Tuesday, August 08, 2006


Sheesha / Shisha, Hookah, Nargile, Water pipe, Hubble Bubble….. whatever you choose to call it, the thing is very popular here- although again it depends on which sector of the community you talk to about it. The cafes are full of men (usually only men) smoking their sheesha as they drink shey (tea) or ahwa (coffee) and certain cafes will be chosen purely by how good their sheesha is. It is seen a something fairly crude for a females to do at all and certainly in public- but is popular with some less well off women and of course the tourists, ex-pats and some younger richer Egyptians looking for ways to rebel. There are lovely, more expensive places to sit for a puff too- e.g. Sequoia in Zamalek and some lovely places in Mohandiseen whose names I can't recall right now…. Oh and the garden of the Nile Hilton is a nice one- with a live oriental band (small) playing each night too.

Some people smoke cigarettes as well as sheesha- some sheesha only (or cigarettes only of course!) And depending on who you speak to, it is either vastly better or vastly worse, to smoke one rather than the other! The true is neither and good for you but I guess the main benefit of sheesha is that it would be hard to drive and smoke, walk down the street and smoke etc so the times when you can actually smoke are limited. It is still addictive though.

Found this though while searching for effects- Thomas Eissenberg, a psychology professor at Virginia Commonwealth University co-authored a hookah study which found that a session of hookah smoking which lasts about 45 minutes, delivers 36 times more tar, 15 times more carbon monoxide and 70% more nicotine than a single cigarette ( although it is important to note that a single cigarette will last no more than 5 minutes , which makes approximatively 9 cigarettes in order to compare to the 45 minutes hooka session ). Someone do the sums to tell me if 9 cigarettes equals 1 sheesha please??

Sheesha does have tobacco in it- they put the tobacco (which is moistened with molasses and often various fruit flavours) in a clay bowl with tinfoil on top of it and the glowing coals are balanced on the top. As you take a puff the smoke filters through the water in the bottom of the glass bowl at the bottom. What goes into your lungs is the smoke from above the water level. So since it has been water filtered the heat is removed from it and some of the tar etc too. You can see how much is filtered by the colour the water turns after a few uses! The whole thing is supposed to be cleaned out regularly and the fashion here in Cairo just now is to use a plastic pipe and mouth piece with is thrown away after each use so it is more hygienic and you are getting a purer taste. Sometimes lemon slices or rose petals are added to the water in the bowl to add flavour too.

I should also add that drugs (other than tobacco!) are not usually smoked on a sheesha (although of course they could be). Egypt has a very highly penalty for drug sale and usage, although I'm sure that the law is probably broken at times, as it is all over the world!

It is an art to tend a sheesha well and in café's people have that as their sole job- checking on the coals- changing them, blowing through the clay bowl to remove excess ash, fixing it if it doesn't work and of course accepting the tips for such service.

A friend told me of one man in Cairo who was so addicted to sheesha that he had a super long pipe made for his and he sat in his living room with it, whilst watching the TV each night and the pipe led out the window and down to the bowab downstairs who tended the coals and changed the tobacco as and when needed, until he received the phone call to stop for the evening! I guess he didn't live on the 20th floor!

The good thing about sheesha is the smell- very sweet and fruity. In one place I go to, you can ask for the sheesha menu and they bring you a tray with tiny little pots of tobacco of about 50 different flavours so you sniff them all and decide from the scent which you prefer! Its still smoking- and bad for you- but it is fairly sociable and helps create the atmosphere. An experience to be tried- but not to get addicted to!

Oh and another quickie- Breathing the air in Cairo is equivalent to smoking 7 cigarettes per day.... horrible thought eh?!!! (if you are interested in knowing more about the pollution in Cairo have a look at this webpage http://www.arabworldbooks.com/articles1.html )

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