the khat house
by Rob Smith
photography by Carl Rose
Musa was the name of the man we
were told resides in ‘the khat house’. He
welcomed us in and we entered a room, where six or seven
men were sat with blue plastic bags of khat beside them.
As my initial wish was to light one up,
I was ushered into the kitchen. “We only smoke
in the kitchen,” I was informed by a man with
a mouth full of khat. Others gathered in the kitchen
to smoke their brands of legally-sold tobacco and listen
to our conversation.
I began by asking Musa how he felt about
living in Verdon Street, and he told me although people
say this area has more crime than others, this wasn’t
their view. They all nodded so I got to the point, asking
if they were aware khat had become illegal in Europe
and the USA. I thought this would raise tension but
one man, with his mouth still chewing, answered my question.
“Yes we know, and that’s just victimising
Somali people as well as raising the price of khat.”
Problems with khat?
When I mentioned Somali women are said
to be against the use of khat there were a lot of comments
from others. “A lot of our women are anti-khat,”
declared the initial talker. “Yes,” agreed
another, “because the time we spend chewing together
is consuming and puts our wives out. There isn’t
really an issue about costs, because that’s only
around a three pound a day habit, and other cultures
here spend more money in the pubs every day and night.”
I agreed, knowing one could spend a lot
more on a small quantity of cannabis. One man present
said his wife is happier knowing he chews khat, rather
than drinking alcohol.
I wanted to know about khat’s addictiveness
and the effects they thought it had.
“People don’t do it everyday,”
claimed one man, “the effect of it is relaxing.
We talk and discuss issues that affect us as a nation,
at home and globally, just like they do in pubs. And
how many people like you use cannabis?” I knew
this, but still wanted them to tell me about long-term
effects of consuming khat. “Problems can occur,”
said the initial speaker, still chewing, “the
worst problem is when young people get involved too
much, when they’re unemployed and unstable. This
isn’t good practice.”
Another man suggested the long-term effects
are much the same as things like coffee, tea, alcohol
Having drunk my tea and spat out my small
mouthful of the substance, I mentioned the complaints
from next door. They seemed aware of Mrs Harrison and
why she feels as she does. “We are grown men from
a different culture. We have families, wives and children.
We don’t purposely make noise or disturb others.
Most of us are home by 8pm. This is our friend’s
house, so we are able to come and go as we please, talk
and relax in an all-male environment.”
I suggested a purpose built centre, where
men could meet, watch TV, eat, smoke, talk and chew
khat, and this was met with approval all round. “Why
not,” I added, “because I’m sure they
still have those gentlemen’s clubs where they
chew and spit out tobacco in the fair city of London’s
copyright © Carl Rose