Qat is a native tree to the Arabian Peninsula. It’s an amphetamine-like stimulant. Its fresh leaves and tops are chewed to achieve a state of euphoria and excitement.
In Yemen the custom of chewing qat dates back thousand of years and is the country’s basic form of socializing.
90% of men and 25% of women are estimated to chew the leaves, storing a lump in one cheek as the qat slowly breaks down into the saliva and enters the bloodstream. The custom is followed by men of all social ranks : religious leaders, officials, businessmen, doctors, workers, craftsmen. There are qat chewing gatherings at home in the Mafraj ( the special room situated at the top floor of each Yemeni house ). But, workers, shopkeepers, craftsmen chew qat while working.
Late morning, men buy the bunch of qat they will need for the day. By four in the afternoon most men are high, showing cheeks bulging with qat.
There are central markets in all cities. The farmers or wholesalers bring their qat there. Qat is wrapped in damp, thick materials to keep it fresh. During the sale, it is divided into small bunches and wrapped in plastic bags in various sizes according to the needs of the buyers. Each type of qat has its own special quality and price.
But negative facts about cultivation and effects on the population are raised :
- it’s an expensive habit in a country which is the poorest country in the Arab World.
- the widespread cultivation of qat has exacerbated a severe water shortage in the country. Most experts predict Sana’a will run out of economically viable water supplies by 2017.
- its cultivation consumes much of the country’s agricultural resources. Once a vibrant farming economy, Yemen today imports up to 80% of its food needs.
In today’s Yemen war ravaged, the population at large ( including all Houthis rebels, soldiers and Al-Qaida fighters ) is still chewing qat and the number of children using qat is increasing.
The images on this post have been taken in the Old City of Sana’a in 1992 and 1993.