As his stay in Jordan’s al-Zaatari camp continued for longer than he had initially expected, Syrian refugee Mohammed Hariri set up a “shisha” pipe cafe to help his fellow refugees socialize and temporarily forget about their worries as the violence in their country escalates.
“I have been here at the camp for two months, and thank God, we are surviving and we are happy. When I was sitting here, it came up to my mind that there is no gas-oven or anything, so I thought we can make coffee and tea, and ease things a little,” said the thirty-year-old Hariri.
Hariri had only two shishas -- the Middle Eastern water-filtered pipes also known as “argilas” -- when he first opened his cafe, but as his idea became more popular among refugees, he expanded his service.
“We bought two shishas and the guys started to come and sit here for some time to ease their tensions. They blow away some shisha and drink a cup of coffee. It helps them feel better,” Hariri explained.
In addition to serving shisha pipes, Hariri's cafe, which holds the owner’s family name, offers tea, Arabic coffee, instant coffee and some juices.
While relaxing on mattresses in local seating tradition, customers say the tent-cafe provides a space for them to relax.
“It is an hour for rest. One can come and relax here. It is better than sitting there, it is also an opportunity to meet people,” said Abu Bader, a regular customer at the cafe.
Other refugees expressed their need for such places to relax after what they have experienced during their country’s 18-month-old conflict.
“We have not enjoyed a glass of tea or a shisha for the last two years in Syria. Why shall we always be worried? We can get a cup of tea, a glass of juice, a shisha, and ease things for ourselves,” said a twenty-year-old Syrian refugee, who wished to withhold his name.
Abu Mohammed who escaped violence in the southern Syrian town of Deraa, says the cafe opens doors for socializing with others and helps him forget the tragedies he has witnessed.
“It is a nice idea. If one does not drink tea or coffee, he suffers from a headache and feels dizzy. But when one drinks coffee, tea, and shisha, he relaxes and forgets the tragedies he went through,” Abu Mohammed said.
In line with the tradition of shisha cafes, the tent-cafe is frequented and attended by men only and becomes very busy at night time.
A report by the U.N. refugee Agency in May 2012 indicates that around 36 per cent of Syrians registered in Jordan are single men.
Al-Zaatari camp contains about 30,000 refugees and has been the scene of frequent protests about conditions at the camp.