I used to belong to the smokers club. I carried my own pack and worried about where my lighter went. I sucked on the stick and hung out in the herd of other smokers. But I stopped 11 years ago. And in those 11 years I have not only cleaned my system from that toxin, but my lungs became so sensitive to the smoke that hung in the air that I would spend nights hacking away and coughing up all that second hand smoke when I was exposed to it.  And so my home is a smoke free place, as is my work space. But what that has meant is that I have committed social suicide to some extent. I have definitely died socially when I get stubborn about attending or being present in social gatherings with smoke.

My friends are all very considerate when it comes to smoking around me, they remove themselves or are very conscious about which hand the cigarette is in, or make sure to blow out their fumes away from me. When I would throw a party everyone respects the rules and goes outside. I also had a group of non smoking friends who would also love the nonsmoking policy around me.  But these days I am finding myself more and more in the minority. Sometimes even a minority of one. Let me put it in context from my perspective. Beirut is a night time city, social life revolves around bars, restaurants, clubs. Eighty to ninety percent of people (conservative estimate) who frequent these establishments are smokers, ventilation systems and air conditioners are plentiful but I dread the thought of looking at their filters and find them ineffectual when these places are full beyond capacity and every nook and cranny has a lit cigarette with a passionate sucker on its end.  So unless you have a gas mask on you are going to inevitably inhale all that fabulous second hand smoke, your hair is going to stink and you clothes are going in the wash immediately, even your underwear. And this is not unique to Beirut, Amman has its fair share of smoky entertainment venues.

And it’s not just when you are out and about. Visiting with friends zis a nightmare for me because not only am I slowly forming these relationships and so am still a guest rather than an “insider”, but again I am a minority so I don’t feel I have the social space to say “please stop smoking”. And so, through peer pressure, and because I want social inclusion I am forced to deal with the smoke or be excluded. Even in their consideration, smokers fail to realize how isolating and exclusionary it is when there is one nonsmoker and they all go out to the balcony or kitchen to smoke. And since they are all hanging out there what is originally a 3 minute smoke easily turns into a balcony party without thought to the person left behind. Its as if there is this expectations that as a nonsmoker I have to deal with this, it’s my problem and so my options are to open a window, or stay and breathe the smoke,  or sit apart from the group, or not attend in the first place, or be the asshole that says no to smoking.

I am pissed off at how inconsiderate smokers are, even when they are trying to be “considerate”. I am sad that I am always sitting on the edge, outside the group so I can breathe some clean or less polluted air. I am tired of being left out or behind or not even considered. Your considerations are isolating, exclusionary and antisocial; and this binary of either join the club at the expense of my health or be on the social fringe is unfair. I really don’t understand this sense of entitlement smokers have about their “right” to pollute the air.

So dear smokers, your body is yours to do what you wish with it, but to think that you can spew poison out for all to breathe and then say to me either breathe my smoke or be left out is to me one of the most isolating things you can do, its is selfish and inconsiderate. And as a people person who likes to be in the middle of the dance floor I am deeply saddened and disturbed by this majority who enforces upon the minority its exclusionary practices especially within circles of so-called inclusion.

There is a ritual to opening a new pack of cigarettes. You unwrap the box, after packing the cigarettes hard, by tapping the box on your wrist. You opening the box, pulling out the foil wrinkling it and throwing it away. You taking out the first cigarette, lightning it and with that deep first drag is a look of satisfaction and a smile of bliss on your face. I know this because I used to be a smoker. But I quit nine years ago and I enjoy being smoke free. But it bugs me when smokers think they have more considerations than nonsmokers.

Let me explain, if there is a smoker in the group then we have to sit in the smoking section. If it is a nonsmoking environment, like a mall or office building, then the smokers will light up. If the smoker wants to go to a designated smoking section then some will light up on the way, not willing to wait the few minutes it takes to get there. If a smoker on a nonsmoking bus wants to light up they will, they cant wait the 4 hours to get to the destination (think Aqaba Trust bus), even when the bus attendant and bus driver ask them to refrain from smoking. The examples are many and I would like to know why do smokers think its OK?

As a nonsmoker I have the right to enjoy our outing as much as smokers. If I want to sit in the non smoking section and smokers want the smoking section why does the compromise always happen on our part? Is it a desire that we all suffer and that we all become passive smokers. A lot of the smokers I know light up without regard to those around them and it is only after the cigarette is burning and the smoke is in my face that they realize of wait here is a non smoker that doesn’t like this. I can’t wait for the day that restaurants and bars becoming non smoking places, and we can walk in to places without their being a great foggy cloud of smoke hanging in the air.

The smoke of a hubbly bubbly is a sweet smelling heady haze. Smoking a hukka I blow out circles of smoke, the circles immediately get lost in the thick air. Now if you know anything about me you know I don’t smoke, so what is this contradiction in behavior. My only response is I am chasing circles in smoke.

The smoke circles are like the thoughts floating in my head. I try to chase these circles, watching them as they move farther and farther away, getting bigger, distorting into the ether. Like my thoughts these circles are many and intertwined within each other. One leads to the other to the other forming a chain of smoky thoughts floating higher and disappearing in a puff as a new one is formed.

The smoke of a hubbly bubbly can either give you a nice buzz or a massive headache. The thoughts in my head do the same. Yet as I chase smoke circles trying to capture the lightness of being, my wandering mind too, when working well that is also helps calm me by putting me in a positive state of mind. So you are welcome to chase my circles both of smoke and rhetoric with me anytime anywhere, and perhaps we will get lost in the headiness of it all.