Qat guardrooms [Archives:2006/914/Last Page]

January 23 2006
Photo from archived article: photos/914/lastpage1_1
Photo from archived article: photos/914/lastpage1_1
By: Mohammed Al-Jabri
[email protected]

In qat fields, there are always special guardrooms to protect qat trees from being stolen. At times, farmers keep watch over their qat fields to prevent their enemies from destroying the trees.

In fact, the growing interest in qat and the increasing number of qat addicts has led many farmers to plant more qat fields. Qat trees, in turn, require protection and care. This can be achieved by building and using guardrooms as a means of control.

Over the past 20 years, qat addicts have increased remarkably. Most belong to the lower class, while some are jobless. Consequently, sometimes they are obliged to go to qat fields and steal as much as they can. Others steal qat just to get money from selling it. This is why most qat farmers spend their nights guarding their trees.

However, looking back at history, before the September 26 Revolution, people did not steal or destroy qat fields. At that time, qat was not as important as it is now and people did not sell it at high prices.

Most qat guardrooms are small, with a five- or six-person capacity. They are four meters high, with at least three small windows. A qat guardroom is best built on a strategic site overlooking the entire field, especially in mountainous areas.

If a qat field is planted on a plain, then the guardroom is built on a base and raised to enable the watchman to view the entire field. Sometimes, a farmer's house is built within the qat field itself, so no guardroom is necessary.

In some mountainous areas, farmers are satisfied to simply set up a tent instead of building a guardroom. They say this method is easy, though dangerous, as they put tents in different corners of the field, thus puzzling thieves as to where the guard actually is located.

Inside a qat guardroom is a simple carpet with a few arm-resting pillows. A gun, a strong thick stick, a thick jacket and a lantern hang on the wall. Some guardrooms have doors and some do not. Some guardrooms were built years ago, while others are modern. Old guardrooms are made of mud and large stones, while modern guardrooms are made of concrete and cement. If the qat field is very big, farmers affix a large torch atop the guardroom.

In general, qat guardrooms have a special atmosphere, as they overlook natural scenes. They are a good place for friends to meet and some students find a chance to review their lessons in these guardrooms. Usually, young men gather and get involved in endless discussions, especially on social and political topics. In some areas like Khawlan, talented people gather in guardrooms to recite poems or hold poetry debates. But nowadays this practice is beginning to disappear as most farmers bring televisions and radios into their guardrooms, while others prefer playing cards or chess.

At night, silence falls upon the qat fields. Nearly everything is calm and the task of guarding qat might seem frightening and dangerous. In mountainous areas, farmers sometimes are threatened by recurring fierce animals like tigers, hyenas and wolves. Such animals frequently visit qat fields in search of prey and it may be that the farmer himself is the prey. Those spending their nights in guardrooms are armed with a gun and they immediately shut the door upon hearing a fierce animal. Upon hearing or suspecting an approaching fierce animal, guards readily fire three to five shots in the air. Those guarding from tents are most exposed to danger. A fierce animal can approach a tent and easily attack those inside.

If there is a fierce animal, farmers unite and launch organized attacks against it, entrenching themselves along the animal's trodden path. This takes much time because fierce animals are cautious, but in the end, the farmers win.


Farmers employ different methods and tricks in guarding qat fields. Some turn on a radio or television or switch on the guardroom light and then leave, making it look as if someone is there. Others who guard from their houses occasionally fire warning shots at potential qat thieves.

Qat tales

Four young men once went to a qat field. Two went to the guardroom and convinced the farmer to let them stay with him. They talked, laughed and succeeded in distracting the farmer's attention from watching the qat trees. The other two men safely stole as much qat as they could carry!

A farmer wanted to know whether his son (who guarded the qat fields) was cautious and courageous. One day, he went to the qat field his son was guarding and threw stones at the guardroom windows. The son was more than courageous. Armed with a strong stick and a gun, he left the guardroom to search for a thief. Finally, he saw his father, but did not recognize him because he was disguised. The son immediately hit him with the stick and carried the swooning man to the guardroom, where he was shocked to discover he had hit his own father!