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Samantha Felix Samantha Felix

Photos: The Story of Khat, the “Chewable Amphetamine”


Stunning photos offer a glimpse into the centuries-old tradition of chewing khat in Mogadishu, Somalia.

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Khat-chewing is a popular custom dating back thousands of years. The flowering plant—native to the Horn of Africa and the Arabian peninsula—produces a high similar to amphetamines when chewed.

Photographer Feisal Omar documents khat-chewing in Mogadishu, Somalia, in an essay and striking series of photos (below). Known locally as “the flower of paradise,” the plant is flown daily from the highlands of Kenya and Ethiopia to Mogadishu and is distributed in open air markets. Up until recently, the drug was also transported to Britain, where a large Somali community sustained demand. But this summer, the UK banned khat, putting a strain on khat farmers and distributors and flooding the Somali market.

Khat sellers arranging the leaves into bundles.

Khat sellers arranging the leaves into bundles. Photo via

Market in Somali where Khat is sold. Photo via

Khat sellers in Mogadishu. Photo via

Wholesalers as young as Ali Abdi (pictured above, right), 14, subsist off of the khat trade. Photo via

Somali khat businesswomen waiting for their product to arrive.

Somali khat businesswomen waiting for their product to arrive. Photo via

Though many khat-devotees cherish the tradition, which they compare to coffee-drinking, some claim the drug is partly to blame for the violence and economic problems faced by Somalia in recent decades. Some Somali women say their marriages and families have been wrecked by husbands’ problem khat use. ”Men who chew are not good,” says Maryan Mohamed (below). “They chew alongside their hungry children.”

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Maryan Mohamed says she started chewing the leaves back in 1992. Photo via