Scratch your own back with your own loofah sponge.
Summary: Loofahs used for baths are something that many in Lebanon are accustomed to.
SIDON, Lebanon: Loofahs used for baths are something that many in Lebanon are accustomed to. The bath sponges are made from a plant known as luffa, which is grown in fields, gardens and on the balconies of many houses.
In addition to providing shade from the sun, the luffa is considered a source of income for several families living in rural areas.
Growing a luffa plant doesn't require much effort. It is usually planted early spring and its fruits are harvested in the final months of the summer. The plant requires a lot of water to grow.
Cars tour around in the tight neighborhoods of the southern city of Sidon calling on citizens to buy the sponges. Merchants hang them at the entrance of their shops and encourage people to buy.
Locally grown loofah sponges are inexpensive but their popularity has waned over other varieties of sponges imported from Egypt.
Merchant Walid Zein lamented the situation saying that the market was drowning in Egyptian sponges.
"But I still grow luffa vines in my fields, wherever you throw its seeds in they grow quickly," Zein said. "What's better is that you don't need to buy the seeds to grow them the next season, each Luffa produces its own seeds."
Several Lebanese families, for instance, remain attached to using the loofah sponges. Several visitors to Turkish hammams in Sidon, for example, also prefer using this natural sponge to take a bath.
"Previously, the sponge was related to a woman's cleanliness," laughed 72-year-old Dibah Joumaa. She explained that the sponge was sold between LL3,000 and LL5,000 depending on size.
"It is also sold at soap museums spread across Lebanon," she added.
"Many people still use it for showers," noted Nazih Sousi, another shopowner.
"The sponge has taken a different form where some handmade factories cut it into two and sew it with a soft piece of fabric," Sousi explained. Others tend to add a wooden handle to the sponge to facilitate its usage, he added.
Once families get used to growing their own sponges, using artificial ones becomes difficult for some. Bashir Habash is of this persuasion.
Habash, whose family owns a field, explained that they were no longer buying imported sponges, rather they grow their own. "As the months of summer begin, the fruit would've dried out and its external part withered," Habash said.
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