Monday, February 21, 2005


My students are tickled by our improvised noun, ‘hubbly-bubbly’, to describe what’s called in Libya a shisha, and in other Arabic countries a narghila pipe. Users of a certain herb in Britain would call it a bong. I saw a cheap and nasty one on sale in Newcastle during my last break for £60. God only knows what they’d want for the sort they use here, which you can buy new for between 30 and 50 dinars (that’s about GBP 10 – 13).

Here they smoke tobacco in them, flavoured with molasses. Additional flavours are optional: apple’s very popular, and there’s also strawberry and ‘cocktail’. In the summer, I was teaching and living at a place called Imsallata, up in the hills. I was sharing a big house with my mate Padraig. There was very little to do. Monday marks the middle of the week here and we’d celebrate that by walking into the town and going to the café for a pipe.

It’s a funny thing, because I gave up cigarettes a couple of years ago and I’ve become somewhat anti-tobacco since then. But a shisha pipe’s different. Maybe it’s the herbal effect of the tobacco, but it makes one relaxed. If you’re alone, you’ll feel contented; in company, you’re both chatty and receptive. It was really the only time Padraig and I actually had sustained conversation.

Tobacco's addictive, of course, but the shishs seems less so than a ciggy would be... It's not portable, for one thing.