Burngreave Messenger.
Issue 41 May 2004

Life on Verdon Street ...raises issues with khat (page 2)

Kids playing on Verdon Street.Inside 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 and tobacco.

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 suburbs.”

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Kids playing on Verdon Street.

Photos copyright © Carl Rose


Is khat a drug?

In July 2001 (Is khat a drug) the Messenger reported on the first ever national conference about Khat, run in Sheffield by the Somali Mental Health Project.

Dr Jadressic, consultant psychiatrist, compared it to alcohol. “Many people use it as part of their social life, but, like alcohol, some fall into heavy, regular use which can cause mental and physical health problems as well as financial and social stresses.”

If khat use is affecting you or someone you care about, and you want to talk to someone, call: Sheffield Black Drugs Service on 249 3700, or 275 1575 (Urdu/Punjabi helpline). Help for Somali/Arabic speakers is available on both numbers.

If you have any views on these issues, we would you like hear from you. Contact the Messenger on 242 0564, by email messenger@burngreave.net or by post at Abbeyfield Park House, Abbeyfield Road, Sheffield S4 7AT.


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Index for Issue 39 March 2004.