January 19, 2010
Anyone who visits Salalah is bound to drive along Haffa beach in the old souk area, or what we locals call 'The Corniche'.
It used to be a quiet area where you would often see families sitting at their doorsteps chatting or fishermen mending their nets on the pavement under the coconut trees.
Sadly, now all you see on that long stretch of beach are white plastic tables and chairs belonging to the cheap restaurants or 'cafés' that basically serve tea and shisha (commonly known as hookah), and very little else.
If you drive along the beach any evening of the week, between 5pm and 2am, you'll see hundreds of Dhofari men in small groups at these tables smoking shisha and drinking tea.
Not only is it popular here among local young men, but it seems to be very popular with the tourists. Shisha restaurants don't exist only on the beach, but can be found practically anywhere in town, in hidden alleyways, in farm plantations, and now even extending up into the mountains.
Is Salalah slowly turning into the shisha hub of Oman? Do we want that kind of publicity? Looking back, I am guessing that this unhealthy habit appeared in Salalah back in the mid 1990s.
However, nowadays it has become a social trend that is well integrated into the daily routines of men in Dhofar. Most of the men who hang out at these restaurants are between the ages of 20 and 40. Dare I compare them to pubs in England? Both are male hangouts.
Both provide the opportunity to socialise. Both are places where you can watch sports on television. Both may or may not employ attractive female waitresses. Last but not least, both serve an addictive substance.
It amuses me to see that men tend to believe that spending hours smoking shisha adds to their social status and sense of prestige. I asked a number of people I know why they find shisha so attractive, and their answers were very similar.
They all agreed that shisha makes them high, kills all the spare time they have on their hands, and provides an atmosphere for socialising. As a person who suffers from allergies, I have no respect for people who smoke.
What's so great about filling your lungs and the air around you with smoke? Does it make you feel good about yourself in the long run? I doubt it.
Sadly, there are several places in Salalah now where even women can get their dose of tobacco. Personally, I think it's an extremely unpleasant and unhealthy habit and I will never understand why men do it, let alone women.
I've come to notice that many users here believe that shisha smoke is significantly less dangerous than that from cigarettes. The moisture induced by hookahs makes it less irritating and thus may trick the smoker into thinking it's the healthier option.
Studies by the World Health Organization have confirmed that use of shisha is as harmful to a person's health as smoking cigarettes, if not more. In a one-hour shisha session, users consume about 200 times the smoke and about 70 times the nicotine as they do in one cigarette.
People who smoke shisha have five times the risk of lung cancer as non-smokers. Why do it?
Several shisha smokers I know claim that if they had something more interesting to do, they'd probably quit. Perhaps Salalah needs more sports facilities, useful entertainment centres, bowling alleys, bookstores, cinemas and more decent places to kill time? More activities for young people? Sounds like a topic for one of my future articles!