Smoking: Jordan’s Unofficial National Pastime.

I try to stop and remember to count my blessings that I am a very healthy person. I rarely get sick and the only daily pills I take are vitamins. However, living in Jordan has made me extremely thankful that I am not specifically asthmatic. The prevalence of smoke was the #1 complaint of most of the students during our first week here. Arab culture is highly social and the most popular social activity for young people is the hookah/shisha bar.

In the US, hookah bars do exist but are definitely not a popular Friday night spot. During orientation week of freshman year in college, I went with my roommate and some friends to a hookah bar by campus. I didn’t participate since I wasn’t quite sure what it was and didn’t want anything bad to happen with a group of people I wasn’t very familiar with. But since then, I’ve learned that hookah is inhaling the flavored smoke and water vapor from tobacco.

I’ve heard multiple opinions on the health concerns of hookah ranging from it being harmless and non addicting to it being the equivalent of smoking an entire pack of cigarettes in a sitting. I have smoked hookah while in Jordan on a few occasions (and learned how to make smoke rings!!!) but certainly not as frequently as the majority of the other students.

Old picture of us at a hookah bar.

Old picture of us at a hookah bar.

Often seen as the more “chill” alternative to a night of bars and clubs, hookah bars are also extremely inexpensive. A group of 3 or 4 people can share one hookah for several hours and the bill will only be 5JD or $8. However, if you go to a club, each drink will be 9JD or $15. Another benefit is that the smell of hookah never clings to clothing the way cigarette smoke does. In a country where water and, therefore, laundry facilities are scarce, this is incredible.

While hookah is definitely an evening activity, smoking cigarettes is a past time Jordanians enjoy all day long. No matter how much perfume I spray in the morning, I always arrive to class reeking of cigarettes. It seems that every cab driver in the city must relentlessly chain smoke to cope with the traffic. It isn’t common for our taxi driver to smoke 2-3 cigarettes during our 25 minute cab ride to campus. Luckily, they have the courtesy of rolling down the windows. Unfortunately, it is extremely cold at 8am so we arrive to class smelling of smoke AND shivering.

In addition to taxis, many restaurants and shops have not yet caught on to the smoke-free fad. Our popular hang outs of October Blue and Beanoz both feature Arabs chain smoking only a few feet away from where we are doing our homework. One favorite memory of mine was arriving home only to be plagued by the lingering smell of smoke. After two days had passed and the smell hasn’t ceased, I realized it was coming from my laptop. The plastic and fan mechanism had been exposed to so much smoke it actually retained the odor.

I have definitely gotten used to the prevalence of smoke in my daily life. I hardly notice when someone lights up anymore. I’m sure my lungs are begging for some clean air, but they certainly won’t be receiving it any time soon.

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