Interview with Muhammad:
Muhammad recalled his childhood and experiences with Khat for me during the interview, because it was done in Arabic, I will summarize his story;
As a young boy, traveling to Yemen from Ethiopia, he remembers a time when Khat was not hugely popular and the quick change when Khat became apart of life for average Yemenis and became a cash crop in the region. Khat has been chewed in Yemen for centuries, but it was historically and habit of the wealthy and elite members in society. In the early to mid 1960s the branding of Khat changed vastly, partly due to the lowering in price and greater accessibility to the drug. By the 1970s Khat became a part of everyday life and a necessity for man social gatherings.
Muhammad first started working full time on a farm at 14 and learned how to take care of khat. He quickly realized the huge difference in the profitability of khat compared to crops like corn.
By the age of 20 Muhammad had his own farm and sold it to buy other plots of land to increase his profits.
Muhammad felt like he had to farm khat in order to preserve his livelihood, he could produce vegetables and wheat worth the equivalent of $1,000 per month or he could grow khat and make $3,000 a month. In order to pay for the materials and pay his employees, he had no choice but to choose khat.
He mentioned that "when you grow khat it takes a year, but then you can take off the top leaves once a month for the next two years. The first year is called the 'stems and clean' and the second year is called 'branch' because you clean off the sides of the plant. The third year you cut it all the way down to the root". Being able to have a constant income was very beneficial to Muhammad's life.
In order to irrigate his khat crops he started with a nearby river, but he recalls the water slowly going down and now when he visits there are no rivers or water left.
By the time Muhammad was 25, he realized the negative health impacts of khat, but he had to continue growing the plant because he needed the money. He resented his reliance on the drug for money and this was one of the factors that fueled his decision to immigrate to the United States.