High no more: Yemenis launch khat-free wedding movement

A traditional wedding with khat leaves piled on the floor. Photo courtesy of the Eradah Foundation.
 
In northern Yemen, a wedding where you don’t chew khat is unthinkable to most people. The drug, which is ubiquitous in the country’s north, is usually provided to guests in ample quantities, even if the bride or groom don’t indulge. However, young activists have dared to break with tradition and launch a khat-free wedding movement.
 
In the past month, activists from the recently-founded Eradah Foundation for a Khat-Free Nation helped organise and publicise two khat-free weddings, with a third to be held on December 31. Their initiative has gotten a lot of attention in Yemen: another organisation was inspired to organise a khat-free wedding just last week, and Hind Aleryani, a long-time anti-khat campaigner and one of the founders of the Eradah Foundation, says she is in contact with three more couples planning such weddings in the coming months.
 
Khat, a stimulant derived from a shrub, is a major cash crop in Yemen. Its critics say that the country wastes vast amounts of water growing khat instead of much-needed food, and that its widespread use impacts economic productivity. Its side effects, once the initial effect wears off, include irritability, a depressive mood, and loss of appetite.
 
Left: a traditional wedding with khat; right: a wedding without khat. Photos courtesy of the Eradah Foundation.
Contributors

“Many relatives threatened not to come”

Baraa Shaiban was the groom in the first wedding organised by Eradah Foundation in mid-November.
 
I really hesitated to have a wedding without any khat. I strongly believe our country will not become developed until we get rid of khat. I don’t chew it, and neither do my parents or siblings. However, many of my relatives do, and khat is usually the main attraction in any celebration – especially a wedding. Therefore, many relatives threatened not to come – they said that if there wasn’t going to be any khat at my wedding, that meant that I didn’t want them to be present.
 
However, after writing about the idea on my Facebook page, I was encouraged by the huge amount of positive reactions. I decided I had to do it. A few of my relatives did boycott the wedding, but many people I didn’t know came – people who wanted to support my initiative. More than 800 people attended in all.
 
Baraa Shaiban's wedding. Photo courtesy of our Observer.
 
“Without khat, the wedding hall was beautiful and clean”
 
Without khat, the wedding hall was beautiful and clean. Instead of people chewing khat and sitting around or leaving early, people danced and stayed until the end. Some businessmen who attended my wedding really enjoyed it, and announced that they would cover expenses of similar weddings in the future – that got many people excited.
 
This experience makes me think that even if the majority of youth today still chew khat, there is momentum growing against this practice, and that now’s the time to put pressure on the government to phase out its production. Yemen’s Arab Spring taught the youth to be pro-active – not to just sit around and wait for things to change.
 
Baraa Shaiban (centre) at his wedding ceremony.
 
Guests dancing at a recent khat-free wedding held just outside Sanaa.
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