In North Africa and the Middle East, a widespread ritual prevails among many young men: a ritual which I once enjoyed daily, but now no longer partake in. Egyptians call it by many names—khabur, dabus, cubea—but the ritual remains the same. Every evening, and particularly Thursday evening, tens of thousands of middle class men from around the capital come home (to their parents’ homes until they get married), eat dinner, and go out to meet their friends and smoke hashish in the street. They send calls, missed calls, and texts to friends, anxious and inquiring, “Where can we score tonight?” The young men sit on the hoods of their cars, chain-smoking cigarettes, but it’s not enough.
Finally, after driving around Abbasaya and Heliopolis in packs of Peugeots, Mitsubishis, and Daewoos, a deal is made. They get back in the cars and drive to a sequestered location, and sitting on the hoods of their cars or on the curb, they cut a thin ribbon of hashish from a 10g. piece (an ‘ersh). The ribbon is heated and rolled either between the fingers or in a crisp 10 piaster note, until it is perfectly round, long, and thin, making a khabur. Then, a cigarette is wedged into a small drinking glass, and the khabur is hung from the cigarette and lit as incense. A card placed over the mouth of the cup catches the smoke. The glass fills with smoke slowly, and when it is full, the aromatic smoke is inhaled, and the cup left to fill again. The cup is then passed around for everyone to smoke, the same way Alexandrian sailors smoked hashish centuries ago.
The ritual, first shown to me by four police officers in the parking lot of the Alexandria Carrefour, is shrouded in etiquette and always done in a group. Generally, there is no correct direction to pass the cup, or a certain number of times one may hit from it. However, if one holds onto the cup for too long, he may be given the idiomatic warning, “Il keyf minowla, mish maowla” (the keyf is for all, not just for one). Likewise, if one neglects his hit and the glass becomes too full of smoke, thus rendering the hit bitter and cold, he is urged to “khush,” or “take it.”
The ritual of the khabur, generally takes place at night and in locations away from home, for obvious reasons. There are special parking lots throughout Cairo and Alexandria known by their own special monikers as places of congregation where young men come to smoke. Two of the most popular in Cairo were Barisa (Paris), and al Fanadous (Paradise). Al Fanadous is particularly popular because it is situated just on the edge of the Moqattum plateau, and provides an amazing vista of the capital.
Before smoking, during the acquisition of hashish, while smoking, and after the actual smoking, everyone swears, tells off-color jokes, and generally recites tales the whole group already knows of other times drugs were acquired, used, or lost under extraordinary circumstances (“remember the time…”). To non-users privy to the ritual, these stories before very...