For a long time, I’ve been intrigued and curious, trying to get my head around “Qat” culture
The Oxford English dictionary defines it as the leaves of an Arabian shrub, which are chewed (or drunk as an infusion) as a stimulant.It is mostly grown in mountainous regions and often cultivated.
Today, I briefly visited a Qat market along Al Jaziri street in Sana’a. For a first-time visitor, it’s hard to spot the market. It sits in an eerily inconspicuous lane, and as you walk down a tiny road, there’s an empty centre surrounded with stalls.
At first, you think the men with protruding cheeks have some sort of a deformity. But as you look closer, you realise they are chewing Qat, said to taste better when consumed in larger quantities.
There’s conflicting opinions on the use of the stimulant – both socially and economically. Some say its a way of bringing communities together, others argue its a drain on the family finances. Not long ago the stimulant was banned in the UK leaving many producers along the Horn of Africa concerned.
I’m yet to get a sense of the chewing rituals and experience. But, while I was there, I was lucky to capture a few ‘Qat” portraits.