Word of the Day / Nargila

This social activity all began with an ancient coconut.

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There's a small inanimate object commonly found in the streets of Israel. It's strongly associated with Arab and Iranian cultures. Its parts include a pipe, gasket and pressure valve. It is ignited by fire, emits smoke and is potentially deadly.
Sound suspicious? Don't sweat it. It's just a "nargila."

The nargila - also known as a hookah, hubble-bubble and shisha - is a water pipe used for smoking flavored tobacco, with origins in Ancient Persia and India but widely used across Turkey, India and many Arab countries, as well as in the West. It has particularly gained currency since the 1970s among hippies and stoners.

The word "nargila" crept its way into Hebrew via Arabic from the Persian "narghile" – but its true origins are in the Sanskrit word for coconut, "narikela". Apparently the husk of the coconut was the first object to be rendered into a water pipe.

Nargila smoking in Israel is, as in most Arab countries, a social activity. Walk by a cafe in Jaffa, Acre or any Arab neighborhood and you'll find a group of men sitting outdoors, watching the football game or having a heated political conversation while puffing away.

Partaking of the age-old custom at one of Tel Aviv's beach restaurants might make you feel like you're living the Middle Eastern dream - but beware! In 2005 the UN Word Health Organization concluded that one water pipe session, lasting about 20-80 minutes, is equivalent to smoking 100 cigarettes. In addition, sharing the pipe and mouthpiece involved can lead to the transfer of fun stuff like herpes and hepatitis. Suddenly, apple-flavored tobacco doesn't sound as appetizing, does it?

Shoshana Kordova is on leave. For previous Word of the Day columns, go to: www.haaretz.com/news/features/word-of-the-day.

That isn't a coconut she's smoking, it's a nargila.Credit: Echoes of Egypt Exhibit, Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem
Care to have 100 cigarettes, honey?Credit: David Bachar

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