My wife left me.
Took the car. Left the dog. For the weekend.
Hence, in a curious turn, S.A.M was left at home for the first time in a long time. Having been in the Midwest where temps were just above frigid, I returned to a beautiful spring in Amman. Positively gorgeous. 75 degrees and still. The days are getting longer. It’s warm. People are out in the evening strolling. It’s a great time to be in Jordan
I decided to plunge down the rabbit hole and seek out a hookah.
There’s a place I’ve been eyeing for a while. An outdoor place, chosen because I’m not too keen on second hand smoke. Nice garden setting. Terraced overlooking a pedestrian street. They offer food and sweet drinks, hot and cold. And ice cream.
Hookah bars or shisha lounges are big, big, big here. There are very few alcohol bars, but hubbly bubbly joints are everywhere. Everyone needs a place to socialize.
Even the donut shop offers tobacco water pipes. If you think you can imagine a worse flavor combination, I bet you can’t. But, they offer it.
You can have pipes delivered to your house. For a fee, a van full of hookahs will drop a couple off at your house along with all the fixings, and pick it all up the next morning. Uber Smokes.
It’s never called a bong though. Or at least that I’ve seen. But that’s what it is. A three foot ornately curved glass bong with water in the bottom and a three foot plastic hose.
There’s a tray at top to catch the ashes. A funnel-like bowl holds the tobacco, covered with tin foil punched with holes. Red hot coals are placed on top. Everyone gets a clean hose. A single use plastic nightmare.
And then one sits. And puffs in and out. One person per pipe.
A charcoal tender circulates A little canister of hot coal swinging from one hand. Clicking his tongs-clickety, clickety, click. Warning you he’s coming through. Replacing charcoal and cleaning up ash.
The tobacco is unlike cigarettes tobacco. It’s not finely chopped and dried, but rather shredded and soaked in honey or molasses and other flavors. It looks like darkened coleslaw. Apple is the most popular. But there is grape and mint and a variety of combos.
I chose watermelon and mint combo. It is surprisingly refreshing.
On a busy night, the lounge is a forest of pipes topped with hot coals. There are children about. Some running, some toddling. It’s a family affair. And a huge safety risk, but I guess that’s how one knows one’s in Jordan. They must learn from an early age how to avoid the red hot coals at eye level.
|Note: 4 Red hot pipes in view
It’s funny, but shisha is a majority female thing here. Men do it, but shisha lounges are usually majority female. There are some mixed crowds, but usually women sit with women and men with men. The men smoke the majority of cigarettes in Jordan. The women smoke the argeelah. The charcoal tenders give the women the small pieces of coal, so they need changed more frequently. Vintage guys,like me, get large hunks. Haven’t seen my guy much
The health benefits, of course, are nil. Cigarette packs are all plastered with warnings like they are in many countries, but not pipe tobacco. It’s marketed more like dessert. Exotic pictures of fruit and herbs.
A local pulmonologist estimated that one shisha session of a couple of hours is the equivalent of smoking 60 regular cigarettes. The myth is that the water filters the bad toxins, but this is just that. With no filter, one gets all the toxins along with all that flavor.
But, on a warm spring evening with nothing else to do, 6 bucks gets you hours of conversation. Or contemplation. Passing the time like the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland.
“Who…burble, burble…. are…. burble, burble. …. you…. burble,burble, burble?”
CODA: 3 hours after my 3 hour shisha session, my otherwise jet-lagged and fatigued body is absolutely amped from the nicotine equivalent of 3 packs of cigarettes. Every nicotine receptor in this non-smokers body is positively crackling! Formication is about to set in.
There is a tinge of regret. It tastes remarkably like watermelon mint and pizza.