Chewing away one’s life possessions
Pangs of hunger subside, the khat chewer feels lightly euphoric, yet alert and focused, also talkative. However, to maintain this high, the user has to keep adding new leaves to the wad. Some men have literally chewed away all their family possessions sold to pay for their habit. In Ethiopia, a clump of khat costs between one and eight euros. Workers often earn less than one euro a day.
Hussein has that full cheek that characterizes a khat user. “I work hard, every day,” he says, “which is why I need khat. It gives me strength.” A khat farmer in Awaday, Hussein owns about a thousand khat bushes. “My father grows grain, fruit and vegetables. I only grow khat, because it brings in more money,” he says, shoving a few more leaves into his mouth.
Chew too much of the stuff, though, and you become psychologically dependent on it; you can suffer from anxiety, depression, sleeplessness. Hussein is unusual, in that he will admit this; most people in Ethiopia will not. “Khat makes you lethargic. And you don’t feel like having sex,” he says. He has forbidden his four children to chew khat because “they don’t have to work as hard as I do.”
The whole of Somaliland (like Yemen on the other side of the Gulf of Aden) falls into a deep khat-induced lethargy during the afternoon hours. In neighboring Somalia, the drug, which is flown in daily, is almost as important as the ammunition that fuels the civil war. When ships are pirated by Somalis, owners make sure to keep the pirates well supplied with khat.
And more and more khat smugglers are being arrested in Europe. “There’s hardly a passenger or freight plane that leaves Addis Ababa without some khat on board“, says one insider. With often overloaded delivery trucks, khat couriers transport the leaves from Amsterdam, where the drug is legal, to East African immigrants living in Scandinavia.
Suhura Ismail wants nothing to do with this ugly side of the business. “Can I help it if some people can’t handle khat? Or that it’s illegal in Germany? You don’t call your beer brewers drug dealers,” says the woman who boasts that she’s never touched a drop of alcohol in her life.
The girl who used to hawk khat from a roadside stand is now an entrepreneur with more than 1,000 employees, as well as her own airline, Suhura Airways. “In the world khat trade, Suhura is uncontestably numero uno,” says Ephrem Tesema, who wrote a thesis at Basel University on the production, distribution and use of khat. “And in Ethiopia she is thought to control over 50% of the market.”
Ultimately, Ismail’s great breakthrough was in removing the stigma associated with the drug. “She did a lot of PR, so in Ethiopia now the leaves are just another commercial product,” says Tesema.
Suhura Ismail says she would like to expand into Europe, and is hoping that the continent’s biggest market, Germany, will legalize the drug. It’s a country she’s familiar with. When her husband started having trouble with his teeth she flew with him to Frankfurt for dental work. Now, back home, his teeth are again in good shape, and he can return to chewing his daily consumption of the green leaves
By Philipp Hedemann (Worldcrunch).
Read ''below'' the original article in German