domingo, 20 de febrero de 2011

Smoking in Beirut

One of the things that always strikes me when I go to Mexico is how much people smoke. Smoking is very much a social exercise, that yes, is very bad for your health, but nevertheless an ever present element in any kind (yes, even family meals) of Mexican social life.

Lebanon is pretty much the same. People smoke everywhere, all the time. Sometimes I wish that there were some bans to smoking indoors and public places-as there surprisingly are in Mexico. My clothes haven't smelled like smoke so bad after going to a bar since I was 16.

But something that we don't have in Mexico that much are arghuilehs. Arghuiles, Narguilehs (or Nargeela in Arabic), Shishas, or Hookahs are these incredible devices, otherwise known as water pipes, that are used pretty much by everybody in Lebanon. You see students and old people, men and women, rich and poor "drinking" arguileh (they don't call it smoking arghuileh, but drinking it) for hours and hours while chatting or playing backgammon.

Arghuilehs were introduced in the 15th century by the Ottomans (however, it's origins are apparently Indian), and it is used traditionally in many places in Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia, and has become trendy recently in other places in the world. I know that in Mexico a friend opened a small bar back in 2002 called "Hookah Lounge" and it is now extremely successful.

In Lebanon, arguilehs are usually made of glass and some are very simple looking, while others extremely elaborate with pompons on the pipe and all. And you can buy little ones, in a box to offer as a gift, or with a "to go" kit, so you can bring your pipe with you, wherever you go. As a matter of fact, I was snowshoeing with some friends last weekend, and on the top of the mountain, two guys were drinking arguileh sitting on plastic chairs!

I think the only problem with arguileh is it's deceivingly healthy smell. I mean, the thing tastes like "grapes" or "green apple". And the smoke that comes out of it smells really nice. And the smoke goes through water... But the reality is that drinking one is the equivalent of smoking one pack of cigarettes... Ouch.


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