The Aftermath [Archives:1999/09/Culture]

March 1 1999

Chewing qat is one of the most common and deeply-entrenched past-times in Yemen. A high number of people are addicted to it. They feel that it fills them up with energy and vitality. In fact, it has developed into a psychological belief; “No Qat, no energy, and hence no work, study or whatever else.”
Qat is the power house of energy and activity. This is because it contains some intoxicating matter. It is noticeable that this habit is not merely restricted to men, for women and young boys chew. In some places where qat grows considerably even children chew.
People addicted to qat chewing are called “mawalaee”, the plural form of “mawali’a”. They chew qat for its own sake. Some people feel that qat can help them a lot in concentrating on their work or study. But some do it for the feelings it brings. Qat for them is a necessity. Some even give it priority over food. They manage to eat anything, but with qat,they don’t want food. To put it another way, qat for them is even more important than food. This is the extreme form of qat chewing. Far away from the merits or demerits of chewing, the state of affairs overwhelming the chewer of qat is my concern here.
The place where a number of chewers gather in is known as ‘makyal’ and their session is known as ‘kailah’. The first post of the kailah is remarkably marked with the cracking of jokes and cheerful spirits warming the session. Their intoxication from the qat increases, the whole place becomes as silent as grave. Now, everybody crouches by himself in a corner, shaping and building their castles in the air. They can do wonders under the impact of qat. Some become political, social or economic analysts; some became scientists, experts or whatever else.
It all happens after Qat
As a matter of fact, what some people do after chewing Qat is quite interesting, amusing, funny and saddening as well. Of course, the quality of the Qat being chewed makes a large difference in determining the state of the chewer after chewing. Some Qat makes one feel gleeful and joyous, but some creates ripples in mind and can bring havoc; it makes one feel being in a rat’s alley.
Let me now record the plights of some qat addicts which they told me about in interviews. Some of them asked me not to have their names published.
Mr. Hussein X says that his favorite thing to do after Qat is to gnaw at his finger nails. One feels shocked and appalled when seeing the remnants of them. Actually, the situation becomes worse when the qat is of low quality. Sometimes, his fingernails start bleeding. He frankly confesses that he has tried his best to give it up, but to no avail.
But Mr. Ali Ahmad (driver) has got another story to tell. He says that after chewing qat, he feels that his electronic appliances are not working well and hence have to be fixed. Therefore, he shoulders the responsibility of mending them. And because of the qat resultant intoxication, he has damaged many of his electronic appliances. It is a type of madness, isn’t it?
Mr. Ali Nassr (clerk) says, “What qat has done to me is unspeakable. However, I like it and it becomes my primary concern after leaving my job. Food is not as important as qat for me. My predicament after qat chewing depends on the quality of the qat; if it is good, I become so active and feel enticed to read a lot of books or do any other work. But if it is bad, it creates a dilemma in my head. I lock up the door of my room and feel tongue-tied and reluctant to speak or listen to my wife or children.
My head is now burdened with heavy and erratic thoughts. Sometimes I start hallucinating and imagining very odd things. Once I felt like I was pregnant because my belly is a little bit prominent. I was completely caught up in this idea, although it frightened me and made my hair stand on end. Is there any plight worse than this? If I stop it, I will have to meet the ‘dukak’, a horrible nightmare.
These are only some examples of the victims of this habit. There are actually very odd and strange stories that chewers have after qat. So, if 80.5% of men and 30% of women chew Qat in Yemen, imagine how many stories we could record that result from this bad habit!
In this regard, the government should launch a campaign addressing the harms and dangers of qat. People addicted to it should at least minimize the time spent chewing to Thursdays and Fridays. Is there anybody listening to me?
By: Mohammed Al-Qadhi
Taiz Office Editor
Yemen Times