Qat triumphs over energy drinks [Archives:2006/958/Reportage]

June 26 2006
Qat fields occupy much of the agricultural lands throughout the country. YT photo
Qat fields occupy much of the agricultural lands throughout the country. YT photo
By: Mohammed Al-Jabri
Though energy drinks have become big hits in Yemeni markets, many find that qat recharges and gives them more energy than drinks like Red Bull, Power Horse and Shark.

While students chew qat to stay up all night reading and studying hard to prepare for exams, others chew qat for energy at work. Nowadays, energy drinks are used for the same purpose, but with less vital results than qat.

The best stimulant

“I allocate YR 10,000 only to buy qat during my final exams,” first-year Sana'a University student Mustafa Al-Harazi said, confessing that he can't review lectures without chewing qat. Like Al-Harazi, many students use qat as a stimulant to help them study hard, especially during exams.

Known to energize the body, energy drinks entered Yemen nearly six years ago and spread nationwide as citizens began using them for that purpose. However, such drinks have failed to compete with qat in terms of providing the body with energy.

Imad Al-Abdali, 27, recalled that last year he had to prepare for his math final exam. “It was 4 p.m. and I hadn't finished the second chapter. That day, I decided not to chew qat like usual, but rather to have some energy drinks. I drank two bottles of the best quality in the market, but I fell asleep before 10 p.m. I went to bed and failed to resist sleep.”

Al-Abdali thought such drinks would help him stay up all night without getting tired or falling asleep; however, “I will never depend on energy drinks, but rather on qat,” he concluded.

Young vs. old

Qat has been known for ages. Similarly, its fame as a stimulant has transferred from generation to generation. However, energy drinks only recently entered Yemen and thus are not known to everyone. For the most part, youth use energy drinks more than older people.

When asked about energy drinks, 50-year-old Ahmed Murshid said he never heard the term. But after listing names like Red Bull, Power Horse and Shark, he realized the meaning and said, “I've never thought of using energy drinks to give me vitality. Sure, I hear people talking about different kinds of energy drinks. For me, a few qat leaves gives me energy to pass through several villages on foot.”

For his part, after explaining to him what energy drinks are, 45-year-old Hajji Musleh Al-Matari, criticized youth who depend on such drinks. “In our days, we used no energy drinks. We now see some people drink energy drinks for vitality while we chew qat together. I've never had energy drinks and I won't try them.”

At times, some Sana'a University students and those at its branch campuses are observed sitting in exams with qat in their mouths; however, this is forbidden at most colleges. “I chew qat until dawn. After I eat breakfast, I chew again so I can concentrate on the exam and not fall asleep. This is really vital, as energy drinks don't work like qat does to keep me focused on the exam,” said Mukhtar Farhan, who studies at Sana'a University's Faculty of Law.

But for many other students, attending exams and qat chewing isn't appropriate or civil, so the only alternative is to drink energy drinks, even while sitting for an exam. “It's not civilized to sit for an exam while chewing qat. This isn't appropriate on the part of those chewing qat in the exam room. For me, if I need to feel active and not stressed, I'll drink an energy drink,” Sana'a University student Maha Abdullah pointed out.

Nasser Al-Hamami remembered an incident during his university days. “One day during our final exams, a friend of mine drank four bottles of an energy drink for fear he wouldn't concentrate on the question. The result was that he felt dizzy and couldn't attend the exam at all.”

Similarly, Nadia Awad retold her first experience with qat. “A friend advised me to chew qat so I could concentrate on preparing for my math exam, so I did and stayed up until dawn. I went to school to attend the exam, but couldn't answer any question because the qat's effect had ended that morning. I had a nervous breakdown. Since then, I decided not to chew qat.”

According to the Central Organization for Statistics, the 2005 agricultural season's domestic agricultural production was valued at YR 311.61 billion, with an estimated net worth of YR 29.12 billion, representing 24 percent growth compared to 2004.

Many poor and limited-income Yemenis chew qat, with studies showing that qat spending comprises 26 percent of family income. Some YR 250 billion is spent on qat annually and 20 million working hours wasted daily due to qat chewing.