Khat chewing: Is it just a harmless routine or dangerous addiction?

Before you suspect me of being a hypocrite or something else, let me hasten to say that I am from Harar where khat chewing has been used for centuries as a harmless habit. I’m a lightweight. I didn’t have even friends who chew until I was 18.I have to divulge this great secret of mine-  up on finishing my high school I had tried it once on a visit of my friend’s house in Harar which culminated in a spectacular loquaciousness and hyper-activeness. Ever wondered what was the subject of our hot discussion of that day, what did I say to my friends, what did they replied to me? Don’t ask me. I can’t remember. I was too demanding of my friends’ attention to explain what remained in my mind.

I should admit that I attempted other things, only to realize they weren’t for me. A porn movie, for instance, definitely does not entertain me. Call me a traditional boy –‘gegema’– as we say it in Amharic, honestly speaking I do not enjoy these kinds of entertainments. But for sure I will be delighted if I still sit on my couch playing videogames with friends. I don’t smoke; I drink only sporadically with friends to have some fun together. I wouldn’t dare to have a drink alone. It does not give the impression of euphoria and I believe it is the worst thing that a person can do to himself.

In summary: One thing I have learnt is that I don’t much care for mood-altering substances. But I’m not afraid of them either. With the exception of Khat.

Let me be bold by labeling khat as the biggest threat to the nation’s mental wellbeing, yet it’s growingly freely available on every street – for 10 to 15 Ethiopian Birr. Khat consumers claim it expands the mind and bolsters the intellect because they believe they read books and discuss what they read while they chew: But chewers experience an initial flash of emotion, followed by what they believe is a state of enhanced wakefulness-they call it –merkana- Tragically this “wakefulness “is a delusion. As they grow increasingly detached from reality, heavy users often exhibit impaired decision-making abilities and becoming paranoid. In extreme cases chewers even have been known not to go out for work and doing nothing but chewing. These kinds of chewers are often described as “jezebas’’

Khat was traditionally chewed by men – it was until recently taboo for women to chew in Ethiopia. However these days it is not uncommon to see female students using it in the name of studying harder.  But these kind hapless users have little or no character of studying hard: they digest the leaf in faith of becoming successful on exams, only to pay the price later when they find themselves performing incoherently on their exam papers and in class rooms. One student of mine, who belongs to the ‘jezbas’ is taking his 8th year to finish a three year bachelor degree program. I have no actual data at hand how dangerous it is amongst our high school kids, but there seems to be a glaring lack of correlation between the threat it reportedly poses and the huge number of high school children reportedly using it.

Anyway had I been a chewer, I wouldn’t be typing this right now. I’d be in a hot discussion about last night English Premier League fixture of Wigan and Arsenal.

As a conclusion if I am given a chance once more time to describe khat I would say it is the worst substances I’ve ever encountered and senselessly addictive poison which spins the inner wheel of judgment into an unreadable shadow. What do you think?

One thought on “Khat chewing: Is it just a harmless routine or dangerous addiction?

  1. Hello Enadalk,
    I am Abiyu form Addis
    The issues you have been raising on your blog are valuable and worthy of reflections. However, for some reasons I failed to do so. But now on Chat and ‘merkana’, I believe I have to say something. Some people I know who are fond of Chat called it ‘material’ and let me use that term for now.
    Your observation is quite accurate. The ‘material’ is something that seems a silent killer for many in our society. The typical feature of this killer is that it kills its preys while they believe that they are living. They are not aware of what is really going on and don’t understand the kind of death they are suffering. The extent by which the pandemic, allow me to use that, is expanding to the different corner of the society in general and the high school and university students in particular is something that we should be alarmed about. It is one of the major infections accelerating the societal decay in Ethiopia.
    The first and demanding task to deal with the problem is to persuade the ‘material’ lovers that they are committing steady suicide. Once this happens, whichI think is a long way of ups and downs, the next move will be easier. Your blog in this regard has the potential to become one of the fronts from which the persuasive offensive of ideas and arguments can be launched to rescue the chewers from further drowning in their intangible sphere of influence.

    Good for you Endalk!

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