Recently I had to spend some time in the Western Saharan towns of Western city of Laâyoune ( or El Aaiún ) & the coastal town of Cape Bojador (or Abu Khatar ) looking into a couple of infrastructure and food stuff factory projects I got to spend a little (far too little) time checking out a great narghile café. For those of you that don’t know the Western Sahara is a disputed region populated by the Sahrawis people who speak the Hassaniyya dialect of Arabic and adhere to the Maliki school of Sunni Islam.
While wondering around the fringes of the both charmingly quaint yet modern city of Laâyoune I came upon the oddest narghile café I have ever heard tell of let alone seen. The café consisted of a series of brightly painted beehive types structures of the Syrian style I mentioned before:
The structures were connected by a series of stone covered paths lined with purple painted rocks. Not knowing what to expect I stopped in since the unusually high amount of traffic and noise for the time of night indicated it some sort of business as did the dozen plus cars and an ancient Foden omnibus decked out with groovy art a la Ken Kesey & Merry Praksters (the youngsters here may not know about that ‘60s counter culture icon) .
We stopped in the first building and found out it was one of two bakeries making krappels, tortes and cakes laden with poppy seed rich mohnkuchen. Needless to say I found it totally bizarre to find freshly baked German pastries in such a locale let alone seeing them made by locals so my translator asked one of the bakers about it and we were told that the place was started by a German and that we could purchase food, drinks and tobacco a couple of doors down. We passed a second kitchen that was preparing food more traditionally associated with the region while teas and coffees were being brewed in yet another little building.
Walking past the building where the teas and coffees were being made I heard the familiar sounds of the old Krautrock band Can drifting on the air and we followed the sounds while walking along the purple stone path. Eventually I came upon the proprietors which were an aged pair of German hippies that looked like the sort of people you’d expect to see at the Isle of Wight or Woodstock rock festivals wearing clothes more suited to their environs. The walls had plenty of faded psychedelic paintings and an antique cash register made of brass with flowers painted all over it and grinning, faded photo of Manuel Göttsching & Rosie taken from some old rock magazine.
We chatted for a bit and found out that they moved to Laâyoune back in ‘69 and used to run a hotel that got burned down during the war with Polisario guerrilla/terrorists during the ‘70s. They built this very odd café in the late ‘70s after being inspired by a book about the beehive houses of Syria.
Individual buildings were dedicated to tombac, black and modern moassel smokers as well having buildings for males, females and a couple of places for integrated smokers. The patrons were an odd mix of young, educated Sahrawi, Westerners (some from the UN), a few old Spaniards that I supposed hoped for a return of colonial rule and few old Sahrawi men that apparently were using the place as a hotel.
The conversations were numerous and lively in about half a dozen tongues ranging from frivolous to grimly serious. The female owner took our orders and sat us next to a couple of annoying UN hacks blabbing about how great it’ll be to Westernize the Sahrawis and what great hopes they had for the up coming UN climate treaty, the glories of feminism and similar prattle one would expect from self important leftist shitheads. After getting annoyed my translator and I got up and migrated to a table in a neighboring building occupied some Sahrawi men that chatted and laughed amicably among themselves which was an encouraging statement about them since their weathered skin and hard worn clothes indicated a punishing life.
About this time the female owner showed up with a huge platter of German pastries, candied fruits and more typical North African fair and was very annoyed that we left the table we were assigned to. Within a minute or so of getting the food came the largest *** of Arabic coffee I ever saw and a set of small brass holders to put the handless cups into. With the help of the translator I found out that the men at the table were looking for work and we chatted for a spell before the narghiles arrived.
The narghiles were very old with a brass rather then glass base, an old brass downtube and a maintube made of heavily worn wood and a bowl bade of brass that resembled a vortex with an extra set of holes around the wider diameter. A young Sahrawi kid loaded the bowls and topped them off with a brass screen. The moassel was made by the owners and consisted of a mix of local tombac, fire cured local leaf, carob molasses and some herbal extracts. The taste was very strong and equally made up of molasses, fire cured tobacco and cardamom/cedar/mint with something floral in the background. The food was fantastic and the smoke even better.
After a bit the older men went away to bed and we ended up smoking with a few Spanish college kids that apparently were traveling around the area for fun. They were total neophytes when it came narghiles since they took the hose out, drew off the port and just about passed out. After snickering a bit my translator and I showed them how to smoke and we all chatted about music, politics and how horrible the economy is. They also seemed to be totally unaware about local customs and mannerisms so my translator took the time to explain to them that in most of the region Western dress and conduct won’t be received well and that they were in a place rather different then Ceuta. The kids seemed to listen to what was said and hopefully they are still enjoying wondering about the area.
After we finished smoking and enjoying the varied cuisine I decided it was time for bed and we made our way back to our car only to discover that we couldn’t start it. A quick talk with the male owner resulted in us getting a ride back into town in the psychedelic Foden Omnibus listening to decadent rai music before being dropped off at our hotel.