You are instantly accosted by the clouds of smoke on entering through the grubby door; rings of white puffs sail along the faded walls of the corridor and softly circle up to embrace the moist ceiling. The strumming of the Oud, with Axmed Mooge’s voice floating through the thick air, can be heard coming from a broken tape recorder in some corner. And as you walk in to the shabby room, the clamour of slurred voices deafen the atmosphere. The walls inside the room, sweating with humidity, are usually of green or blue in colour with mismatching yellow patterns at times and the windows, misty with condensed air and water drizzling down to the window sill, always seem to be locked. Several stained Arabic cushions lie on the floor, going along the walls of the room to serve as the seating area and a carpet, decorated with ashes, cigarette butts and burns occupies the middle of the floor, covering a washed-out wooden flooring.
A group of about 20-30 men in dowdy garments, grinding mouthfuls of leaves with their stained teeth and a green paste of saliva dribbling from the corners of their mouths as they speak, sit huddled together on the cushions as if clustering for warmth. In front of each of them lies a blue plastic bag with his treasure in it – several small greenish-brown twigs, each with a few leaves at the top, all assembled into fine rows and ready for consumption. Beside the plastic bags, lies a waste bucket, covered in a plastic bag, a thermos flask, some bottles of still water, Shani drinks, and a hubbly-bubbly.
In the far corner, a wooden desk stands, enclosing the dealer or owner of the Marfish. Underneath the desk lies bags of Qat, clustered in bundles for sale at about £5 each. Beside the dealer’s desk is a small refrigerator, containing some more boxes of Qat and bottles of drinks. A small television set is mounted atop a desk with Sky sports channels but the sound is muted.
These men, grandfathers, fathers, sons, uncles and brothers, coteries of pitiable simpletons, of whom half rely on the dole, have neglected families and friends for these leaves. And as you stand in the room, a strange mixture of smell seeps out of it and into the corridor. One can not be sure as to what it is – the cigarette smoke, the hubbly-bubbly, or the perspiring bodies. The health and safety auditors must have neglected these premises, but the evening here is the grandest, or such a feeling their minds are imbued with, and any other sort of leisure activity to match this is deemed futile. The lavish supply of leaves and the effect they induce is simply unmatched.
Welcome to the Marfish!