What a lot of women wear under all that black.
It has taken me until now to write anything substantial about the magical green leaf that nearly the entire population, both male and female, chew.
Qat is a considered to be a 'mild narcotic'. The most powerful variety comes from Ethiopia. Other countries where it is chewed include Djbouti and Kenya. It is found in other places, but it is considered to be illegal.
There are dozens of varieties and the best are found in the north where qat is produced. The most expensive, with the longest stems is called 'baladee', other good kinds include 'sameen' in the south and 'gatal'. To get the qat you go to one of the various qat 'sooqs' to buy your bag for the day. The taste varies, the best kind has small sweet leaves and stems that make your mouth go slightly numb. The cheaper kinds have more of a bitter taste and you are not able to eat their stems.
A typical qat chew can last from anywhere between 1 to 8 hours. A group of people will get together, sit on cushions which are on the floor; they chew, talk, relax and often smoke sheesha while chewing. Water is a necessity because you will become dehyrdated while drinking it. Some people choose to drink some kind of soda or energy drink with it. The most common question someone will ask you is 'Tishtee ihmaar u iswid?' 'Do you want red or black?' Referring to Candada Dry Red or Black.
To really get a good affect you need to chew for at least two to three. You take the leaves, break off the smaller ones and then pop them in your mouth, storing them in your cheek. If you chew long enough then you form an enormous ball that resemble something of Popeye the Sailor Man. An Iraqi woman, who happens to be a political refugee due to the war, told me when she first arrived in Yemen she saw all these men with bulging cheeks and became horrified for she thought they all suffered from some sort of disease. She soon understood following her arrival that they were in fact only stoned on qat.
Now, you ask if I have chewed qat? Of course I have. People offer it to you everywhere. The longest chew I ever did lasted seven hours. It amazed me how fast time goes when chewing. I remember looking at my watch at 2 pm, then looking back at 7 pm to find that five hours had virtually disappeared. However, compared to alcohol or any other types of drugs, you are completely coherent on qat...you don't act high. Just very mellow and talkative. And of course you have a certain glaze to your eyes.
The problems with qat are many. Yemen is a poor country and loads of people dump money into their daily chewing habit instead of into the maintenance of their families. Just as with every over type of drug, several people become addicted to it. Also, the lucrative qat fields have replaced what used to be coffee. While domestically qat is sold for a good profit, it is illegal to export it; therefore, limiting the amount of exports to enhance Yemen's economy. To grow qat, the crop needs a lot of water. Yemen, similar to so many Arab countries, has a limited water supply; the water going to producing a crop of qat reduces the amount for human consumption or for another cash crop.
This is only a few of the major problems qat produces in the country. This is not to mention the multiple health problems that arise due to its use. Similar to other drugs, it helps people to escape the reality of their lives. I believe that if it were made illegal in Yemen all the people currently suppressed on qat would start some type of revolution. That, or they would turn to some other type of drug.
A man once handed me a bundle of qat saying, "In Yemen we are poor and don't have any flowers. Instead will you please accept my bouquet of qat leaves?". Qat is a controversial part of Yemen as deeply rooted as any other tradition found in the region.