Monday, December 21, 2009
Being something of a libertarian, I am not much for relating individual self-indulgence to national character, but I am definitely forced to wonder whether this habit has something to do with Yemen's poverty:
The average Yemeni spends one quarter to one third of his income on qat. Three quarters of the population devote four to six hours daily to buying and chewing the leaves, consumed in the later afternoon after the day’s main meal. Although qat has no nutritional value, a third of Yemen’s agricultural land — double the acreage of a decade ago — is devoted to it.
I don't care what it is, if you spend more than a quarter of your income on anything other than food and shelter you have a problem. This seems especially true if you are one of the poorest people on earth.
Maybe every bag of relief agency rice should come with a 12-step program pamphlet.
I went to Yemen on holiday back in 1990 (that was when Yemen was one of the safest countries in the world to visit - they loved westerners visiting given that we were so exotic) and tried qat then. It tastes like chewing a privet hedge - quite disgusting and with about the same buzz as you'd get from a weak cup of coffee. I remember being very amused by the accounts of the Yemeni civil war between north and south in the early 90s and excitable western journalists reporting "drug crazed" yemeni troops descending on aden. The idea of anyone being crazed by qat is as nutty as someone being crazed by a cup of tea. No idea why the US bans it at all. I live in the UK so you do see it occasionally here but only for somalis. Who else would be stupid enough to want it ?