Is Qat really that bad For Yemen? [Archives:2003/654/Reportage]

July 28 2003

By Rayan Mohammed

It is no secret that qat is an established force in Yemeni society. No Thursday is complete with a qat chewing session, which motivates most people to get past the week anticipating the day they chew. Qat has also been grounds for debate as well. Many believe that it is part of our culture, and therefore should be embraced and enjoyed by all proper Yemenis. Meanwhile others realize the various health risks it carries and choose not to chew. However, is qat really that harmful to our society, or is it an easy escape route, when asked what is the root of Yemen's problems?

To answer this question objectively, you would have to say yes and no. Qat has many advantages. Firstly and most significantly, qat creates a common Yemeni identity. One of Yemen's greatest feature and an evident weakness is the diversity of the people. People from Sana'a differ from people in Hadramaut; people from Taiz differ from people from Aden. Chewing qat provides a link between different areas of Yemen. Qat chewing session provides a common forum for all Yemeni people to meet and socialize, and to bridge a gap between their ideologies, and learn from one another. Through chewing, Yemeni people know more about themselves and therefore become a more unified nation. Secondly, qat provides in some sense a driving force for the week. Thinking of when you are going to chew and so on, gives some people something to look forward to. Realistically, they aren't many things to hope for, however, qat is one thing people can look forward to. Thirdly, despite its health risks, qat is a distraction for many teenagers. Yemeni teenagers have little, if anything to do; besides driving around Sana'a looking for trouble or going to restaurants. Sports facilities are available but are still far for the greatness they may achieve one day. Also, qat distracts from more serious drugs like marijuana, which has become more widespread in Yemen. Fourthly, and though not necessary an advantage, selling qat is a very profitable business that requires little education. Farmers grow qat, which they can make a reasonable amount of money selling. Qat sellers can sell at any price they please, depending on the buyer's bargaining abilities. Lastly, qat chewing sessions are a good place to meet and socialize with people. In a qat chewing session, everyone is doing the same thing, and more willing to socialize. It allows for a place where egos aren't as bloated and people are more willing to engage in conversations with people and topics that they would normally be reluctant to explore.

On the other hand, qat has many disadvantages that provide a solid argument against chewing. Firstly, qat is a costly habit. Though it may save money in some aspects, for example a chewing occupies the better part of the evening; therefore there is no need to go to restaurants or entertainment centers. However, the cost of qat is uncertain and is constantly fluctuating according to the weather or the economy. Also, it requires good bargaining skills on the buyer's part, and if lacking those, then the price of qat can be double what it is really worth. Secondly, the basic harmful health risks are well-known including teeth damage or worse cancer. However, a common occurrence in chewing is a vast amount of smoking, which harms everyone including non-chewers and smokers. Which is further worsened in qat session by the fact that few chewers take kindly to an open window during the session. Also, to many people, chewing qat makes it more likely for the chewer to smoke more then he/she would normally would and frequently to chain smoke. Thirdly, chewing qat, argued by many, is forbidden or disliked in the Islamic religion. Many people may chew qat and wish not to spit out their qat in order to pray; therefore they choose to continue chewing neglecting a fundamental Islamic duty. Fourthly, chewing qat many provide the chance to meet new people and learn new things; however it prevents a person from exploring new opportunities. This is a very common scenario in Yemen, especially among teenage qat chewers. An opportunity to join a sport team, or to learn a new skill presents itself, however, it conflicts with the time they chew. It is the more likely, that the person will let the opportunity pass. And if he/she decides to capitalize on it, they will go there and constantly be regretting choosing to do such and such, and wish their chewing instead. Lastly and most significantly, chewing qat has had a negative effect on the economy in more ways than one. Firstly, qat farms continue to replace coffee farms and other goods that can be exported, thus keeping our economy stagnant. However, qat mainly affects the labour force. Though in some ways, qat provides a motivation to work in the morning, it can easily be turned into discontent if a person has to work in the afternoon. Many people who chew during office hours in the Yemeni service industry like shops tend to be adequate at best. Many taxi and dabab drivers become even more reckless when chewing since chewing becomes a priority over safety. And even worse, many people will refuse to work in the evening in order to chew and would deem it unfair to work during what normally would be chewing hours. And in many cases, these people remain unemployed, and to chew to complain about how their unemployment is caused by some external force rather than their own laziness and dependency on qat.

In conclusion, qat is a part of our culture, though some of us would like it not to be. It allows us to meet people and socialize with people we would normally not care for. However, it would be hypocritical on my part, as a non-chewer to approve of chewing. It is best to know your limitations and your own welfare, and if you choose not to chew, you should continue to affirm your rights to choice without feeling any less Yemeni than you are. The number of chewers is rising along with the number of non-chewers, therefore, whether you choose to chew or not, it is important to keep a level head and to keep it your choice. Either way, qat will always be there, you can join the tide, or do as your will please.