What is Shisha?
In recent years, shisha (nargile, peacepipe, hookah, hubbly bubbly) has made a reemergence outside the traditional shisha smoking countries, especially with those not of Middle Eastern descent. In fact, the Shisha is very much "in vogue" in the UAE. With Ramadhan just around the corner, when Shisha tents are set up at the large hotels and in suburban areas to bring some convivial spirit to the month, we thought it time to give you the lowdown on this tradition that dates back hundreds of years.
For those of you not 'au fait' with the shisha, it essentially is a water pipe used for smoking purposes, originating about 500 years ago. The tobacco is heated by coals and the smoke is purified and cooled through the water after which it emerges through the the suction tube, from where it is smoked. Our little friend above and on our home page demonstrates this. The Shisha ranges from the mini (usually bought by tourists who probably won't smoke it again) to the regular metre high contraptions to the two metre monsters which grace some of the cafes.The cost to smoke one in the UAE ranges, in general, from about 35-50 Dirhams (USD10-20) depending on whether you are in a trendy 'to be seen' place or not, though some exclusive joints can charge upward of a thousand Dirhams! Flavours vary from the popular apple (and double apple), mint, strawberry, apricot, rose through to the super cool grape.
If you remember back to your childhood, you may recall Lewis Carroll's most famous work - Alice in Wonderland. Chapter 5 introduces the caterpillar:
"The Caterpillar and Alice looked at each other for some time in silence: at last the Caterpillar took the hookah out of its mouth, and addresed her in a languid, sleepy voice. 'Who are YOU?' said the Caterpillar."
Opinions divide whether the shisha smoking caterpillar was representative of the voice of wisdom, or Carroll's representation of a drug enduced trance. Both are probably correct - the Persians designed the shisha (contested by the Indians, Africans, and even the Americans!) for the purpose of smoking any number of drugs - whilst the British, in Victorian times, associated it with a symbol of non-Christian wisdom.
Many would argue that it's certainly not wise to smoke the shisha. Speculators equate an hour of shisha smoking (the rough time it takes to smoke one) to getting through 50 cigarettes. Realistically though, the filtration process through the water removes much of the tar and nicotine and more often than not, the mu'essel used (tobacco with molasses) and sold in many of the shisha cafes do not necessarily contain much tar or nicotine. Either way, it certainly doesn't add years to your life, but neither do the rigours of modern society!
Shisha is all about the social element. It's not what you put in your pipe, but who you smoke it with. Rarely will you see a solo shisha smoker. In Britain, lifestyle revolves around the pub, in the Netherlands, the 'coffee' shop - and in the Middle East, one of the social hangouts are the shisha cafes. Men get together (and an increasing number of women) to share gossip or conduct unofficial business. Elders will usually indulge in a game of Backgammon or Dominos while they puff into the evening and sip on their Turkish Coffee or Mint Tea. And the younger crowd will end up in the cafes after a night out on the town. Indeed, smoking shisha has become a night out in its own right, as demonstrated more and more in the US, youngsters keen to go out will opt to go to a 'shisha bar' for a smoke in those years before alcohol is legal. And in most places where shisha is smoked, alcohol is a religious taboo, and thus this replacement of enjoyment is particularly apt.
From its seemingly dodgey beginnings, Shisha has become the nucleus of social interactions and eventually a symbolic tradition. Do we condone smoking? No, tobacco is bad for you and you know it. However Shisha should definatley be one of those things on your to-do list, whether visiting or staying in the UAE. And if you do try it, go for grape shisha - it's the flavour favoured by those in the know!
-If you are going to smoke shisha, try and limit it to occasional use. After all, it's a social tradition.
-The longer the pipe, the less carbon monoxide
-Blow occassionally into the pipe to get rid of the smoke building up in the water chamber
-Replace the water if smoking for longer than an hour
-Don't inhale too deeply
-Shisha is not a substitute for cigarettes. Cigarette smokers trying to give up should not shift to Shisha to kick their habit, for risk of inhaling too deeply
-Share your shisha. It gives you a break!
And if anyone asks, tell them you heard it on the Grapeshisha.