MAFRAQ — Although Ibrahim Nuaimi has yet to fulfil his dream of opening an argileh shop in his hometown of Daraa, Syria, he has made a version of that dream come true in an unlikely place.
When Nuaimi arrived at the Zaatari Refugee Camp near Mafraq, 80 kilometres north of Amman, about two months ago, he decided to start serving argileh to help support his two wives and 13 children.
“I was the first one to open an argileh tent in the camp. I wanted to depend on myself financially,” the 40-year-old told The Jordan Times in an interview at his tent.
For Nuaimi, who spent four-and-a-half years in Syrian prisons, this was not the first time he had turned to argileh to help meet his needs in a time of hardship.
“When I was jailed, I faced financial hardships and my family was in need for money, so I decided to sell argileh to prisoners,” he said.
To get away with it, Nuaimi explained, he had to bribe the prison guards to let him bring in the equipment and ingredients he needed.
“I only sold argileh to prisoners I trusted because I was scared that the other guards would learn about my business,” Nuaimi said.
“Although I made good money, I did not get to enjoy it as I had to pay a lot of cash to the guards so that they wouldn’t further humiliate and torture me,” he told The Jordan Times.
The irony of pursuing his passion behind bars was not lost on Nuaimi.
“At least I made my dream come true in jail,” he quipped.
After a while, however, his business venture was scuttled when the Syrian authorities began moving him from one prison to another.
“After spending six months in several jails, I was set free. However, when the violence started, they began searching for me,” he said.
Afraid that regime forces would put him back in prison and do the same or worse to his family, Nuaimi decided it was time to leave Daraa.
When he arrived in Jordan, Nuaimi said he felt safe for the first time since the violence in Syrian began last year.
“The Jordanian forces treated us with utmost care. They respected us and did not humiliate us at all. They took care of women and children as though they were their close friends or family members,” he said.
Nuaimi noted that many Jordanians helped him start up his argileh business at the camp.
“When people visited us, I asked them to bring me the ingredients and equipment for argileh. When they brought them for me, they did not take any money,” he noted.
Visitors to Nuaimi’s makeshift café can buy an argileh session for JD1, a cup of tea for 80 fils and one of coffee for 180 fils, or the equivalent in Syrian pounds.
“Customers come in the morning to drink coffee and tea, and they gather outside the tent at night to smoke argileh and talk about the situation back home with their friends and families,” he said.
“I also deliver argileh to refugees. They give me their tent’s number, and I deliver it to them.”
Nuaimi, whose cousin and son have followed in his footsteps and started small argileh businesses of their own, voiced concern that the tent out of which he is operating will not survive the coming winter.
He voiced hope that the agencies running the camp will provide him and his fellow Syrians with sturdier accommodation, and like every other refugee, he also hopes to return home soon.
“I really miss my beloved country,” he said.