The use of the khat leaves is in some countries forbidden, at other places the use of khat is a national passtime, surrounded by rituals, a way of life. When the United Kingdom decided to ban the use of khat, the khat farmers in Kenya were very angry. They saw a loss, an immense loss coming their way. When I think of khat (I admit that I have never used it) I think of countries like Yemen and Somalia. I see men, young and old, huddled together, talking, being quiet, taking their time.
The British journalist Kevin Rushby got used to chewing khat when he worked abroad as a teacher. He enjoys it very much. In this book he travelled to find the origins of khat and a fair bit of the history of khat chewing. Where did it all start? What were the routes the first khat traders used to earn a fair living and chewing part of their wares?
He starts his journey in Ethiopia. To me this country was not linked to khat chewing, but my mind is already expanding. He starts his journey in Addis Abeba and he travels at first by train. First he travels to Dire Dawat and leaving the tracks he moves om to Harar, where he searches for traces of Richard Francis Burton (1821 – 1890, another explorer) and the French poet Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud (1854 – 1891), who moved at a very young age to eastern Africa, after he published a collection of poetry.
Next he moves on to Djibouti, where the customs try to do a good job, but the smugglers of khat are very ingenious. In the harbour of Djibouti he searches for a boat to take him across the Red Sea and a the same time tries to avoid any sign of people working for Customs.
The second part of the book is on this journey and his memories of earlier travels (including a visit to an island run by the Foreign Legion).
The third part of the book is on the Arab world, i.e. Yemen and some comments on other places. In this country Rushby enters more familiar territory. He meets with old friends and familiar places, but he also explores new territories. All in search of khat and the history of khat and the quality of different types of khat.
To me this book was a captivating book, very well written. Enjoying the travels and learning about khat and about historical events and people.
Kevin Rushby did a good job. And YES, there is a MAP in the book.
Kevin Rushby – Eating the flowers of paradise. A journey through the drug fields of Ethiopia and Yemen – 1998