For those of you who have never been to an Arab country, let me explain the brilliance of an ahwa. It means coffee in Arabic, yet it also implies a great deal more. Simply put, an ahwa is a place for men(sorry ladies, but they are traditionally not co-ed) to sit and smoke shisha while drinking tea and Turkish coffee. They don't serve anything else, but they usually make those three things really, really well. I spent half of this afternoon sitting in one, sipping on a strong, sweetened coffee and then a savoury mint tea, all the while puffing on a molasses-flavored waterpipe. The coffee jolts you awake and the smoke takes the edge off, leaving you incredibly recharged and inundated with good-feeling towards the world. Nevermind how bad it is for you - some thing sin life are meant to be enjoyed without worrying about all the consequences.
The sad thing is that these institutions are mostly the preserve of old men and curious tourists. Young, hip Cairenes tend to flock towards Starbuck's-style coffee bars like the British Costa Coffee chain, which, while they serve decent Western coffee, don't have a tenth of the atmosphere of the ahwas. It's a damn shame, but nevermind.
Some of you might also be wondering about the weird "3aeesh" word in my post. Well, there's no letter in English that approximates the glottal "3ayn" sound in Arabic, so that's how you fake it. Anyhow, 3aeesh means bread, which is what you get for every meal, snack and feast here in Cairo. The reason I mention it is one of the amazing yet never-mentioned spectacles of the Cairo streets: the man riding his ancient single-gear bicycle down the chaotic, potholed, gridlocked streets with a tray of bread balanced on his head. And not just any try - there are probably a solid one hundred round pitas balanced on a wooden frame the size of a VW Bug chassis. Its like a circus stunt, only you see it every day, several times a day. Since this is how these guys make their living, it would be a disaster if they fell or lost the bread. And yet they never do.
I'll post a picture of it if I get the chance. It has to be seen to be believed.