Saalaam Herbal Shisha Has Arrived!

At long last, after much testing and cutting through bureaucratic red tape both in Egypt and the U.S., Ali and I are thrilled to announce that Saalaam Exotic Herbal Shisha has arrived. . .at last! Currently, there are 8 mouth-watering flavors available for your tasting pleasure: Lemon Pucker (the #1 seller for now), Boysenberry Blast (the #2 seller), Breeze O'Mint, Tiramisu, Spiced Chai, Wildberry, Cherry Cola, and Key Lime Pie.

We'd like to send a shout out to our regulars who came to the shop for samples and taste testing; without you guys, we'd be stuck in first gear. Thanks!

Hookahs: Not in my neighborhood!

If I had a dime for every time I heard an older adult lament the bad behavior of youth, I'd be a gazillionaire! The older generation complains about young people all the time, yet they never seem to offer a viable solution to the things they see as problems among the youth. Take for example, an interesting situation that has been going on in Napa Valley, California.

Napa Valley, long known as Ca
lifornia's wine country, is a popular destination for tourists. As a result, businesses in the Valley cater to visitors. Hot air balloon rides, winery tours, fine dining, and wine tasting events are great for tourists and, I'm sure, provide them with a wonderful vacation. However, there are people who actually live in Napa Valley -- people who have families. The teens of Napa Valley aren't old enough to participate in the alcohol related events and don't have the disposable income to afford the fine dining experience (and probably wouldn't be interested in it anyway). So what is a bored teen to do in Napa Valley?

Evidently, nothing. Businesses designed to cater to the locals tend to have run-ins with neighbors who don't want the teens in "their neighborhoods." The case of the Smoking Cat, according to a recent article in the Napa Valley Register, appears to be the norm. Kids come, they enjoy themselves in an environment where no alcohol is served, and neighbors complain. The Smoking Cat planned to serve hookahs on an outside patio, but the idea got neighbors up in arms. The old "not in my neighborhood" prevailed, and complaints from a neighbor and a nearby religious school brought the Smoking Cat before the Napa Planning Commission, where they were told that clients could not smoke, even on the outside patio, and that live music could not continue after 8 p.m.

With all of the adults howling about teens wreaking havoc and making trouble, it makes no sense to me that we wouldn't be seeking viable alternatives for them. Give teens a safe place to hang out with friends, allow them to express themselves on live mic night, and offer those who are of legal age a non-alcoholic way to socialize, and we might be surprised at what could happen. Provide teens with a solution to their boredom and we just might see them enjoying themselves in ways other than vandalizing property, partying without adult supervision, and generally causing mayhem.

Remember what John Milton said about being a careful considerer of human nature?

It's Summer in the OC

With temps running in the 90+ range in the OC, how could I not think of this funky song?! We topped out at 100 degrees in Fullerton yesterday, and today promises to be every bit as summery. The middle of May isn't normally so hot, but the recent rising barometer got me thinking about summer shisha flavors ahead of schedule. Here's my list for great summer smokes:

These juicy little fruits make their appearance in the early summer months, so I'll start the list with them. A variety of shisha companies have Apricot flavor, with some tasting better than others. I recommend
Layalina for the tobacco smokers and Soex for the herbal smokers.

One of my favorite things to do during the summer was to wander through the fields in my Mom's hometown hamlet of
Freeman, New York, and pick wild blackberries. Between me, my sisters, and my cousin, we rarely brought back a full bucket because we ate more of the berries than we collected for cobbler! I recommend Fusion for the tobacco smokers and Soex for the herbal smokers.

Nothing beats the sweet and juicy summer melons, if you ask me! The cantalope from
Starbuzz is a good choice for tobacco smokers and the Sweet Melon flavor from Soex for the herbal smokers.

I was raised on Coca-Cola Classic and believe me, I can definitely taste and smell a significant difference between Coke and Pepsi! So, for those of you who prefer Coca-Cola Classic, I can't recommend
Starbuzz highly enough -- it has a true Coke taste. If you like Pepsi instead, then El-Nakhla is what you'll want.

Memorial Day weekend is the time for the
Strawberry Festival in the city where I live. Not only was the area known for its strawberry fields (sadly, only one of them remains and the land on which the strawberries are grown is likely to be usurped by Disney soon), but for its annual festival in their honor. For the best strawberry shisha flavors, I recommend Layalina Kiwi Strawberry, Fusion Strawberry Daquiri, Nakhla Strawberry for tobacco smokers. For the herbal smokers, High-Life Herbal Smoke is a good choice.

No fruit says summer better than watermelon!
Al-Fakher is the best choice among the tobacco brands, and Soex has the best herbal selection.

REVIEW: High-Life Herbal Smoke

As I mentioned before, non-tobacco shisha is the wave of the future. The anti-tobacco and smoking bandwagon just keeps growing, so those of us who enjoy hookah need to check our options and alternatives. To this end, I recently tried some High-Life Smoke in the peach flavor.

My set up consisted of a 32" tall traditional Egyptian hookah with a single hose and a traditional Egyptian bowl made from clay. I'm not a fan of the Chinese porcelain bowls because they are too fragile and have the tendency to get way too hot. The only "modern" part of my set up was a charcoal screen that I used instead of foil. Basically, my set up is the same that you find in cafes all over Egypt.

High-Life comes in a sealed plastic bag inside a lightweight cardboard box. I couldn't smell much through the box before opening it but once it was open, a strong scent of peaches greeted me. The shisha looks like Soex except that the High-Life was a little more moist and softer to the touch. With the brightly colored and funky packaging, I expected to find a similar contemporary look in the shisha; however, in terms of color, it's just plain old reddish brown.

A group of friends shared the hookah with me, and we all came to the same conclusion -- High-Life is a decent product. The shisha maintained its flavor throughout our smoking session, which is a definite plus. It was a smooth smoke from start to finish with the shisha never becoming harsh. The only real complaint that we all had about it is that no matter how big our hits, we couldn't achieve the thick white clouds of smoke that we get with traditional shisha or with Soex.

Taste = 9/10
Smoke = 7/10
Cost = 8/10

On Milton, Censorship, and Hookahs

I've admired John Milton's work for many years. Scholars consider his epic work, Paradise Lost, the greatest poem ever composed in the English language, and I concur; however, it is a piece of his prose that I prefer.

"To sequester out of the world into Atlantic and Utopian polities, which never can be drawn into use, will not mend our condition. . ."

Written in 1644, Areopagitica is a passionate argument against censorship. But much of what Milton has to say about why banning certain books is a bad idea can also be used to argue that the current trend toward smoking bans is equally futile.

The notion that society must be "protected" from harmful things fuels much of the debate on smoking. The same argument is used to challenge books that certain groups of people find offensive. Instead of exercising their right to choose reading materials for themselves and allowing others to do the same, these groups seek to "protect" us from what they perceive to be "harmful." In essence, this means that the rest of us are too stupid to make the "right" choices. Rather than relying on the individual to decide the value of a book, special interest groups want to tell the rest of us which books have "true" worth based upon their value judgments with the underlying assumption being that their values are superior because they are "right." Milton contends, however, that attempting to construct a Utopian paradise where only good exists will not solve the problem and gives us a rational explanation why:

"They are not skilful considerers of human things, who imagine to remove sin by removing the matter of sin . . . Though ye take from a covetous man all his treasure, he has yet one jewel left, yet cannot bereave him of his covetousnes. Banish all objects of lust, shut up all youth into the severest discipline that can be exercised in any hermitage, ye cannot make them chaste that came not thither so; such great care and wisdom is required to the right managing of this point."

Removing an object of desire from society does not make the desire for that object disappear! The Volstead Act, which became the Eighteenth Amendment, is the perfect example to illustrate Milton's argument.

The Prohibition of alcohol in America was sparked by the ardent desire of a handful of women and religious activists who believed that removing the demon alcohol -- the sin in Milton's equation -- would protect and improve American society. Unfortunately, as history proved, removing the object of sin was not enough to solve the problem, for the desire for the object remained. Instead of creating a Utopian paradise free of alcohol and the negative consequences of drinking it, those who successfully pushed for Prohibition created new problems, some of which are still being dealt with nearly 100 years later. Because Prohibition was unenforceable, the attempt to remove alcohol from society caused
an alarming increase in crime and increased alcohol consumption instead of bringing it to a complete stop.

Prohibition failed because the desire for alcohol was not removed with the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment. The same holds true for the current smoking bans. Closing hookah bars and banning smoking from places where only adults congregate will not convince people to stop smoking, but it will have a negative effect on the livelihoods of those who must now ban smoking patrons from their establishments! Furthermore, just as Prohibition led to a 516 percent increase in alcohol-related crimes, individuals whose businesses depend on smoking patrons will seek ways to get around the laws in order to keep their businesses afloat. To wit, check out
Pipe Ban Is a Pane, France's Smoking Ban Chokes Hookah Bars, or Proposed Tougher Smoking Laws Have Some Richardson Businesses Worried.

Clearly a "skilful considerer of human things," John Milton, a man of the 17th century, had a better understanding of human nature than the lawmakers of the 21st century. The good news is that although the British Parliament did not heed his advice regarding the censorship of books, the Areopagitica played a significant role in our Founding Fathers' understanding of the importance of free speech and press. One can always hope that Milton's influence will still be felt and that "skilful considerer[s] of human things" will come out from behind the smoke screen of political correctness.

It's Graduation Time!

May is a month filled with celebrations: Mother's Day, Cinco de Mayo, my birthday (ok, it's not technically a national holiday, but it is an important day nonetheless, LOL!), and Memorial Day. And while all of these days are cause for celebration, none of them holds a candle to the pomp and circumstance of the graduations that also take place in May.

For many of our customers, May means the end of living life by the quarter or semester. It means recognition of a remarkable accomplishment -- the completion of one more leg of the educational journey. Wednesday will be my last day of classes for the semester, with finals following next week. While my students are off enjoying the break, I will be frantically grading their last assignments and calculating final grades. Once it's finished and grades are turned in, I will enjoy a break until the Fall semester begins and finally have the time to catch up on things that are often neglected when grading has to be done. Yes, May is a very good month!

We'd like to offer our congratulations to the 2008 grads and to wish you success in your future endeavors. Enjoy your day, take pride in your accomplishment, and party like it's 1999 -- you've earned it!

Hookahs and Herpes? WTH?!

I can honestly say that I think now I've heard everything when it comes to the hype surrounding hookah use. It's not bad enough that the powers that be manipulate statistics to suit their agendas, but now they are capitalizing on the fear of STDs to accomplish their goal.

A recent article in the Rocky Mountain News (read the article
here) states that "College students who opt for the supposedly safe smoke of a hookah pipe are sucking in the chemical equivalent of dozens of cigarettes and are risking mouth herpes and other diseases, a Colorado State University doctor says." We're all used to hearing the tripe about hookah smoking being more dangerous than cigarettes, and I've posted something on that subject in the past, but to use fear of contracting an STD in order to scare people out of smoking hookah is patently unethical and irresponsible.

"Mouth herpes" is nothing more than a cold sore. The
Mayo Clinic reports that "Certain strains of the herpes virus cause cold sores. Herpes simplex virus type 1 usually causes cold sores." While it is true that a strain of herpes causes cold sores, it is a different one that triggers the STD known as genital herpes. The herpes virus also causes chickenpox, shingles, various types of cancer, and encephalitis. Without clarifying this matter in the article, both the doctor and the writer who quoted her display a profound lack of ethics and responsibility to the general public. Instead, both chose to play on the fact that when most people hear herpes, they automatically assume the worst -- the genital type.

Since "shared eating utensils, razors and towels may spread this infection" (
Mayo Clinic), why didn't the physician or writer caution the public from eating in restaurants, using towels in a hotel, or getting a shave at the local barbershop? Are they making assumptions that college students don't engage in these activities at all, or do they mean to imply that hookah smoking is the only method by which this "mouth herpes" is contracted? In either case, it strikes me as little more than a blatant attempt to scare young people enough that they will stop smoking hookah. After all, nobody wants the social stigma associated with herpes.

Anyone who has been to a hookah bar can attest to the fact that each smoker is given a disposable mouth tip to use. Smokers can take these tips with them or toss them out before leaving, so the likelihood that they are being reused is minute. The fear of getting a used tip can be remedied by bringing your own to the bar. You won't have to worry about catching herpes from yourself.

It's about time that the medical community weighed in on the issue of hookah usage a little more responsibly than they have in the past. Yes, the hookah is a smoking device. Yes, people enjoy tobacco in it. Yes, tobacco is a known carcinogen. But to inflate statistics to suit an agenda and rustle up scare tactics by blaming hookah use for incidents of herpes is not the way to examine a problem through the scientific lens. And those who engage in this behavior ought to be hanging their collective heads in shame.

Cash Back for Returning Customers

Nothing says more about a company's prices, products, and service than a repeat customer. When shoppers return to your business to make additional purchases, it is usually because they found your prices reasonable, your product quality excellent, and the customer service you provide outstanding. With as high a rate of return buyers as we have, we must be doing something right!

Because we appreciate our repeat buyers so much, we've looked at several options to reward their loyalty to us. It took a while, but we finally found the right service for both us and our buyers. My Store Rewards allows us to offer our buyers a 5% cash rebate on their first purchase when they join the program and 5% cash back on all future purchases! Since we're in control, you don't need to worry that your email box will suddenly be inundated with spam; we'll send you just one message every 45 days to remind you of the cash back bonus you'll receive when you make a purchase.

With our already low prices and frequent sales, you could rake in the savings! Picture this: You find an item in
our eBay store that is on sale at 15% off. That item includes FREE shipping. If you signed up for My Store Rewards, you'd ALSO get a cash rebate of 5% of your purchase on top of the 15% sale and the shipping discount. That's some pretty incredible savings!

To become a part of this fantastic program, just look for this logo on any item that we sell on eBay:

Pay with PayPal: Get a MyStoreRewards invitation for cash back

Sign up, and start saving -- it's really that simple! Then each time you make a purchase after that, you'll get 5% cash back.

We truly do appreciate your business!

Hookah Etiquette: East Meets West Halfway

The Middle East is a region rich in tradition and custom, where certain behaviors govern social interaction, so it should come as no surprise that a set of expectations, or etiquette, surrounds smoking the hookah, too. As the hookah's popularity spread across the ocean to the West, the rules of etiquette evolved to suit the different lifestyles of the smokers. I thought it would be interesting to see how the East meets the West when it comes to hookah smoking behavior.

Eastern Hookah Etiquette

*First and foremost, smoking hookah is about social interaction. Smokers gather around a hookah, whether by sitting around a table together or in a circle on the floor, thus enabling them to see one another face-to-face and to communicate comfortably.

*Relaxation is key to hookah enjoyment. Smoking hookah takes time, moves slowly, and is never hurried. Enjoy a cup of
tea Middle Eastern style, Turkish coffee, or Arabic coffee and share the events of the day with friends. Alcohol is not part of the hookah tradition in the Middle East.

*Keep the competition for the soccer (football) field. There's no need to compete with friends for a turn with the narghile, so smokers take their time with the hose and pass it along only when they are satisfied.

*Don't blow smoke! In the faces of others, that is. Watch where those smoke rings go because it is considered rude to blow smoke at or near others. It is best to exhale in an upward or sideways direction, allowing the smoke to go over the heads or away from the faces of the others in the group.

Hoses belong in the right hand. Because people in the Middle East use the left hand for personal hygiene, it is considered unclean and should never be used to smoke hookah.

*The hookah belongs on the floor not the table. As a service object, the argile should never be placed on the same level as those whom it will serve. The average height for an
authentic Middle Eastern hookah is 32" (81 cm) to accommodate its placement on the floor while making the hose(s) and head easy to reach.

*Don't pass the hose directly unless absolutely necessary. The proper way to indicate that the hose is available for another smoker is to place it on the table for someone else to pick up. If the hose must be passed to the next user, hold it in the right hand and keep the tip pointed at yourself.

*Although not a common practice, smoking a cigarette during a hookah session is rude only when the cigarette is lit from the
narghile charcoal or the ashes dumped on the hookah tray.

Western Hookah Etiquette

*Smoking hookah is an individual as well as a group activity, thus it is not unusual to find people who enjoy their pipes without sharing.

*Relaxation is not always of prime importance to a smoking session. Hookah lounges in the U.S. often have loud music or a television blaring in the background, making conversation challenging at best. Many Western smokers mix argile and alcohol which sometimes causes raucous behavior and a total loss of manners.

*Competition is an issue only when it comes to who gets the biggest smoke cloud or makes the best smoke rings. Smokers typically take only a puff or two before passing the hose off to someone else.

*Blowing smoke directly in someone's face is rude, but sharing smoke mouth-to-mouth is cool. Go figure!

*Holding the hose in the right or left hand doesn't matter. Individual smokers typically use their dominant hand.

*Smokers may still gather around a hookah, but the pipe is often placed on the table instead of the floor. Although this practice breaks with the traditional rules of etiquette, it does elevate the hookah to a place of admiration so that smokers can marvel at its beauty. This practice also allows for the use of
shorter hookahs.

Whether you follow the traditional etiquette or enjoy the adaptations of the rules made in the West, smoking hookah is meant to be an activity that allows you to escape from the hectic and often frantic pace of everyday life. So enjoy the hookah experience with or without these rules!