah. But that is not the point of this post. This is simply an informational post [check the Wikipedia post for the history of the hookah]. A post in defense of hookahs. Why, you might ask, would hookahs (or sheesha, nargila, water-pipe or my favorite: hubbly-bubbly) need to defend itself? Is it because it looks like a bong? (There, I said it.) Is it because it is possible that some people may choose to smoke illegal substances from them?
I’m not entirely sure – but a defense of the hookah is in high demand. I had very minimal hookah-exposure until I arrived in Egypt. After waking from a post-jet lag/Tylenol-PM induced sleep, I grabbed my camera and left the flat and took my first walk around a suburb of Cairo. It was around 10am, and I still remember seeing all the old men sitting around a little shop, smoking their hookahs like they were enjoying a mid-morning cup of coffee together. So a few nights later I found myself sitting in a nice restaurant at the Al-Azhar Park smoking the hookah (two apples tobacco) with a friend. And a few days later, I was on the coastal town of Dahab smoking the hookah with a different friend.
Once in Palestine, our group met regularly at The Tent (al-Hema?) Restaurant in Beit Sahour and following our meal, we always got a few hookahs to pass around and share with friends. Also, whenever our Palestinian friends would have one of their infamous spontaneous barbecues, we broke out a few hookahs too.
The hookah is essentially the cultural equivalent to having a cup of coffee after a meal. Sometimes parents let their children do it after a meal if they were good. And it’s widespread: Christians, Muslims and Jews in the Middle East all enjoy a little hookah/shisha/nargila.
So, just because it may look like an elaborate bong here in the states, just because we aren’t all that familiar with this particular way of forming community and relaxing with one another…these are not valid reasons for the hookah to cause such an alarm. We need to be speaking up for the hookah more. We need to be defending the hookah. It is a wonderful Middle Easter/Indian custom that is just now beginning to become more popular in the US.
So, be nice to the hookah…