Join 3,363 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


oh hai!
August 24, 2008 3:38 PM   Subscribe

lol-qats, a Pakistani-English blogger (author of the amusing Islamicist) pokes gentle fun at the coca-leaf like addiction to Qat (alternate spelling, Khat), which is common in Yemen and several East African countries.

His Muslim lolcats are fun too.

Qat litter.

Qat fanciers.

Qatnip.

Catha Edulis is the latin name for the plant.

Previously.
posted by nickyskye (58 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Metafilter : "It is Halaaaaal!"

Thanks, this was hilarious.
posted by Liosliath at 3:52 PM on August 24, 2008


qat is an excellent scrabble word.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 4:03 PM on August 24, 2008 [5 favorites]


Beat me to it, Turtles.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 4:22 PM on August 24, 2008


I've tried Qat. It was not that great, and also really gross.
posted by empath at 4:30 PM on August 24, 2008


CBC Radio's Dispatches did a piece on qat. While googling for the audio, I found this blog entry about qat trafficking in Toronto.

Thanks for the lols and the post, nickyskye!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 4:33 PM on August 24, 2008


Woo Middle-East filter!

(or Horn of Africa filter, as the case may be)

When I was in Ethiopia, I found that Khat was a decent way of making incredibly slow bus trips pass a little quicker. I heard a lot about how men would fritter away their money on it, but couldn't really see what was so addictive about the plant, as it only gives you a mild buzz akin to a coffee or two.

Incidentally, the caffiene-like alertness is apparently what allowed it to pass the general muslim ban on intoxicants, as scholars found they could chew the leaves & stay up all night studying the Koran.

I'd speculate that its status as about the only 'halal' intoxicant in those countries might be behind its popularity - people the world over often like to take something or other to change their mental state, and if things like alcohol or (contrary to popular belief) hashish are looked down upon in these countries, the next strongest thing - khat - fills that void.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:36 PM on August 24, 2008


His lolcats perplex me. Normally I'd look up words that I don't know.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 4:36 PM on August 24, 2008


I've tried Qat. It was not that great, and also really gross.

Silly, you need to get addicted first.
posted by dhartung at 4:44 PM on August 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


Spotted this in the categories of the first link: "British Mooslims."

This is some LGF-grade racist bullshit, right here.
posted by Ryvar at 4:50 PM on August 24, 2008


Then there was the unfortunate lol-Mohammed and the resulting Fatwa.
posted by found missing at 4:54 PM on August 24, 2008


There are also tags for "Moosic", and the blog itself is called "Mr. Moo". Also, a cursory scan of the posts tagged as "Muslimbashing" don't seem to be approving.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 4:54 PM on August 24, 2008



This is some LGF-grade racist bullshit, right here.

Um, what the hell? The blog is obviously written by a British Muslim.
posted by nasreddin at 4:58 PM on August 24, 2008 [3 favorites]


I've tried Qat. It was not that great, and also really gross.
Don't let one bad experience put you off. You do need to get in the right headspace for it first.
posted by Flashman at 4:59 PM on August 24, 2008


I CAN HAZ JIHAD?

* runs & hangs out with Salman Rushdie *
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:00 PM on August 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Where I live in America, there's an Ethiopian market where you can go and powdered qat. You find it by looking for the only big sign that is not in both English and Amharic (it's only in Amharic.)
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 5:01 PM on August 24, 2008


I've tried Qat. It was not that great, and also really gross.

Are you sure you're not confusing it with kava?
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:01 PM on August 24, 2008


http://theislamicist.wordpress.com/2007/09/18/ordering-chicken-and-chips-islamicist-style/ ">This is hilarious.
posted by nasreddin at 5:13 PM on August 24, 2008


Whoa, I fucked that one up.
posted by nasreddin at 5:14 PM on August 24, 2008


MAH BUKKIT BETEL NUT!
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:18 PM on August 24, 2008


Qat is not that much like coca. Qat leaves have a waxy layer and I found it difficult to get much effect no matter what I tried. (Unlike coca, which is pretty easy to get the hang of.) Also, why the instant identification with "addiction"? Wonder how long 'til the next mefi post praising the wonders of coffee, to which no one is "addicted", they merely can't get through the day without it, right?

And this line: "Qat has a horrendous social impact, like any drug. Wikipedia says that 17% of income on average could be spent on Qat." What a load of crap. Where is the "social impact" of Qat? Let's see some documented evidence that Qat does Yemenis harm, and not just white-man xenophobia.

By the way, Qat is a beautiful plant with large glossy leaves with red stems. Grows quickly in warm areas in full sun, likes dry conditions, perfect for the California coast in the summer in pots, best to shelter it from heavy rains.
posted by telstar at 5:35 PM on August 24, 2008


I've tried Qat. It was not that great, and also really gross.

When I tried it, I got vaguely high. More interestingly, I didn't smoke for three days afterwards. I usually smoke 30-40 fags a day. Scientists should look into that, I think.

Also, those cats, and the Islamicist weblog, were a total LOLiphate.
posted by jack_mo at 5:39 PM on August 24, 2008


Wow, khat is illegal in the US? WTF? I don't remember seeing the scare films about that stuff in PE class.
posted by crapmatic at 5:55 PM on August 24, 2008


telstar: for what it's worth, I heard more than a few Ethiopians complaining about how hardcore khat users would spend a large proportion of their money on it, and have read similar things about the situation in Yemen. Like I said, though, it's hard to understand why, as the effects just aren't all that strong. It might be because you need to chew a LOT of leaves to get even a mild buzz, and so maybe people are tempted to just keep buying more & more & more...?

I recall a few derelict, wino-looking types being pointed out disapprovingly as khat addicts, but it's hard to know whether they spent their days chewing because they had no home, job or family, or vice versa.

For anybody interested in trying it* the key is to only chew the very young, oily leaves; they're usually reddish in colour & very waxy, with a slightly sweet, metallic taste. The older, drier, larger leaves are no use & are always discarded.

* (not sure what the legal situation is, but I think it used to be legal to purchase in Australia, but not to grow it or import it without a licence; I believe the US had similar laws, but IANYL)
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:06 PM on August 24, 2008


Also P.J. O'Rourke from All The Trouble In The World:

Down in the courtyard our gunmen and drivers were chewing qat. The plant looks like watercress and tastes like a handful of something pulled at random from the flower garden. You have to chew a lot of it, a bundle the size of a whisk broom, and you have to chew it for a long time. It made my mouth numb and gave me a little bit of a stomachache, that's all. Maybe qat is very subtle. I remember thinking cocaine was subtle, too, until I noticed I'd been awake for three weeks and didn't know any of the naked people passed out around me. The Somalis seemed to get off. They start chewing before lunch but the high didn't kick in until about three in the afternoon. Suddenly our drivers would start to drive straight into potholes at full speed. Straight into pedestrians and livestock, too. We called it "the qat hour"...

Qat is grown in Kenya. "The Somalis can chew twenty planes a day!" said a woman who worked in the Nairobi airport. According to the Kenyan charter pilots some twenty loads of qat are indeed flown into Mogadishu each morning. Payloads are normally about a ton per flight. Qat is sold by the bunch, called a maduf, which retails for $3.75 and weighs about half a pound. Thus $300,000 worth of qat arrives in Somalia every day. But it takes U.S. Marines to deliver a sack of wheat.
posted by hal9k at 6:20 PM on August 24, 2008 [5 favorites]


Never had the opportunity to try qat, but during a 6 month stay in Nigeria I grew very fond of kola nuts, which I think might be similar in effect. Bought 'em fresh every day, chewed 'em every day, as often as possible, really. For me they took the place of coffee, which was pretty much impossible to get and make (outside of instant Nescafe). And I loved the bitter taste.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:41 PM on August 24, 2008


Here's the social harm:

"All the more surprising then to discover that an estimated 80 per cent of agricultural irrigation in Yemen goes to a single crop and one that does little to put food in bellies or bring in hard currency from abroad.

...

Over half of adult Yemeni males chew daily and people regularly spend beyond their means to buy it. A small bag costs about $10 US. Most Yemenis earn less than $2 a day."

posted by MythMaker at 7:12 PM on August 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


His lolcats perplex me. Normally I'd look up words that I don't know.

Tayamum comprises (a) wiping of the forehead and eyebrows, using the inside of the hands and wiping the upper parts of the two hands with the inside of one another.

Deobandi = Islamic revivalists

Nikah, or nikkah, (Arabic: النكاح ), is the contract between a bride and bridegroom

The position of Sajdah in which the forehead touches the earth

posted by nickyskye at 7:51 PM on August 24, 2008


"All the more surprising then to discover that an estimated 80 per cent of agricultural irrigation in Yemen goes to a single crop and one that does little to put food in bellies or bring in hard currency from abroad.
Over half of adult Yemeni males chew daily and people regularly spend beyond their means to buy it. A small bag costs about $10 US. Most Yemenis earn less than $2 a day."


Translation: how dare those Yemenis decide what to do with their own money and their own land! If only they knew better! They should be more like us, and wreck other people's countries to feed their nationwide drug habit.
posted by vorfeed at 7:52 PM on August 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wow, vorfeed, what the heck? Maybe you can share with us the proper way to talk about qat.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 8:24 PM on August 24, 2008


Wow, that cbc article is incredibly depressing. Its like a real-life Lotus Eaters.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:33 PM on August 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Actually, nevermind, I read the article and it is quite xenophobix or at least strangely written.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 8:34 PM on August 24, 2008


The Islamicist stuff needs a merciless editor to rampage on through every entry and get it under control. It's charming and funny, but almost unreadable for more than a few paragraphs at a time.

Great stuff from a really engaging writer. Thank you for turning me on to him.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 8:35 PM on August 24, 2008


"Surveys show that more Yemenis than ever -- at least 80 percent of men, about 60 percent of women and increasing numbers of children under 10 -- settle down on most afternoons to a habit that ancient scripts recorded among merchants and religious mystics as early as the 10th century. Plucking the choicest leaves off a bundle of khat branches, aficionados chew relentlessly into the evening, until the keenest of them have tennis-ball-sized gobs of leaves in their cheeks, and the appearance of glassy-eyed Popeyes.

In a country where many people live off incomes of $100 a month or less, some of the poorest families cheerfully admit to spending 50 percent of their earnings on khat. The government acknowledges that 40 percent of the country's irrigated farming land is given over to growing khat shrubs and trees.

In the past 20 years, khat, known to plant biologists as Catha edulis, has become Yemen's major cash crop, bringing five times the earnings from coffee and 25 times those from cereals like corn.

In the bazaars behind the ancient battlements of Sana, the capital, just about everybody chews -- spice merchants seated behind baskets piled high with saffron and cardamom, thickly bearded craftsmen forging blades for the curved daggers Yemeni men carry on their belts, pharmacists, silversmiths, cobblers, men roasting shish kebabs and fish, even beggars. More than a pleasure, it is a matter of pride, central to the Yemeni's sense of himself.

"It's our whisky!" one man cried. Another, winking mischievously as he chewed, said, "It is what gives us our power!"

A government official, plastic-wrapped khat branches under his arm, joined the debate. "Without khat, Yemen is nothing!" he said. His wife, only her eyes showing through the black veil worn by all women outdoors, added, "It is the flower of paradise."

So it was all the bolder of President Ali Abdullah Saleh -- or more quixotic, as some Yemenis believe -- to begin a campaign in the spring to stamp out the habit. Long a keen khat chewer himself, given to presiding over lengthy councils of state that are simultaneously khat-chewing sessions, Saleh denounced the leaf as "a social evil," and urged his countrymen to adopt more productive pursuits."
^
posted by MythMaker at 9:41 PM on August 24, 2008


"An organisation has been launched in Yemen to persuade people to stop chewing the popular narcotic leaf, khat.

Many Yemenis spend up to eight hours a day chewing the stimulant and more than 80% of the agricultural land is given over to growing it.

But last month President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced he was confining his own khat habit to weekends only.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh: Urged Yemenis to follow his lead
And he urged people to follow his example and turn instead to sport and other healthier activities.

Doctors say chewing khat can cause unpredictable behaviour and lead to other long-term diseases and psychological disorders."
^
posted by MythMaker at 9:43 PM on August 24, 2008


The active ingredient in Qat is an amphetamine, isn't it? Anything that tingles the dopamine receptors like that is bound to be addictive in the same way that meth and coke is. The Qat that I had was dried, so that was probably why it wasn't that effective. I didn't think it was any better than ephedra, honestly. Who knows, it may have even been ephedra, though we got it from a cab driver.
posted by empath at 9:55 PM on August 24, 2008


Mythmaker, somebody from Yemen could probably write a similarly breathless expose about the US and coffee. The main difference between our attitudes toward these drugs is familiarity... and, of course, money to spare, which allows us to export most of the unpleasant environmental and economic effects of our own massive, nationwide drug habit. It seems obvious to me that the real problems in those articles (living on $2 per day, having a water crisis) stem chiefly from extreme poverty, not qat. Surprise surprise, only one of these is a post-1960s development... and it ain't qat.

I mean, what else could have triggered Yemen's decline since the 1970s? That period included several different civil wars, drought, a population explosion, and constant outbreaks of off-and-on rebellion. In more recent years, Saudia Arabia expelled millions of Yemeni workers and cut agricultural aid due to Yemen's support for Iraq in the first Gulf War, thus wrecking Yemen's economy to the tune of 1 billion per year in losses. No problems there, right? Why, the main problem is obviously a mildly intoxicating plant these people have been growing and chewing for millennia. Of course, what else could it possibly be!

Also, way to selectively quote. From your first link:
The World Bank and Yemen's Health Ministry have asked European experts to prepare new khat studies with a view to sorting myth from reality. Yemenis say chewing gives them energy, helps them concentrate, improves sexual potency, and acts as a social lubricant, drawing people together for daily discussions; they compare its narcotic effects with nicotine, and contrast it with the hard drugs used widely in the West. In fact, they say, khat's prevalence may be one reason why Yemen has virtually no reported cocaine or heroin abuse.
[...]
While new studies are pending, some Yemenis suggest that Westerners suspend judgment. Among other things, they note that the West's first encounter with coffee came when 15th-century European traders tasted what Arabs call kahwa at the port of Mocha, on Yemen's Red Sea coast. At the time, kahwa and khat, in drink form, were equally popular in Mocha as stimulants, but traders took kahwa to Europe instead of khat because coffee beans were easier to transport than perishable khat leaves.

"So, don't be too quick to judge," said one Yemeni khat-chewer. "But for that, you wouldn't be drinking coffee now, you'd be chewing khat like us."

posted by vorfeed at 10:23 PM on August 24, 2008 [3 favorites]


His lolcats perplex me. Normally I'd look up words that I don't know.

fajr - predawn prayer
zuhr - noon prayer
azan - call to prayer
mukhabar - spy/informant, I think
barelvi vs deobandi = two major sub-schools of Hanafi Islamic law in India/Pakistan. Notorious for a petty but long-running theological dispute that is incomprehensible to muslims outside the subcontinent
posted by BinGregory at 10:32 PM on August 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


The alkaloid in khat is cathinone, which may sound familiar to you if you remember methcathinone or "cat", a meth-like stimulant that was highly popular in Michigan and other parts of the central US for a few years in the early 90s. The chemical structures for methamphetamine, amphetamine, methcathinone, and cathinone are all very similar. Wellbutrin, the antidepressant/smoking drug, is actually a variant of cathinone, butylcathinone or something like that.
posted by DecemberBoy at 11:49 PM on August 24, 2008


By the way, I wouldn't want anyone to read that and then go try to get high off their Wellbutrin prescription: it won't work, and taking more than the prescribed dose can cause bad shit like seizures. It's the same deal as those old Vicks inhalers with "l-methamphetamine" as the active ingredient that many clueless people thought they could cook meth (the substance you want is d-methamphetamine, a totally different isomer) with: that little extra molecule or group sticking off the side makes it useless.
posted by DecemberBoy at 12:08 AM on August 25, 2008


Interestingly, Khat was in my local (western suburbs Melbourne) paper just this week - apparently it's a real scourge of the sudanese community, with calls for its banning by community leaders. A couple of hundred kilos are imported yearly.
posted by wilful at 12:37 AM on August 25, 2008


>somebody from Yemen could probably write a similarly breathless expose about the US and coffee

Probably not. Do we have the president coming on TV and talking about our nationwide coffee problem and admitting he can only do it on the weeked? Are we literally running out of water to feed our coffee plants? Is there anything comparable to the "qat hour?" Can coffee keep someone up for days? Are there editorials on how coffee is ruining American society? I dont think the two issues are comparable.
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:37 AM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Funny stuff—thanks, nickyskye! I love the rant nasreddin linked:

...Instead of trading in coinage that is symbolic of the oppressive monetary system not-linked-to-the-gold-standard, you can trade in Dinars and Dirhams. How does that sound? Before you answer that remember you have been conditioned my friend, conditioned to accept this five pound note. Think deeply and reflect.

Can I have some chilli sauce on that..thanks.


What's all this crap about powdered qat? Qat has to be chewed fresh, within a day of being picked; that's why it's transported by plane. And I suggest we let the Yemenis worry about the pluses and minuses and the fershlugginer social impact. It's somebody else's plate of beans, people!
posted by languagehat at 6:41 AM on August 25, 2008


"Nagy Ali Mohammed isn't worried about a water shortage in Yemen. He says God will provide what's needed for the craggy, volcanic land where he grows khat, a leaf chewed daily by most Yemeni men.
``There is Allah above,'' the 50-year-old said as a red truck pumped water into his fields. ``There always will be water.''

Yemen will need more than Nagy's faith in the divine to avert a crisis. The Middle Eastern nation's addiction to khat is sucking up scarce water resources. Cultivation of the mild stimulant has increased 13-fold in three decades and now uses 30 percent of the nation's water, according to the World Bank.

Khat is consuming water needed to meet growing demands as the population increases by 3.5 percent annually and people desert the countryside for the city. The capital, Sanaa, won't have enough water for its more than 2 million inhabitants within two decades, said Ramon Scoble, team leader for a water project run by German aid agency GTZ.

``It is not a matter of if it happens anymore, but a matter of when,'' he said."
^
posted by MythMaker at 10:41 AM on August 25, 2008


Probably not. Do we have the president coming on TV and talking about our nationwide coffee problem and admitting he can only do it on the weeked? Are we literally running out of water to feed our coffee plants? Is there anything comparable to the "qat hour?" Can coffee keep someone up for days? Are there editorials on how coffee is ruining American society? I dont think the two issues are comparable.

Take tobacco as your example, then. Or alcohol. (And yes, coffee can certainly keep someone up for days... where were you during hell week and/or residency?) In short, it's not as if we don't have plenty of legal drugs which cause social problems and decrease efficiency.

The only thing there that's objectively a major problem is "running out of water". And when even anti-qat articles say things like "Cultivation of the mild stimulant has increased 13-fold in three decades and now uses 30 percent of the nation's water, according to the World Bank. Khat is consuming water needed to meet growing demands as the population increases by 3.5 percent annually and people desert the countryside for the city"... well, which of those is the cause, and which the effect? Again, these people have been growing and chewing qat forever -- it's the economic blight (which led directly to the increased cultivation of qat, because it provided greater short-term profit than coffee exports) and water crisis that's new. Blaming these problems on qat is putting the cart before the horse, to say the least.

Besides, if you live in a rebellion-torn drought region, which are you going to grow? Not enough food, or not enough food and some stuff which brings in money and also makes you feel better about not having enough food? It sure would be nice if human beings were 100% rational actors, but we're not, and the situation in Yemen is well within the sort of behavior I'd expect from human beings who are starting to run up against a wall. Just take a look at the number of liquor stores in the poor part of town, if you don't believe me.
posted by vorfeed at 11:16 AM on August 25, 2008


"A Yemeni man chews qat in the main qat market in Sanaa May 9, 2007. Lunchtime in Sanaa. Offices begin to close, the crowds disappear from the ancient souqs, restaurants hurry their last customers out: the qat is here. The arrival of this mildly stimulant shrub by truck from the countryside heralds the end of the working day as Yemenis settle down to chew its leaves for the next four, six or even 10 hours.

On any given afternoon, many men sit, drive or walk the streets with a tennis ball-sized wad of qat in one cheek, looking at first glance like they desperately need a dentist. Cramming a few choice pickings into his already bulging cheeks, driver Zayed al-Rehani, 28, swears by the stuff.

"It keeps me up 24 hours. If I am on night duty, it keeps me up," he said, five hours into the eight-hour drive from Yemen's southern port of Aden to the capital in the north. "I started when I was around 15 ... we grow it in my village."

Qat, or catha edulis, has become the national pastime in this poor Arab country of 19 million, but one many experts say is ravaging Yemen's frail economy and sucking up precious water.

Demand for qat is so high and Yemenis are so inclined to spend a large chunk of their paltry incomes on it that farmers are uprooting their fruits, vegetables and coffee in favour of the popular evergreen that provides year-round profit.

Qat production has grown by more than 41 percent to 147,444 tonnes in the decade to 2006, according to official figures. That makes qat Yemen's biggest cash crop by far; just 22,002 tonnes of its nearest rival, cotton, were produced in 2006. Already filling terraces across much of Yemen's mountainous north, qat is now making inroads into the plains further south. "
^
posted by MythMaker at 11:24 AM on August 25, 2008


Are there editorials on how coffee is ruining American society?
posted by empath at 11:24 AM on August 25, 2008


FREE YEMEN FROM QAT

The Tibet bumper sticker was peeling anyway.
posted by everichon at 11:26 AM on August 25, 2008


Wonder how long 'til the next mefi post praising the wonders of coffee, to which no one is "addicted", they merely can't get through the day without it, right?

We can get that over with right here in the comments. I've been addicted as hell to coffee for 25 years. I've done quit everything else there is to quit, and you'll pry my mug... you know the drill.

(sorry 7.2 weeks without a cigarette -- over the urge to rip out lungs and bash in heads of innocent bystanders, but apparently not yet over the urge to fight on the internet. Gah.)
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:44 AM on August 25, 2008


Cute, empath. But a petition from 1674 isn't the same as something that the Yemeni government and the WHO consider to be a problem and are trying, at this moment, to change.

It is certainly true that Yemen is having economic problems at the moment, beyond what is being caused by khat, but when their largest cash crop is addictive, can cause short term schizophrenic episodes, and is using so much water in a desert country, then there are problems here beyond just the general economic malaise of the country. Khat is a real problem.
posted by MythMaker at 12:16 PM on August 25, 2008


In case anyone's interested in seeing how one chomps on qat, there's a video in the Catha Edulis link of the OP. And the chewer mixes it with Juicy Fruit, which seems amusing.
posted by nickyskye at 1:06 PM on August 25, 2008


It is certainly true that Yemen is having economic problems at the moment, beyond what is being caused by khat

Frankly, I haven't seen you give convincing evidence that any of Yemen's economic problems are "being caused by khat". Everything you've posted about khat makes much more sense if it is seen as an effect of Yemen's economy, not the cause, including the fact that it is "using so much water in a desert country". You seem to believe that Yemen would somehow recover if only its most profitable industry were to disappear, but I don't think that makes economic sense. People are growing khat because it is the most profitable crop, not the other way around. Thus, the economic problems which led to this state of affairs need to be addressed before khat cultivation will go away.

And guess what? Our largest cash crop is also (psychologically) addictive, and has been linked to long-term schizophrenia. IMHO, that's not enough to make something a "real problem", even when compared to our own relatively minor economic issues, and especially not when compared to things like violent unrest, drought conditions, and widespread rural flight.

I suspect that the "real problem" here is that the Yemeni government has found an issue that will get them global attention from wealthy Drug War nations. Nobody cares if people in Yemen are starving... but what's that you say? People in Yemen are all getting high?! Break out the foreign aid and the hyperbolic op-ed pieces, this must be stopped at all costs!
posted by vorfeed at 1:30 PM on August 25, 2008


vorfeed, I've linked to articles from Yemen, Somalia, Cannabis News and other places which can hardly be called Western pro- U.S. "War on Drugs" sources.

You don't think it's a problem when people are so addicted to a drug that a majority of the population is high on it 4-10 hours a day, and spends 50% or more of their income on it? Pot smokers in the U.S. are not spending 50% of their income on pot.

Who cares about whether or not the drug is psychoactively good for them. What's far more upsetting is the concurrent loss of economic productivity lost by being high all day, using all their water for irrigation for the plant, and spending all their income on the drug.

You don't think these 3 things are problematic?
posted by MythMaker at 2:30 PM on August 25, 2008 [3 favorites]


Who cares about whether or not the drug is psychoactively good for them. What's far more upsetting is the concurrent loss of economic productivity lost by being high all day, using all their water for irrigation for the plant, and spending all their income on the drug.

You don't think these 3 things are problematic?


It would probably be better if Yemenis had a more moderate approach to khat use. However, given the historical context in which it has developed, the problems with extreme khat use are pretty clearly the effects of Yemen's economic and social problems, not the cause of them; articles which breathlessly list these problems as though they were caused by khat use are, to put it simply, bullshit, no matter where they're from. Khat didn't make the water go away; a population explosion which far outstripped the water table's ability to support agriculture did. It would not matter one whit if Yemenis were growing coffee, cereals, or fruit in place of khat -- the water would still be gone. That goes double since khat is not a water-intensive crop, which is one of the reasons for its popularity amongst farmers.

Also, I don't think "concurrent loss of economic productivity lost by being high all day, using all their water for irrigation for the plant, and spending all their income on the drug" necessarily add up to an economic negative, at least not in this case. Khat is both the number one cash crop and the number one export in Yemen. If Yemenis all stopped chewing khat tomorrow and switched to growing food, they would be making far less money, which is not exactly great for the economy. If you really want to argue that growing cereals for 8 hours a day (profit: ~0.10 million rials per hectare) is better, economically, than growing khat for four hours a day (profit: 2.5 million rials per hectare) and then using the extra money to buy imported cereals, be my guest, but I'm afraid that your math won't convince the farmers. There is a reason why these people have torn out their coffee and fruit crops and planted khat, and it's not just because it's really fun to chew -- it's because it is making them much more money than other crops. Thus, a "drug problem" approach is simply not going to help the situation... not when farmers in Yemen would be foolish not to grow khat.

This is an economic problem. The focus on khat use as a cause, as opposed to an effect, is nothing but a harmful red herring.
posted by vorfeed at 4:14 PM on August 25, 2008


From the "popularity with farmers" link above, about khat in Ethiopia:
"I used to grow maize, sorghum and teff (a cereal crop), but these crops are difficult to grow as they require a lot of rains and a lot of attention," he says. "Khat requires little water or cultivation. For poor people like me, if you chew it, then you don't feel hungry and this is good if you don't have enough food to feed yourself," he explains.
[...]
Even in regions like Tigray, where the plant has been banned, cultivation and usage continues and attempts to replace khat with cash crops like coffee have failed.


That, right there, is the reason why the drug argument doesn't work -- because it's ridiculous to pretend as if dirt-poor Yemenis and Ethiopians are just like first-world citizens who have the luxury of not "spending 50% of their income on pot" and the like. The cultural and economic situation here is entirely different; when the question is between starving and starving but not feeling hungry, no one is going to choose the former. When the question is between spending your paltry $2 per day to grow an easy and profitable crop, or a difficult crop for less profit, the answer is equally obvious. No amount of frowning over drug use, laziness, and "economic productivity" will change this.

The problems with khat use will probably improve when people in Yemen have enough money and food. Unfortunately for your argument, that does not necessarily imply that stamping out khat will lead to their having enough money and food... in fact, I think it's likely that the exact opposite would occur, as I said above.

I don't doubt that Yemenis will eventually moderate their khat use, but IMHO, something better has to come along first.
posted by vorfeed at 4:42 PM on August 25, 2008


Then they can grow khat for export. Grow what makes you the most money. That's certainly the attitude in Afghanistan, for example.

It's the internal cultural addiction that's such a problem. It's having a culturally sanctioned activitiy that is damaging to the water supply, worker productivity, and wasting high amounts of income on the drug.

Export the drug -- but having such a high percentage of their own population addicted can't be a good thing.
posted by MythMaker at 5:03 PM on August 25, 2008


"When you eat khat, you relax," declares Ladir, an unemployed dockworker with sharply etched features who's looking decidedly worked up. "When you don't have a job and you chew khat, you are calm. You feel like your problems disappear. Here in the mabraze with my khat brothers, we don't worry about anything. And do you know why? Because with khat, everything is possible. With khat, people stop fighting. With khat, there is only peace."

A chorus of approving grunts suggests that maybe this is an idea everybody can get behind. Concordance seems within reach -- until Awole realizes he's got a problem with where one of the Omars has chosen to sit and attempts to perform an eviction. A shoving match breaks out. The group scrambles to separate the combatants. It takes several minutes to persuade Awole, who already has his shirt off and looks ready to brawl, to get dressed and sit back down.

Khadar turns to me with a wry smile.

"We all know khat's no good," he says. "We spend too much money on it. We don't work. We don't buy shoes for our kids. Divorce, domestic fighting, so many problems..."

He sighs, eyes shining with a lacquered liquidity in the fading afternoon light.

"But still, we gotta have khat. What else can I say? This is how we live."
^
posted by MythMaker at 5:22 PM on August 25, 2008


Then they can grow khat for export. Grow what makes you the most money.

Growing khat for export-only would cut the market significantly, which would seem to defeat the purpose of growing "what makes you the most money".

Again, there is nothing "damaging to the water supply" about growing khat, in and of itself. Growing anything else in the same amounts would do as much or more damage to the water supply. Your other two points (being damaging to worker productivity and wasting income on the drug) really depend on one's point of view -- "wasting" income is not at all an objective statement, nor is "damage to productivity", especially not when khat production is such a moneymaker, when many Yemenis seem to feel that khat has a positive effect on their productivity, and when the economy is significantly up by some measures lately.

Export the drug -- but having such a high percentage of their own population addicted can't be a good thing.

Oh, yes, it can -- caffeine, alcohol, cannabis, and nicotine have been common examples throughout history. The idea that you can't have a successful society with a high rate of substance use and addiction is ridiculous, especially since you're actually living in one. Besides, it is up to Yemenis to decide whether widespread khat use is a good thing... and by the most obvious measure (khat consumption rates), their conclusion seems overwhelmingly clear.

By the way, thanks for finally admitting that this is all about your subjective feelings about drug use and addiction ("it can't be a good thing!"), not objective damage to Yemen.
posted by vorfeed at 5:51 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Don't you read what I quoted just above you?

"We all know khat's no good," he says. "We spend too much money on it. We don't work. We don't buy shoes for our kids. Divorce, domestic fighting, so many problems..."

That's what the khat USER was saying.

And I'm not anti-drug at all. I support the legalization of many illegal drugs in the U.S. You entirely misunderstand me, and have from the beginning.

Khat is destroying their country, and many people in Yemen, including the government of the country, are trying to do something about it. You see this as having something to do with the "War on Drugs," and it doesn't. Not to me, anyway. It's about helping out a people who are destroying themselves. Have you read any of the articles I've linked to?
posted by MythMaker at 11:13 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


« Older 10 Incredible Ancient Oases....  |  Whether Einstein's "spooky sc... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments