Pipes of peace: Timeless Shisha ritual helps young Syrians escape the pain of war

Young Syrian men smoke 'nargileh' or waterpipes, which are popular among locals and tourists, at a traditional cafe in Damascus' Old City. AFP
Updated 09 June 2018
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Pipes of peace: Timeless Shisha ritual helps young Syrians escape the pain of war

  • In 2016, the World Health Organization urged Syrian officials to “control tobacco and shisha consumption
  • The hookah-smoking phenomenon has significantly increased among younger age groups in the past few years

DAMASCUS: A seven-year civil war that has left much of their country in ruins means solace can be hard to find for young men and women in Damascus.

But with an estimated 400,000 people killed in the conflict and millions displaced, younger Syrians are turning to a centuries-old ritual to help them forget the sorrows of everyday life: Shisha smoking.
Shisha pipes — water pipes used to smoke flavored tobacco — have a long history in the Middle East, but their popularity among youth in the Syrian capital has grown since the country’s descent into chaos in 2011.
At cafes, restaurants and swimming pools, young men and women can be seen crowding around the pipes amid clouds of smoke, chatting or lost in their own thoughts. Even the elderly have turned to the habit to forget their woes.
Central Damascus, a stronghold of the Syrian President Bashar Assad, has been relatively untouched by the violence elsewhere in the country, but the war still preys on people’s minds.

Legal
Smoking shisha pipes — also known as hookahs or argilehs — is one of the few legal ways for people to alleviate the strain and boredom that comes with living in a city largely cut off from the rest of the country.
Malak, a 22-year-old out with friends at the Bima Enno cafe in the Old City, told Arab News: “There isn’t much to do in Damascus now that we are trapped inside the city. I first tried hookah in 2012 and now I can’t imagine going out without the smell of its smoke.”
In 2016, the World Health Organization urged Syrian officials to “control tobacco and shisha consumption,” particularly among teenagers.
At an event to commemorate World No Tobacco Day the same year, Elizabeth Hoff, the WHO representative to Syria, warned that smoking shisha is 20 times more dangerous than smoking cigarettes. However, her warning appears to have gone unheeded.
Marwa Al-Naal lived in Damascus until last year, when she moved to Boston in the US. She told Arab News she became addicted to shisha smoking as a result of the civil war in Syria.
“When you ask people — myself included — why they smoke argileh or cigarettes so heavily, they say it’s a way to let off steam because they’re bored and the only thing they can do in their leisure time is go to a cafe and smoke.
“Argileh is being consumed in Damascus at unbelievably high rates. I have even seen pregnant women and children as young as 10 smoking.
“It has become a huge market, with tons of new styles and flavors to appeal to the public.”
The water bubble pipes can be found in spas, public baths and parks, as well as in seating areas outside cafes and restaurants.
They are banned only in shopping malls and inside cafes, where they are deemed to be a fire hazard.
Marah Al-Saleh, a Damascus-based psychologist, told Arab News the conflict in Syria has caused people even in the relatively secure confines of the capital to suffer psychologically.
“Hookah smoking is being used as a way to vent, and relieve anxiety and stress, but at the same time people tend to smoke because of peer pressure and the need to follow the latest social trends. The biggest proof of this is the minors we see smoking in public places in an attempt to mimic adults,” she said.
“The hookah-smoking phenomenon has significantly increased among younger age groups in the past few years.”
For Ali Asikria, a 24-year-old law student, smoking shisha is the best way to unwind after a long day at work and school.
“I make my own shisha at home, it is more economical that way,” he said. “Most cafes and restaurants charge 1,000 Syrian pounds ($1.94) to 1,500 Syrian pounds for one hookah and the sessions normally last 30 minutes.
With my salary, I can only afford to smoke hookah outside the house once or twice a month,” he said.


UAE minister: Arab coalition’s full control of Hodeidah only a matter of time

Updated 36 min 6 sec ago
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UAE minister: Arab coalition’s full control of Hodeidah only a matter of time

  • Gargash, speaking to reporters in Dubai, estimated the number of Houthi fighters in Hodeidah at between 2,000 to 3,000
  • The UN envoy for Yemen carried a plan to halt fighting around the key aid port of Hodeidah where Houthi militia have been battling a regional coalition as he arrived Saturday in the militia-held capital Sanaa

DUBAI: The Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran-aligned Houthis for control of Yemen’s main port city of Hodeidah will take a “calculated and gradual” approach to the battle, a senior United Arab Emirates official said on Monday.

The comments came after witnesses said eight villagers had been killed and 15 others wounded when Houthi militia shelled a village in the center of the country called Haglan Maris.

Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said the military alliance led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE was taking into consideration a “fragile humanitarian situation,” avoiding civilian casualties in addition to military calculations.

Gargash, speaking to reporters in Dubai, estimated the number of Houthi fighters in Hodeidah at between 2,000 to 3,000. He declined to reveal the size of coalition forces but said they had “numerical superiority.”

He said that the Arab coalition’s full control of Hodeidah only a matter of time.

Gargash added that the Hodeidah port is a “major artery” for weapons smuggling from Iran to the Houthis.

“The liberation of Hodeidah is a major step in freeing Sanaa,” the UAE minister said, adding that “the roads leading to the port are filled with mines.”

France is said to be helping the Arab coalition in demining the roads.

“We have opened the road from Hodeidah to Sanaa to allow the militias to flee without resistance,” Gargash said.

The UN envoy for Yemen carried a plan to halt fighting around the key aid port of Hodeidah where Houthi militia have been battling a regional coalition as he arrived Saturday in the militia-held capital Sanaa for emergency talks.

Martin Griffiths was expected to propose to militia leaders that they cede control of the Red Sea port to a UN-supervised committee and halt heavy clashes against advancing government troops backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

(With AFP, AP & Reuters)