“Hearing stories about the lost nomad with a flash light trying to find his home in the middle of the night at first might strikes as funny, but when you hear about men kidnapping animals from their own heard to sell at the market for a bundle of khat, you realize that this is a serious issue.
khat does a bustling trade estimated at well over $50 million annually. Doctors warn, however, that the drug is not only a drain on limited Somali resources but is also destroying lives.
According to a report by Tristan McConnelly of the Global Post/Pulitzer Center “It is not unusual for men to spend $5, or $10 a day on Khat making the habit a huge drain on a very limited resource, the Government’s entire annual budget is les then $50 Million, around $14 a head for each of Somaliland’s 3.5 million citizens”. It is apparent when looking at the numbers mentioned above that it all does not add up. Yet again we all are aware of the fact that remittance sent by most Somalis living abroad makes up for that difference.
This money sent by hardworking family members to most Somalilanders: who do not appreciate the value of a hard earned dollar, or euro. This easily obtained money is the source of all evil, namely the evil of the ever flourishing trade of Khat that is bound to lead to the decay of a proud nomadic culture.
Living in Hargiesa for the last three years I have noticed the changes in how Khat was used in the past as a social activity: an event set aside for weekends after a long work week, where men sat for a chewing session with their peers or other family members to talk about politics or other society related issues.
This session mostly would take place at home where (foh) traditional incense would burn and sweet tea would be drunk with khat. Whereas now all you see are men walking around at all hours, with their bundle of Khat under their armpit chewing while walked with a single bottle of water in their hand. Other times you see them Chewing while working and mostly just sitting in one of those dirty little chewing rooms provided by the Khat ladies at every corner in the city.
Recently I made the trip to Haji-Salah where my mother’s family leave. The land is breathtaking, the grass is green and the sand is an unusual red color. A land where all you see is animals of all kind grazing happily, Camels, goats, sheep, and even the donkeys happily grazing along with all the other animals. Our trip was relaxing and fun, my friend, my daughter and I enjoyed the fresh air, where my mother fed us real tasty fresh meat and a lot of milk. Inspite of all this I could not help but come back from this visit with the uneasy feeling that the Khat trade does not only affect the city folk but extends to a rural areas as well. While in Haji-Salah, we indulged in some evening story telling under the stars while we sat around the matt after dinner. There is one story that my mother told us that inspired me to write this article. As my mother heard it from her neighbor and its goes like this:
“There was this family from Burao who came to Haji-Salah to get away from the city and enjoy the country side for a few weeks, this family set up a camp outside in the wood away from the village. One evening when getting ready for sleep they heard what they thought was an attack on their camp. They said all of a sudden the woods lit up all around them, kids, and women in the camp where scampering, and screaming “We are being attacked” “We are being attacked”, scared out of their minds. While all the men in the family where by then ready to fight whatever was attacking them. Things calmed down, when neighbor who run in to see what the commotion was about told them not to worry it was just some animal herders equipped with a flash lights trying to find their way home after a chewing session in the village.
” My mother also explained the interesting phenomena witnessed by her every afternoon when the two heads of the nomadic family are seen walking by on their way to the center of the village, led by the man who is on his way to a chewing session, followed by the female who is on her way to sit with other women in the area for a bit of gossip.
On the morning of our return back to Hargiesa we left early, I can hear my mother telling my cousin who was driving us to take the safer road .I did not pay attention why she was so worried at the time but as we were on the road I asked him what the issue with the road was. At first he ignored my question, and then I asked again, the answer was not comforting. It turns out that my driver needed his morning fix of khat so against my mother’s wishes he took the dangerous road that all the khat drivers take early morning to bring Khat to rural villages in that part of Somaliland. I was not happy with him, but the only way we can get off this road was to get to the next town and then catch a safer one.
As we drive on I noticed that the road we were on was rough and windy with real dense trees, so it would be really hard to see incoming traffic, and since there was only one lane a fast coming car would have caused a head on collusion in the event of an accident. We were not driving for more than ten minutes when I see a cloud of dust heading our way, I immediately told our driver to sound his horn and to slow down. As turned out the driver did not hear our horn, and at the last minute got out of our way as he comes to a Halt. Our driver steps out, starts chatting with the occupants of the landcruser, after a while he came back with a smile on his face holding his bundle of Khat.
The driver who looked fatigued with blood shot eyes told us it is best we got of this road as soon as possible. He explained that they were not the only khat truck on the road that Morning. At the end of this journey I came to the conclusion that the trade of khat, and it’s consumption by most Somali’s is a serious problem, a problem that not only affects the folks in the cities, but extends to the nomadic families living in rural areas of Somaliland.
Hearing stories about the lost nomad with a flash light trying to find his home in the middle of the night at first might strikes as funny, but when you hear about men kidnapping animals from their own heard to sell at the market for a bundle of khat, you realize that this is a serious issue. Also the dangers presented by Khat drivers on our roads driving tired while under the influence of khat and God knows what else, is not one to take lightly.
Is our nomadic existence in jeopardy? Is it time to address this subject seriously? These are questions I would like our conscious readers to answer. Let us keep in mind that this green leafy problem is a plant that we import from another country, one that does not grow in abundance here in our own country.