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Location: Kansas, United States

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Qat Again

Recently, Leah’s dad came for a visit. Seeing Aden through the eyes of
a visitor—as though for the first time—was interesting. Why, he wanted
to know, don’t they finish the buildings? Well, it is true that there are a lot of buildings that are unfinished. Previous regimes began and did not finish, or the civil war or the revolution got in the way, or the money ran out or…who knows. Other building were finished but were damaged in the civil war or the revolution or…who knows…and they sit in their concrete majesty with gaping windows and doors while the ever present crows chatter on window sills and rooftops. One problem is that everything is concrete and stone. If a building is demolished, there remains a mountain of concrete to haul away. Once you notice how many chunks of concrete, from small to gigantic, decorate the city, you see that it is everywhere. It would take a lot of cleaning to clean it all up. So, there is an air of abandonment that permeates the city.

The second feature that disturbed her father was the men who lie around
chewing qat, or lie around doing nothing. I don’t know if I have commented on this before. Qat is a leaf that is a mild stimulant and many Yemeni men chew it every afternoon. Most men meet inside homes or inside odd makeshift spaces that have been constructed from abandoned metal containers. I think I can attach a picture of such a place though it isn’t clear because I was trying to surreptitiously take the photo from inside the taxi. I was waiting on the driver and his friend to come back from buying qat. These ‘containers’ are at the qat markets and the men buy the qat and, I suppose, rent a space…I don’t know. But those men who do not go to homes or containers just lie around on the sidewalks, propped up on a concrete block or a bedroll or cast off trash that is the right size for leaning against. To me the absolute strangest place that they congregate is on the median between the lanes of the highways. The median is about 4 feet wide and five or six men are propped up on whatever, chewing qat.


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