Let us swear an oath, and keep it with an equal mind,
In the hollow Lotos-land to live and lie reclined
On the hills like Gods together, careless of mankind
Tennyson: The Lotos Eaters
For the consumption of qat in the traditional social setting, the chewers meet in a house some time after noon, usually bringing their own supply. After being welcomed and carefully seated according to their social position, the guests begin to masticate the leaves thoroughly one by one ... After the qat leaves have been chewed, the guests stay on for most of the afternoon, passing their time in animated discussions often devoted to matters of general interest, such as community affairs. From this point of view, qat can be seen as a factor furthering interaction and structuring social life. Besides these traditional forms of consumption, qat is nowadays also chewed by single individuals idling in the streets ... In these regions, qat is also consumed (sometimes along with alcoholic beverages and other drugs) at gatherings which lack the restraint and well-defined social setting described above.
Yemen Times, 7 August, 2000
I passed the hours listening to the gentle lubalub of the hookah and whispered conversations about dead poets and fine deeds. In Sana'a, qat governs. Each day at three, climbing the steps to a smoky room with a bundle under the arm; then closing the door to the outside world, choosing the leaves, gently crushing them with the teeth and waiting for the drug to take effect. No rush, just a silky transition, scarcely noticed, and then the room casts loose its moorings. "Capturing moments of eternity," someone once called the subtle tinkering with time that qat effects.
After two years I no longer knew if life was good because of Yemen or because of qat.
Eating the Flowers of Paradise
Chewers recognise a huge variety of types and are fascinated by its origin: when one buys qat one first establishes its pedigree. Quality is judged by region, by the district within a region, even by the field where the individual tree is grown and by the position of the leaf on it. Qat can be any colour from lettuce-green to bruise-purple. It comes long or short, bound into bundles or loose, packed in plastic, alfalfa or banana leaves. In Sana’a, as a rule of thumb, the longer the branch, the more prestigious it is: less image-conscious chewers - and I am one of them - buy qatal, the pickings from the lower branches.
Just as in the West there are wine snobs, in Yemen there are qat snobs. I once found myself opposite one. Fastidiously, he broke the heads off his yard-long branches and wrapped them in a dampened towel. It was almost an act of consecration. When he had finished, he drew on his water-pipe and appraised my bag of qatal with a look that threatened to wither it. ‘Everything’, he said in an audible whisper, ‘has pubic hair. Qatal is the pubic hair of qat. Besides, dogs cock their legs over it.’
Yemen - Travels in Dictionary Land
"We have three problems in Yemen: qat, sheikhs and water."
A Yemeni from Sana'a
We climbed a small, ribbed peak. Hamud pointed down. We were on the lip of a sheer face of rock. Wadi Darr - the Fertile Valley - was nearly a thousand feet below us, a great stretch of vivid green with a steep little city of stucco towers at its head.
‘Here is grown the best qat in Yemen.’
It was an intricate patchwork of smallholdings and irrigation ditches. I had not seen anything like so much green since I had left England. To the Arabs of the desert Wadi Darr must have represented everything that their Arabia lacked. Darr means copiously flowing, productive, rich, lucrative, profitable. So it was.
‘And all that is just qat?’
‘The farmers grow some little corn. Enough for them and for their families. Otherwise it is qat.’
‘Isn’t that a terrible waste of land?’
‘What means waste? The qat is the very best in the whole of Yemen.’
Arabia Through the Looking Glass
The Yemen Times interviews some chewers about the after-effects of qat. (1 March 1999)
Qat in Yemen
The "Rational Peasant" versus Sustainable Livelihoods, by Lenard Milich and Mohammed Al-Sabbry
Weaning Yemen off qat (1)
Middle East International, 18 June 1999
Weaning Yemen off qat (2)
Blog post, 22 November 2012
The use of qat (Catha edulis) in Yemen
Social and Medical Observations, by Wijdan Luqman and T. S. Danowski
Qat in Yemen and Africa
Production, distribution and use
A medical perspective on the Yemen
by Dr Iain Murray-Lyon (British-Yemeni Society Journal)
Qat farmers: a drain on the nation's water
by Mutahar Zeid Mutahar (Yemen Times, 18.1.99)
International Conference Chews Out the Qat Plant
Yemen Update No. 25 (1989)
In Defense of Qat
Yemen Update No. 24 (1988)
Where the qat is out of the bag
The Guardian, 28 May 2001
Qat in America
Yemenis spend $3 million on qat in the U.S. – by Shaker Al-Ashwal
Qat ban fails in US
A series of failed prosecutions has cast America's anti-qat laws into confusion