Chewing Qat (aka “Getting High”) In Yemen

Chewing Qat (aka “Getting High”) In Yemen

By |2018-07-24T10:03:21-04:00May 6th, 2013|Yemen|111 Comments

Me Chewing Qat in Yemen

If there’s one word that I heard more than any other during my stay in Yemen, it is the word ‘qat’. And the reason that word is so important is because, at approximately 2pm every single day, the entire nation stops everything they are doing and focuses on qat and on qat only.

Qat is a plant that is grown all over Yemen, on what seems to be every square inch of land, whether in the valleys or on the mountainsides, that could be used to grow a plant. When the leaves of the plant are fresh, they are chewed, an activity that leads to a state of increased excitement with the possibility of mild euphoria as a bonus. This state is the result of a stimulant similar to amphetamine that is found in the plant and which, using the best description I’ve heard, acts as if you’re drinking endless cups of very strong coffee. Qat, and the substance it contains, is actually illegal in many countries and its use is mostly limited to Yemen, Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti and a handful of other countries in the same geographical area.

In Yemen, people chew qat while walking, sitting, talking, driving, working and just about anything else they might be doing. And when I say ‘people’, I am referring to what appears to be the entire over-18 male population of the country as well as many women, who also chew the leaves according to their husbands at least.

It’s quite traditional for Yemeni males to wear a jambiya every day, a curved ceremonial blade that is displayed in the front by wedging it into a thick belt. And when qat time comes around, most males suddenly have a huge bag of leaves hanging from the handle of their knife so that they have easy access to their qat.

This is not just some hobby. Every male I met admitted that they were addicted to qat and that the only way they could stop chewing it was if they had no money at all and couldn’t afford even the cheapest variety, which runs about 500 rials ($2 USD) for a huge bag.

Did I try it out? Of course I did. Not a day went by when a local person didn’t give me a gift of qat to chew and you know how it goes…when you receive a gift of qat, it’s certainly rude to refuse.

HOW DOES CHEWING QAT WORK?

Morning – Go to the Qat Market to buy your daily supply, choosing the best quality that you can afford. Qat typically stays fresh for one day so most people buy a new batch every day.

Qat Market in Yemen

Qat Market, Jebel, Yemen

1:30pm – Eat a massive lunch.

Lunch in Yemen

2:00pm – Pull out your bag of qat, find a comfortable mufrage (sitting room designed specifically for chewing qat that can be found in every home, restaurant and hotel and may sometimes be located outside) and get into the proper qat chewing position. See below photos for an example…

Mufrage in Yemen

2:01pm – Start chewing qat by first pulling the leaves out of the plastic bag. Then, place a few leaves and stems into your mouth and chew on them for a minute before stuffing those leaves and stems, using your tongue, into the inner cheek on one side of your mouth. Continue chewing the leaves slowly, squeezing out the juice, while stuffing more and more leaves into your mouth the entire time until you have a bulge in your cheek the size of a watermelon. And then you repeat the process, over and over and over and over and over again, never spitting the growing mass of leaves out of your mouth.

Chewing Qat in Yemen 5

3:00pm – Keep on chewing qat, crunching up those leaves and growing that bulge.

Chewing Qat in Yemen 4

4:00pm – Don’t stop now! Keep chewing.

Chewing Qat in Yemen 3

5:00pm – You guessed it…chew away my friends!

Chewing Qat in Yemen 6

6:00pm – The weakest qat chewers will now spit their mushy ball of chewed up leaves out of their mouth while the stronger ones will continue going for many hours more.

Chewing Qat in Yemen

Some time in the night – The qat session finally comes to an end and you spit out the remaining qat from your mouth. You drink a cup of black tea and then you sit there on the cushioned floor of the mufrage, trying to engage in some conversation with the others around you until dinner is served or it’s time for sleep.

Chewing Qat in Yemen 2

WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF QAT?

As mentioned above, qat users get a bit excited and as a result, they will often become extremely talkative and hyper, spitting out words in such a rapid and animated fashion to anyone who will listen. However, it also seemed to me that just as many users I met were perfectly content to sit in silence, staring at the wall and minding their own business.

Behind the scenes, your blood pressure and heart rate increase, you lose your appetite and to top it off, you become constipated. Long term effects may include cancer of the mouth, depression and psychosis, all fun stuff.

Growing Qat in Yemen

MY EXPERIENCE CHEWING QAT

It was okay. Seemed like quite an effort for such a little buzz. The qat made me a bit spacey and somewhat hyper, and I had a good time as a result, but it took four hours of chewing leaves to get there. However, with a 65% unemployment rate in Yemen, I can understand the appeal. A quick high would leave most people with very little to do all afternoon and evening. Qat fills in the day.

But for me, all that chewing was a painstaking process as the inside of my mouth became sore and raw, the stuff kept me awake at night and I’m quite sure that it messed with my digestive system. And that’s after only chewing qat for one week.

Would I do it again? Sure, simply because that’s the thing to do in Yemen and in the end, it is a social activity. Had I not chewed qat I probably would not have had the same interactions and conversations with locals that I ended up having. Qat honestly helped bridge the tourist gap, allowing me to take a few more steps closer to the culture I wanted to learn about.

I could definitely have done without the constipation though.


Have you ever tried qat? Would you try it?

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111 Comments

  1. Ramzi June 26, 2019 at 7:20 am - Reply

    To be precise enough with you, in spite of the fact that Qat has been considered among drug categories, I dare any laboratory proves it so. I have been chewing Qat since I was 13 years old. It has no side effects. It rather helps people diagnose with diabetes to reduce the amount of sugar in their blood. It does not differ much from concentrated coffee. It helps you work under pressure and helps to focus better. I have always scored excellent with distinction in every stage of my educational career. I am now a PhD scholar. The only negative aspect of Qat is that it is a waste of money for consumer but not farmers. Qat is also deemed to be a type of drug, not because it is so, because it is the best alternative for drug. So drug dealers and countries that prohibit it fear that it becomes like oil in terms of income for countries producing it.

    • Derek July 1, 2019 at 9:33 am - Reply

      Hey Ramzi – At the same time, regions of the world that use a lot of qat do have much higher rates of oral cancer than other regions. There seems to be many studies linking qat use to oral cancer.

  2. Saeed May 3, 2019 at 9:21 am - Reply

    Have left Yemen two months ago.. What a nice country, with good quality fresh Gat leaves.

    All gat here, in Somalia is imported from Kenya, which makes it a bit dry and far from freshness.

  3. Sitorock February 22, 2019 at 5:34 am - Reply

    I am chewing Mirra in Kenya on a Matatu, catching a bit of a buzz, appreciate your post!
    I believe it is the same plant..

  4. tyuo August 31, 2018 at 12:46 pm - Reply

    Notes:………….
    1. Qat is not our culture.
    2. Chewing Qat is not a thing that you should do in Yemen .
    3. As a yemeni, I’m wondering why this tourist had chosen to chewing this “gad damnit “plant just to see at ignorant and backward people.

    • Derek August 31, 2018 at 9:41 pm - Reply

      Thank you for the comment. However, I do believe that qat is part of the culture in Yemen. There is a market selling only qat in almost every town and I would say that almost every person I met in the country chewed qat. I’m not saying it is a good thing at all. But unfortunately, it is a very real part of the culture. As a tourist, I chose to try it in order to understand the people I was meeting and to learn more about the country from all perspectives.

  5. Kween Frostine November 26, 2017 at 1:37 pm - Reply

    I’ve chewed coca leaves for years & would love to try khat. Coca is so mild compared to coffee & other stimulants; I imagine khat to be slightly stronger than coca. Cathinone (the active alkaloid) is a decent stimulant anyway…

    I’ve never heard of a stimulant causing constipation though? Usually it’s the other way around–they speed up the bowels. I know some khat users end up with a dangerous liver reaction similar to some kratom users, but it’s kind of rare. I think I’d like the Yemeni culture, minus the child bride stuff. That meal looks delicious & the khat room is GORGEOUS! I could really get behind working ’til lunch & then getting stoned all day. The rest of the world should try this, actually.

    I think all plant drugs should be legal & accessible to anyone who wants to use them. It’s really interesting learning about the different botanicals that grow naturally around the world & how they’ve been used by cultures since the beginning of time.

    • Eddy February 1, 2018 at 6:54 am - Reply

      So,if we took it and distilled the main active ingredient w/ acetone I bet we would end up with a drug thats better than coke LOL Just saying’. It would actually even be a very simple process to produce. We would end up with a pure form of that upper high and Qat would be legal.The fkn us justice dept would commit suicide trying to figure out wtf it is.

      • Timothy Kelley January 1, 2019 at 1:28 am - Reply

        Jesus guy you are so behind. Khat is illegal in the us and so is every major cathone.

  6. […] lot of thinking, a lot of chewing. Wandering Earl describes this chewing in great detail. Basically, you put some of the qat leaves in your mouth […]

  7. michael September 29, 2016 at 12:19 am - Reply

    I have yemen freinds. I just tried kat for the First time. It was alright concentration was increased and gave me enough energy to move a house after working 11 hours. I recomend if u need a boost. It did not cause me to get paranoid like other stimulants.

  8. ALI August 16, 2016 at 7:17 am - Reply

    Socotra is the wonderer human heritage of now-a-days. An believeable natural spot on the Globe. Amazing. No words can describe its beauty and uniqness.

  9. SOMALIA April 10, 2016 at 5:03 am - Reply

    I am from Somalia, I think everyone reading these comments know about Somalia and its satiation. One of the most important thing behind this satiation in Somalia is Qat,Kat,Gat. Almost all militias weather its is government military or Al-Shabab militias use Qat. I am a health worker, although there is no research done in terms of the health related problems of Qat, but in my experience I have seen a lot of people most of them men aged above 25yrs old had at least 5 yrs of chewing Qat history, complaining about severe headache and lack of sleep(insomnia), and constipation, and hallucinations most of them after investigation seen that their Blood Pressure(BP) was high, some of them they had surgery to relive intestinal obstruction due to Qat accumulation in their intestine, some of them die before they come to hospital because of stroke while they where chewing Qat. Now I am in China doing my masters here, my teacher ask me to write research article about Qat. Any help will be appreciated I mean researches done about Qat. U can send your info on my e-mail: [email protected]. Thank you.

  10. Dani November 27, 2015 at 2:59 am - Reply

    I am Ethiopian. I have chewed khat for about 20 years now. I started it when I was in high school. I used it for studying before every exam I had until my time in college. It worked for me and I was one of the highest scorers both in high school and college. I was one of the distinction students in college. I used khat to digest a mountain of information within no time. What surprises me is that I am not addicted to it anymore. Currently, I work as a training coordinator for my organization and I chew khat whenever I encounter workload. This might be in two weeks time, a month time or so. When I have social gatherings with my friends we chew khat to get the best out of the time. I you do it correctly, i mean manage your consumption of khat, it is the best leaf both to perform and chill out. Consuming Coke or chocolate on a daily basis is more dangerous to health than consuming khat on a daily basis.

    • kaith July 28, 2017 at 6:10 pm - Reply

      *Consuming Coke or chocolate on a daily basis is more dangerous to health than consuming khat on a daily basis.*

      very true

  11. Hatim September 16, 2015 at 11:24 am - Reply

    I bet you had a wonderful stay in Yemen.
    I have a little correction to the post … The product shown on the picture of the pickup truck is not Qat. it looks like qat, but it is green beans that Yemeni people often consume as a raw veg.
    Thank You for sharing your experience in my country,Yemen.

  12. […] ignoring, as it is addictive, the accompanying red smile it produced. In Yemen, the equivalent is qat (or if you prefer, khat.) And it doesn’t give you red […]

  13. […] Favorite Post: Chewing Qat […]

  14. […] Travelers to the mainland not leaving the capitol Sana’a don’t need a guide but the government requires foreigners to obtain permits before visiting other non-restricted parts of the country. Only a registered travel agency in Yemen can get those permits for you and not using a guide makes the country extremely difficult to navigate. I used and would highly recommend local company Eternal Yemen. (When making arrangements, ask for driver Ali, who’s one of the nicest people to chew khat with.) […]

  15. […] Qat: Chewing Qat (aka "Getting High") In Yemen – Wandering Earl […]

  16. […] female traveler can experience both the male and female world. Girls can participate at men’s qat chewinggatherings, smoke Yemeni water pipe (“madda”) with them, plus have active discussions. After […]

  17. […] to the edge of a mountain nearby. Upon returning to our hotel in the afternoon, just in time to chew some qat of course, I realized that, not for one moment, had I felt unsafe, at […]

  18. gmohamed September 13, 2014 at 6:23 pm - Reply

    I chew with my husband who is from Yemen a few times a month. Its not bad but makes me a little hyper Lol its also a nice way for us to chill and spend time together after a long week at work.

  19. Someone with a good mind September 13, 2014 at 6:17 am - Reply

    I lived in yemen my entire life and i am a yemenie
    Notes you should know
    not everyone chews Gat ( Yes its Gat G not Q … Q sounds weird)

    There are JUST A FEW SO VERY FEW intelligent people like me who thinks Gat is a disgusting vile thing that i never once in my life put in my mouth and never will.
    it is a tool used for ignorant retards to make their pathetic life easier.
    They all claim ” we can stop if we want to ” But they avoid the fact that its highly addictive and they actually cannot quit it no matter what.

    It causes ALL kinds of diseases you’d be surprised by the numbers, which is why they keep watching it so much before they chew it, and even still it would cause cancer.

    And All of them ALL are Muslims and they believe that anything addictive or bad for you is against Islam and yet they Gobble it like tic-tac … pathetic ignorant little fools… this … this is why i dont have friends because they rather waste their lives chewing this instead of doing something fun and creative

    • helen September 29, 2014 at 5:23 am - Reply

      Oh dear. You are just so intelligent, that you managed to make your point without being judgemental or insulting at all. Bravo. Very clever.

      • Phoenix Angelfire February 5, 2016 at 12:44 pm - Reply

        so you insult him for stating his point of view and being judgemental?? Are YOU such a superior human being?

    • ARE U EVEN KIDDING ME! January 12, 2015 at 9:00 am - Reply

      intelligent ?! your own ppl looks stupid that’s your point ! right ? , !
      I AM Yemeni ! , and i think not all ppl chewing Qat ! , but there are many many creative ppl in Yemen , it’s not about chewing qaat or not , it’s about what you did in this life to make a deference in others lives ! , we live in a small world bro , what have you did mr. intelligent ?! ,

      think about it

      and wandering earl that was a first class experience xD , HOPE TO SEE YA AGAIN .

  20. Andre June 13, 2014 at 1:50 pm - Reply

    My friend told about me about qat, so I asked him can he get me some,… so now I’m sitting here chewing qat with bubblegum for nearly 2 hours and reading your article :)I think I will not last until i get the buzz..

  21. Ameena May 28, 2014 at 5:54 pm - Reply

    Hi Earl,
    I have friends from many countries and two are from Yeman and spoke about Gat a few times and I alway thought It was tobaco. Then when I heard one of my friends who is doing an Abnormal Psychology masters talk about her dissertation that is on mephedrone (slang name meow meow). This chemical is an extraction from Gat and cause short term memory problems, hallucinations etc. There are many harmful long term physical and mental effects. She then mention a leaf used in African areas, this drew me google ‘Gat’ to see if that was the leaf she was talking about, and here I am giving a big thankyou as you have made me more knowledgable and helped my friend with a little more info on Gat. THANK YOU!
    Ameena

    • Wandering Earl June 2, 2014 at 10:22 am - Reply

      Hey Ameena – That is definitely qat and one of my friend’s who is a psychiatrist has told me that one of the chemicals in the leaf is what is used in a recreational drug that is apparently getting popular around the world, called ‘bath salts’. It definitely has negative effects and is not something that is too good for anyone at all.

  22. ahlam May 27, 2014 at 10:34 am - Reply

    hi,

    am a woman live in yemen, i chew qat every day and i will tell you one thing, yemen is the worst country in the world, but qat is the best thing in yemen and about yemen.. to me its life especilay with hookah hhhhh … trust me 🙂

    come earl again and i will show you a true qat experiment .. lol

    • seham January 28, 2019 at 3:15 pm - Reply

      hhhhhhhhhhhh i agree with u ,me too i chewing qat with hooka Ahlam

  23. jewamongyou February 10, 2014 at 5:23 am - Reply

    I tried some in Israel, among Yemeni Jews. I didn’t chew it nearly long enough to get any effect. It’s illegal in Israel, so I guess that makes me a criminal. I agree with your assessment; it’s main value is social. It’s way too much trouble for just a minor buzz.

    • Karen January 16, 2018 at 10:10 am - Reply

      Gat is not illegal in Israel at all.

  24. Sara January 1, 2014 at 9:39 pm - Reply

    I’m born American but still got my Yemeni roots, yet never tried qat and never will because it just looks nasty. Im glad you got the yemeni culture experience. However, qat is really killing the nation and it def should be banned this way Yemen can get up their ass and start working and making better lives for the future. But this is what they been doing so who are we to stop them.

    Hahaha At the constipation . I hope you tasted aseed or salta even better sabayah while you were there.

    • Wandering Earl January 2, 2014 at 5:44 pm - Reply

      Hey Sara – Qat is definitely a major problem over there and it’s going to be a hard one to fix. I certainly would like to see it banned as well if that would help lead to some improvements for the people of the country. And yes, I did taste all of that Yemeni food as well 🙂

  25. Mike Mills November 25, 2013 at 7:32 pm - Reply

    I came across your blog by proving to someone qat was a valid Words entry. I tried it in Salalah a year ago with much the same results. Enjoyed. Wondering if you have traveled to Iran. Tehran specifically, as I lived there as a teen in the 70s and am considering a return.

    • Wandering Earl November 26, 2013 at 9:50 pm - Reply

      Hey Mike – Ha, that’s a cool way to find the blog! As for Iran, I have not been. I’d like to go but I’ll wait until US citizens are allowed to go without being with a guide all the time. It might be awhile but hopefully not.

  26. azi November 11, 2013 at 4:18 pm - Reply

    hi their i have reading your article so many times since you posted it. i like it. i am from East Africa Ethiopia but i live in U.S.A and almost have of the population back home use khat as a social gathering and time to time it become normal. i hate that but what can i do. thank you for your ab-date

  27. Ahmed Adamz November 10, 2013 at 9:34 pm - Reply

    Hello earl, Amazing article, I live in somalia and frankly speaking chewing khat is the main cause of poverty, unemployment etc in those regions..I dont recommend anyone to chew khat..but im glad you try and feel the stimulation. I enjoy reading ur articles.

    • Wandering Earl November 12, 2013 at 5:44 pm - Reply

      Hey Ahmed – I have definitely read about the negative economic effects of khat and I believe the same is true for Yemen as well. On a side note, I appreciate you reading the article and am glad you are enjoying the site!

  28. Khalid Alshahari November 1, 2013 at 4:25 am - Reply

    Haha. Nice pics by the way, I’m Khalid, from Yemen. It’s hard to find beautiful spots these days except on the mountains. Anyways great article, Earl. Like the enthusiasm too. Lol. If you ever think of coming again, be sure to go to Aden.
    P.S: What hotel did you stay in?
    P.P.S: Not only people over 18 chew Qat.
    Thanks for visiting

  29. Mohul October 16, 2013 at 5:13 am - Reply

    You are welcome to come to India.
    Loved your post 🙂

  30. Ramy August 24, 2013 at 7:23 pm - Reply

    I just wanted to share with you that Qat doesn’t get you high but actually alerts you.

    • Wandering Earl August 26, 2013 at 9:29 am - Reply

      Hey Ramy – Using the word ‘high’ just means ‘being affected in some way by a drug’, or at least that’s what I meant. And since qat does contain an amphetamine-like substance, that does affect someone who uses it, that’s why I use the term.

  31. Mohammed July 10, 2013 at 5:17 pm - Reply

    Dear Earl,

    I really enjoyed reading this article & the pics are cool too 🙂
    I’m from Yemen and i’m chewing Qat now as well .. lol xD
    Just wanted to say hi & come visit us again!

    Thank you! 🙂

    • Wandering Earl July 10, 2013 at 5:20 pm - Reply

      Hey Mohammed – Haha…I hope you have a nice muffrage to chew your qat in 🙂 I will certainly do my best to get back to Yemen at some point. Thanks for the comment!

  32. […] female traveler can experience both the male and female world. Girls can participate at men’s qat chewing gatherings, smoke Yemeni water pipe (“madda”) with them, plus have active discussions. […]

  33. […] Hilarious pics of the Wandering Earl getting high on Qat in Yemen. […]

  34. […] for a mild stimulant effect. Take a rest and give the drug a try – you’ll need to commit about 4 hours of chewing to get mildly high. Don’t worry about setting aside the time, nothing other than khat will be […]

  35. The Faces Of Yemen | foXnoMad May 15, 2013 at 11:32 am - Reply

    […] case you’re wondering more about this amphetamine, my friend Wandering Earl has written about getting high on khat in Yemen. While he was doing that, I was busy starring at my hands, which became fascinating every time I […]

  36. […] to the edge of a mountain nearby. Upon returning to our hotel in the afternoon, just in time to chew some qat of course, I realized that, not for one moment, had I felt unsafe, at […]

  37. Lauren May 11, 2013 at 2:27 pm - Reply

    Earl,
    Thanks for responding to my post about safety, and sorry for waiting so long to write back. You are probably right about chewing qat making no difference in you being kidnapped, and I just hope that the people that you meet in general are safe, especially since you’ve been kidnapped before.

  38. Sara May 9, 2013 at 1:33 pm - Reply

    Ha! I love those photos of you! Qat seems like an interesting experience. I would probably try it out of respect if it was a local custom, but that’s a LOT of leaves in your mouth! That hotel room looks gorgeous! Can’t wait for more updates on your stay in Yemen!

  39. Terry D May 9, 2013 at 7:46 am - Reply

    I WILL travel with you one day Earl. You have much to teach me my friend.

  40. I am sitting in a cafe in SW London laughing my head off at these photos Earl! Top stuff. Loved it!

    • Wandering Earl May 13, 2013 at 6:25 am - Reply

      Hey Paul – Good thing you didn’t have a mouth full of qat!

  41. Karisa May 8, 2013 at 11:01 pm - Reply

    That certainly sounds like an interesting experience! I’m curious if you ever saw any women chewing quat? What do the women do all day while their husbands/sons/fathers/brothers are sitting around chewing all day? lol

    • Wandering Earl May 13, 2013 at 6:23 am - Reply

      Hey Karisa – Yes, the women chew qat as well, just in a different room than the men. Although, they don’t chew nearly as much.

  42. Andy May 8, 2013 at 4:46 pm - Reply

    Should I ever visit Yemen I’d certainly chew my share of Qat with them… and then let them try an overdose of my beloved Yerba Mate tea for comparison! 😉

    • Wandering Earl May 13, 2013 at 6:22 am - Reply

      That would be a good battle.

  43. Sam May 8, 2013 at 10:53 am - Reply

    As always, I love your dorky photos! Thanks for the info about the constipation. TMI, perhaps?!

    • Wandering Earl May 8, 2013 at 2:52 pm - Reply

      Hey Sam – Perhaps but hey, that’s my style!

  44. Jennifer May 8, 2013 at 3:18 am - Reply

    Ive nevet heard of qat before but your article certainly made me laugh. I love all the photos.

  45. Will May 7, 2013 at 8:37 pm - Reply

    Is qat the same stuff they chew in Somalia?

    I’ve never heard of qat before but I would try it. But like you said it takes a lot of work!

    • Wandering Earl May 8, 2013 at 2:49 pm - Reply

      Hey Will – Yes, that is the same stuff.

  46. Thomas Dembie May 7, 2013 at 3:19 pm - Reply

    Great post! Seems like much of the world has the same tradition! I first discovered this in Burma. It certainly does a number on your teeth if you go at it over time like many people do!

  47. Steve C May 7, 2013 at 2:07 pm - Reply

    It seems that wherever you go, each culture has it’s way of escaping reality from something that grows locally. Great Post! Now I have another escape path to put on my list of things to dooooooooooo…………….

    I’m with you in that I think travelers should engage in the local pleasures. It’s a great way to make friends even though it brings a lot of laughs and giggles when you’re doing it with them. Betel Nut anyone?

    • Wandering Earl May 8, 2013 at 2:46 pm - Reply

      Hey Steve – That’s how I feel…doing something like qat for a week is well worth it considering the benefits of meeting new people, all of whom are excited to see a foreigner trying out their local tradition. The interactions really are much deeper when you do partake in such activities.

  48. Rebecca May 7, 2013 at 1:30 pm - Reply

    I’d heard of qat before, and knew it was some sort of drug that Ethiopians used, but didn’t know much more than that! I don’t think I would try it, because there seems to be much more bad things about it than good..

  49. Julio Moreno May 7, 2013 at 8:35 am - Reply

    LoL, awesome, I guess I better book my flight to Yemen. This might be an ignorant question, but is Yemen relatively safe to travel? I usually scoff at calling a country unsafe (as apparently even South Korea is considered unsafe at the moment) but Yemen suffers, more than anything, from lack of information. I have been having the hardest time locating relevant articles on the country in general. (if you have more articles, please link me!)

    • Wandering Earl May 8, 2013 at 2:48 pm - Reply

      Hey Julio – I will be writing about the safety situation more in depth in the next week or so. It’s a complicated situation at the moment but I’ll do my best to provide all of the information I gathered.

  50. Cameron May 7, 2013 at 5:42 am - Reply

    @Ellen: many women in Yemen chew qat, much fewer than the men, but *never* in public (same with smoking), and most would not admit it, unless asked privately. Ask your friends one on one. Go to a ladies’ party / birth / wedding (always segregated), you might see it. Go to a woman’s home privately with her friends, you will eventually have a chance.

  51. Cameron May 7, 2013 at 5:37 am - Reply

    Entertaining read.
    Re: conversations you could not have had, do you actually *remember* them? My experience sitting long hours with people chewing (never chewed in 15 years in Yemen), is that people on qat think they are brilliant when they are being stupid, and afterwards they are often disappointed that they cannot remember the brilliant ideas they had… Also, it is not the speed of their speech that is the problem; that baseball in the mouth messes up pronunciation, and produces a lot of incoherence. “Yaayy!” passes for a complete sentence. I always laugh when Yemenis complement my Arabic – it ain’t that great; a qat chewer’s is just so bad…
    Qat is completely legal and heavily taxed in Yemen, like cigarettes. I believe it is legal in Ethiopia and Djibouti as well, and as for Somalia, “what’s a law?”. It is both haram and very illegal in most other Muslim countries in region, and illegal in the US. May be permitted in the UK – not sure.
    @Mike: “good for ulcers and gastritis” – yeah, if you want both, chew qat. Mouth, throat and stomach cancer are three of the top five cancers in Yemen; very rare elsewhere.
    Re: unemployment, this is a chicken-and-egg problem. Qat destroys productivity and, critically, motivation. It is a major reason Yemen’s economy is in the toilet, and no one can sustain any effort to make real changes in society – Yemen’s revolution is going nowhere. Look at the countries where qat is widely chewed – real jewels, all of them, and Yemen is their Queen. At least no one starves here (yet).
    Check out Earl’s eyes – I am sure he is joking around, but he emulates the actual glazed look qat chewers get after a while – sort of like a goat, after you whack it on the head really hard…
    I guess enjoy it if you can.

    • alkahest July 27, 2013 at 7:21 pm - Reply

      Is it the qat, or simply the state of the nations which cause the unemployment, I doubt a mild stimulant would cause that sort of economic hardship, also, farmers switch to it because of increased profit and likely hardship growing a vast variety of plants in the region.

      If unemployment was 65% in Canada or America, would we blame all the coffee these individuals drink all day as their reason for being unable to work?

      Individuals throughout the world really need to gain some proper, reasonable perspective when it comes to hebal medication, even the ones which are overused by individuals throughout the world.

      Great article, would be great to see more scientific sources for the effects, and the detrimental properties of the plant(s) you mention now, and in future posting, keep up the work, your reading is interesting for individuals who do not currently have the opportunity to travel.

      • Wandering Earl July 28, 2013 at 7:15 am - Reply

        @alkahest: The major difference between coffee and qat is that in Yemen, the main reason for earning money is to buy qat for so many people. That’s the priority due to the addiction. I don’t think qat is solely responsible for unemployment, but it certainly keeps people from being too motivated!

        Thanks for reading and offering your thoughts!

        • alkahest July 28, 2013 at 3:51 pm - Reply

          Here to point out that if articules keep springing up about these enthobotanicals which ‘get you high’ when you are travelling, and linking such herbs too unemployment in the minds of the uneducated reading the articles, this heightens the chances of these ethnobotanicals becomming targetting to be made illegal. Mitragyna speciosa is the latest victim of this “war on drugs” in the US, and kratom is the only plant which patients could rely on to safely and effectively taper of heroin, morphine, oxycodone, codeine, fentanyl, now, if that move to make it illegal spread, patients are given no other opportunity. Now, in those states, there is no other option besides methadone or suboxone for tapering effectively of their primary pain relief medication.
          Pain relief patients will subsequently not obtain quality relief from any opiate after lengthy periods on either of those two opioids. As for users getting “high” of kratom, these individuals will now likely switch to oxycodone, morphine or heroin as kratom is illegal in their state yet they are used to havint those particular receptors tickled, so if they cannot recieve kratom, they go for the options which ARE available to them still, the illicit one. How is this a ‘harm reduction’ move in any way/shape or form?

          There is a systematic demantling of the herbal industry across america, it is occuring one herb/ethnobotanical at a time, and it is sickening and disheartening to witness and see year after year. The laws are slowly herding the masses towards using only pharmaceutical remedies; well what about the individuals who get SICK off their pharmaceuticals when similar herbal counterparts keep their body healthy and regulated, ie. keep their life in one healthy piece, instead of fracturing it and causing more and more problems the longer the chemical pharmaceutical is taken in [protracted withdrawals of benzodiazepeines and pain relievers come to mind (patients have no choice if they are relying on these medicines in a proper-use context).

          These forceful actions will come to harm us all if they are left to carry on in this format.

  52. Ellen May 7, 2013 at 4:02 am - Reply

    Fascinating post! I would certainly try it (probably just once, though), but I’m guessing this activity is limited to men. What are the women doing while the men are sitting around chewing qat? Cooking and cleaning I suppose.

    • Chris May 7, 2013 at 1:29 pm - Reply

      Damn right Ellen!

    • Chris May 7, 2013 at 1:29 pm - Reply

      Just kidding 😉

    • Wandering Earl May 8, 2013 at 2:30 pm - Reply

      Hey Ellen – The women actually chew qat as well, although not as much as the men. So I guess you would be chewing too!

  53. Jade May 7, 2013 at 3:50 am - Reply

    I feel exactly the same way about Qat- it’s a lot of jaw ache for little benefit! But it is the perfect accompaniment to a long, bumpy bus ride with locals in Ethiopia:)
    They chew it with bumble gum to take away the sour taste… Doesn’t help too much!
    Can’t wait to here more about the Yemen!

    • Wandering Earl May 8, 2013 at 2:31 pm - Reply

      Hey Jade – I’ve heard about the bubble gum but they don’t do that in Yemen…just straight up qat.

  54. Terry D May 7, 2013 at 1:30 am - Reply

    I wonder what it would be like to juice qat and drink it. Also, do you pronounce it like ‘cat’? Yemen seems really cool, looking forward to more stories!

    • Wandering Earl May 8, 2013 at 2:31 pm - Reply

      Hey Terry – It is pronounced like ‘khat’ and I’ve heard that in some countries, there is a qat tea.

  55. Stephen May 7, 2013 at 12:43 am - Reply

    Great post. Thanks for introducing us to the wonderful world of qat. I guess I would try it if I was there…sounds like it led to some interesting conversations and some sort of acceptence; good if you’re a traveler. Nice photos, too! Made me laugh.

  56. Traveling Ted May 6, 2013 at 4:56 pm - Reply

    Looks similar to chewing tobacco although it seems to have some positive aspects instead of being completely negative. 65% unemployment is a pretty crazy number. I guess chewing qat is better than doing squat.

    • Wandering Earl May 8, 2013 at 2:34 pm - Reply

      Hey Ted – Exactly. It’s as ideal as it gets to kill a few hours in the afternoon.

  57. Mike May 6, 2013 at 2:55 pm - Reply

    I chewed it for a couple of hours in Ethiopia. It acted as a mild stimulant, really greened my mouth and curbed my appetite a bit. It’s said to be good for ulcers and gastritis. It is a green leafy plant so I s’pose that makes sense.

    • Wandering Earl May 8, 2013 at 2:34 pm - Reply

      Hey Mike – Hadn’t heard that about the ulcers and gastritis but I definitely suffered the same green mouth you did!

  58. Dalene May 6, 2013 at 2:24 pm - Reply

    Haha, I was coming to leave the exact same comment. I am such a scrabble nerd.

    P.S. Those rooms are GORGEOUS. I am really taken with the windows! I hope you have more pictures of that to share.

    P.P.S. Earl – you have something in your teeth.

    • Wandering Earl May 8, 2013 at 2:35 pm - Reply

      Hey Dalene – Haha…and I’m sure there is still green crap in my teeth right now, a week later. Getting it all out was quite a chore! And yes, I’ll be doing a full post about the hotel I stayed at in Sanaa because it was one of my favorite hotels I’ve ever slept in.

  59. Cindy Thistle May 6, 2013 at 1:48 pm - Reply

    Very interesting and entertaining post. I’m always glad to see someone so in tune with what they’re goals are. Good on ya Earl.

  60. Mzuri May 6, 2013 at 1:31 pm - Reply

    I really enjoyed the hell out of a book called Eating the Flowers of Paradise: One Man’s Journey Through Ethiopia and Yemen. The Flowers of Paradise being qat. There are part of this book that are hilarious, including the jokes the author learned from Ethiopians and Yemeni.

    In Ethiopia, folks call the trucks carrying qat from fields to market “Al Qaida” because the drivers terrorize people on the road because they drive so fast – as it is imperative for the qat to be fresh.

    Fluttering plastic, blue bags litter many towns of Ethiopia, evidence of the daily, afternon qat habit. (The leaves are placed in the plastic bags for the customers.) Fields that used to grow vegetables and grain now grow qat because it pays more.

    Harar may be the capital of qat use in Ethiopia, where you see evidence of the psychosis it produces over time, and even of babies and children who fail to thrive because their mothers are qat addicts, which affects their appetite and thus ability to produce milk.

    Interesting that folks in Yemen buy their qat in the morning. In Harar (Ethiopia) and other localities, it’s an afternoon purchase.

  61. Tyrhone May 6, 2013 at 12:34 pm - Reply

    Those Yemenites must have some serious jaw muscles.

    • Wandering Earl May 8, 2013 at 2:36 pm - Reply

      Hey Tyrhone – Absolutely…my mouth was in pain the entire time.

  62. Ron May 6, 2013 at 12:30 pm - Reply

    I’ve used qat hundreds of times. It’s a great way to unload my “Q” in Words With Friends:). Thanks to you I now know the definition:)
    Keep on truck’in Earl:)

    • Wandering Earl May 8, 2013 at 2:36 pm - Reply

      Hey Ron – Ha! Now it will be even more impressive when using that word!

  63. Spinster May 6, 2013 at 12:06 pm - Reply

    Never tried it, but heard about it for the first time in 2004, in Uganda. I’d try it once, just to say I tried it once in my lifetime.

    Thanks for sharing your experience.

  64. Matthew Karsten May 6, 2013 at 11:50 am - Reply

    Looks like you need a qat intervention. Stop hoarding it all and share!

    • Wandering Earl May 8, 2013 at 2:37 pm - Reply

      Hey Matthew – Trust me, there is no shortage of qat to go around!

  65. Sabina May 6, 2013 at 11:47 am - Reply

    So interesting. You didn’t say, though, whether Qat is illegal in Yemen. I’m assuming its not since its grown and used so ubiquitously. But is it technically illegal and just something that the police overlook? Also, does it alter your thinking beyond becoming hyper and talkative? Were you able to retain your judgment or did it fly out the window? Were you kind of stoned, like you might feel on marijuana, or were you more clear headed, like you would be after a beer or two? Did you see any women checking qat or was their usage of it something you heard only from the men folk? So many questions, I know. I hope you’ll have time to answer. 🙂

    • Wandering Earl May 8, 2013 at 2:40 pm - Reply

      Hey Sabina – It is legal in Yemen. As for altering your thinking, that’s an interesting questions. According to Yemenis, they don’t drink because alcohol alters the mind but they swear that qat doesn’t do that, which is a bit odd. And the ‘high’ is quite mild so I was able to maintain judgment and I was still in control of myself at all times, except for the night I spent three hours running around my room in the my underwear trying to get rid of two mosquitos. Sometimes I felt like I was a little stoned, other times like I was a little drunk but still, it was very mellow effect. And the women do chew qat as well, although not in the mufrage rooms with the men. But from what I learned they don’t chew as much, just a little each day.

  66. Lauren May 6, 2013 at 11:36 am - Reply

    I must say that I like your enthusiasm, and you’re the only travel blog that I read regularly. And it’s partially because you do stuff like go to extremely dangerous locations, and get high with locals. But still, this entry is a little worrisome, and I would be curious to know what security precautions you took in Yemem.
    Under these circumstance, I would not have tried qat because I would have been worried about being kidnapped.

    • Wandering Earl May 8, 2013 at 2:43 pm - Reply

      Hey Lauren – Thanks for that nice comment! As for safety, I’ll write a full post about it soon but in summary, Yemen is not nearly as dangerous as we think, especially considering that foreigners are not even allowed to travel to any of the dangerous regions of the country. The government only allows you to travel to those places it deems safe. And as for kidnapping, it’s not what you may think and chewing qat wouldn’t make a difference. The people you meet and spend time with while in the country won’t kidnap you at all.

  67. Mark Wiens May 6, 2013 at 11:35 am - Reply

    Fantastic post, and looks like you mastered the ideal chewing position.

    I tried it once in Nairobi, years and years ago, but I gave up chewing before I really felt anything happen. Some people in Kenya will chew the leaves along with bubble gum or peanuts. Did anyone do that in Yemen?

    • Wandering Earl May 8, 2013 at 2:44 pm - Reply

      Hey Mark – They just chew qat straight in Yemen which is a shame because having some bubble gum or peanuts with it sounds like a much better idea.

  68. Ahahahaha that’s awesome 🙂 A lot like cacao leaves, except you don’t get constipated with those!

    Perfect photos as well 🙂

    But yeah…with a high unemployment rate, and thus difficulty in buying food, it’s like it is down in South America…a way to stave off hunger pains and keep yourself buzzed at the same time while not worrying about the lack of food.

  69. Maria May 6, 2013 at 11:11 am - Reply

    Tobacco, Coke and Qat – always a way to catch a buz and stave off hunger pains.
    I gotta tell you that I’ve bookmarked this post because I love the way it’s written and those photos are PRICELESS!!! You made my day.

    • Wandering Earl May 8, 2013 at 2:29 pm - Reply

      Thank you Maria!

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