Vice Squad
Tuesday, May 18, 2004
Chewing the Qat in Yemen

Minutes after posting about growing qat, I stumbled upon this wonderful article by Elisabeth Eaves in Slate concerning the chewing of qat in Yemen. Here's a brief excerpt that refers to the pleasures and pains of qat:
Part of the charm of qat is that no one, at least in Yemen, has ever tried to distill it or speed up its effects. Qat can be strong stuff, but it takes a long time to take effect, and while you are waiting you must sit and pick at the little stack of shrubbery you have brought, painstakingly stuffing bad-tasting foliage into you mouth, and washing it down with water or soda pop. This will frustrate anyone chasing a quick high, but it preserves the social ritual, which is a major part of qat's appeal. If I'm in the right mood, I love the hours of ebbing and flowing chat that segue seamlessly from one-on-one confidences to group discussions to solo speechmaking and back, about politics and culture and love and war. It makes me wonder how often, back home, I really took the time to listen and talk.

The drawbacks are serious and numerous. To name a few: Qat cultivation uses up scarce water resources, and consumption uses up even scanter incomes. Little children run wild in the streets while their parents indulge—one afternoon I saw a group of them playing with a sizable fire they had built in the street.


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