What Is Khat? And What’s To Get Excited About A Guy Chewing Leaves?

by John Downey

This is Ismael, our amazing Afar guide.  This guy was employed by several high-rent hunting outfits for his keen ability to track game in the bush.  Ismael was usually talkative though suffering from an amoeba infection and a few other ailments.

Despite the infection and stomach problems, Ismael regularly chews Khat (CH’at) prior to guiding.  Over the course of fifteen minutes while I photographed him, he became animated, much in the way I am after three cups of joe.

The following info was sourced from Wikipedia:

Khat contains the alkaloid called cathinone, an amphetamine-like stimulant which is said to cause excitement, loss of appetite, and euphoria.

The earliest known documented description of khat dates around the 11th Century, which predates the use of coffee, though it is used in a similar social context.  Khat is also part of the Yemeni business culture, used to promote decision-making.  Guess the Yemeni government stopped chewing recently.

Khat use has been traditionally confined to where it is grown because only fresh leaves promote the desired stimulating effect. In recent years, however, improved infrastructure and transportation have increased global distribution of the leaves. The plant is banned in Missouri and it has been targeted by anti-drug organizations like the DEA.  Why only Missouri and what do drug enforcement agents look like when they target a plant?

I don’t intend for the AK-47 to look ominous in this context.  Most tribespeoples in Africa use the Russian standard to protect themselves and their herds from thieves and neighboring tribes.

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