Al-Zubair's shisha artisan
For Haider Dawood, work is like an evening with friends
BASRA, January 26 — Nestled in the bustling Suwadi Market in central Al-Zubair, west of Basra, Abu Hayder Café stands out as one of the area’s most frequented spots. The café owes much of its popularity to its renowned shisha maker, Haider Dawood, affectionately known as “Aita,” whose concoctions draw customers into the café’s inviting atmosphere.
Aita, 35, has been working in cafes since he was 14. “I learned the trade and became a water pipe master,” he says. His relationship with his patrons goes beyond mere transactions. “They are more than friends to me,” Aita explains, noting that his dedication to crafting the perfect water pipe experience is driven by his customers’ satisfaction.
The bond between Aita and his customers extends into personal gestures often reserved for family. “When I got married, they played a significant role in fulfilling the wedding needs,” Aita recalls. Some customers contributed financially, while others offered gifts like household items.
This support was especially crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic when the Ministry of Health’s closure of cafes left Aita without work. “I was surprised by the daily support from customers until the end of the crisis,” he adds.
One customer, a sportsman, gave Haider the nickname “Aita” after Moroccan runner Said Aouita, for his swift service. The name stuck, and it’s how everyone now addresses him. Despite offers from other cafes promising higher salaries, Aita remains loyal to Abu Hayder Café. “Out of respect for my customers,” he says.
His presence at the café is so essential that when he is absent, customers call to check on him. “Every day, I look forward to their presence, turning work into an evening with friends,” Aita mentions. The café’s popularity is also due to its affordability, with shisha prices not exceeding 1,500 dinars, a stark contrast to some more upmarket cafes charging up to 10,000 dinars.
Customers like Ali Ibrahim appreciate Aita’s approach. “He treats everyone, young and old, with respect,” Ali Ibrahim notes, adding that Aita’s friendliness is balanced with professionalism.
Another regular, Haider Al-Muhsin, describes Aita as a magician with shisha, particularly the apple flavor. “His words and jokes make sitting in this café enjoyable,” Al-Muhsin says, explaining how Aita’s shisha helps him unwind after a long workday: “I need a cheerful atmosphere, and I smoke shisha made by Aita, which helps me relax.”