Monday, November 14, 2005

The English Sheik and the Yemeni Gentleman

Yemen is beautiful, or so the movie makes it look. But Yemen is also ancient, so very very ancient. And even though those old mud houses appear beautiful, I think living in them can be quite a scare. "The site of them becomes all the more attractive the more fearful it is, provided we are in a safe house." (Kant) I like my safe technology-enhanced house, so unless that country moves into the 21st century, I'd like to stay in my less sublime but oh so much more habitable house.

Kant also says "it is rather in its chaos that nature most arouses our ideas of the sublime." Chaos is surely abundant in the film's depiction of Yemen no matter how hard director Bader Ben Hirsi tried to cover it. I do not see beauty in this chaos, nor do I see sublimity.

What registered in the audience's minds, other than the beauty of the country, is the chewing of qat. Comments were initially made on tourism in Yemen, gradually developing to food in Yemen (shock at seeing the Englishman help himself to a plate of goat's head, breaking it open to eat it's tongue and brain), yet qat soon became the center of the post-movie talk.

Curious to know more. I surfed the net for qat. Here's what I found out:
Qat contains cathinone, a natural amphetamine which produces a high after prolonged chewing. In the United States, cathinone is listed as a Schedule I drug, with heroin and cocaine
The effects of qat include alertness, energy and euphoria.
Qat can also result in increased aggression and "fantasies of personal supremacy."
Long-term use may produce impotence.
Stimulation from qat can occur with in first 15 minutes of chewing, though the peak "high" is reached in the third hour. Effects from the chewing can remain up to 24 hours. Following the high, a slight depression, or melancholy, sets in and remains for a few hours.

Qat ... is a stimulant producing a feeling of exaltation, a feeling of being liberated from space and time. It may produce extreme loquacity, inane laughing, and eventually semicoma. It may also be an euphorient and used chronically can lead to a form of delirium tremens. ... Upon first chewing khat, the initial effects were unpleasant and included dizziness, lassitude, tachycardia, and sometimes epigastric pain. Gradually more pleasant feelings replaced these inaugural symptoms. The subjects had feelings of bliss, clarity of thought, and became euphoric and overly energetic. Sometimes khat produced depression, sleepiness, and then deep sleep. The chronic user tended to be euphoric continually. In rare cases the subjects became aggressive and overexcited. ... [in a study on 51 khat users] The respiratory rate and pulse rate were accelerated and the blood pressure tended to rise. The subjects also had a decrease in the functional capacity of the cardiovascular system.


William said...

That post just makes me wanna get some drugs and move to a mud house. Lol. Not really, but what I have seen of Yemen online is really nice. I had never heard of the Qat stuff before. Have to chew for 3 hours to get the stronger effects, or it just hits after 3 hours. Could you imagine chewing something for 3 hours going, "OK, anytime now..."

The Stallion said...

The movie made me want to go to Yemen! I've wanted to go to Yemen because of the musical heritage the country has and for thier "samrat"! Now I wanna go not just for the samrat but I want to see the scenery that was filmed in the movie and I woulnd't mind riding a horse around the open fields if possible!

As for the Qat, Did you notice the cheeks of those chewing that stuff! Some of them had huge quantities of Qat in thier mouth!

Jewaira said...

Yemen is certainly unique in the Arab world. One could truly go back and become lost in time in the labyrinthian passageways through the ancient buildings.

Yes, the film certainly made me want to visit the Yemen but we have long been aware of the dangers of doing so especially in the mountainous areas. You would need a good local guide. It is a shame that this country is not as accessible to people. Perhaps now the English department could arrange a trip through KU? Now that would be a great idea.

In the film, Tim Mackintosh-Smith certainly reflected the type of bohemian writer/traveller from long ago.

The audience did concentrate alot on the qat, but I would think to some Yemenis, this reputation might be shameful. We could see this in the response of the Yemeni embassy representative who at first sang the praises of qat and at the very end stated how there was a movement towards steering people away from this much loved cultural pastime (because of its detrimental effects).
I certainly disagree with the notion that qat would make you perform better on exams.
All those chewing it (including the English gentleman) looked pretty spaced out to me. No wonder older women chew it too.

Sorry for blabbering like this Hanan :)

Hanan said...

william. 3 hours do seem like a very loooong time indeed. I guess they put up with it knowing they'll get high later on.

stallion. where did you run off to after the movie? i wanted to say hi. oh and yeah, those swollen cheeks are actually very funny. Do you think they might represent some fashion statement there?

jewaira. blabber away girl. you're among a few who's blabbering is a blessing. but how come you didn't make yourself known? I would've loved to meet you. Or where you the girl with a familiar face I saw with stallion? (I was the one who tried to end the discussion of qat by telling the audience that it is addictive and harmful, after which a student asked me how I knew that ;)

ainialyaman said...

" It may produce extreme loquacity, inane laughing, and eventually semicoma. It may also be an euphorient and used chronically can lead to a form of delirium tremens. ... Upon first chewing khat, the initial effects were unpleasant and included dizziness, lassitude, tachycardia, and sometimes epigastric pain." Exaggerated a bit .
Anyway, I liked the way you described your article and wish to see the MOVIE.

McArabian said...

I wish I could've seen the movie - it sounds very interesting. I love the pictures you posted though, and am very curious about Yemen.
Applying Kant's definition of the 'sublime' to Yemen is a stroke of genuis - great article :)

The Stallion said...

After the movie ended I was talking to the Yemeni Rep. cause I work with a few Yemanis and they wanted me to come to Yemen! I was asking him questions for some time and then when I left the building I saw you at your car talking to someone and I didn't want to bother you!

As for when I walked in, it was with a non-bloger and Obliv! When I first walked in I said hi to Amunki and 2 of her friends!

As for the big cheecks, I would say it's not a fashin statement per say but a statment to show how much of a "man" the person is in order to want to chew that much! It's either that or they are just in need! :oP

Swair. said...

i didn't like this movie much :/
evne though the scenes were breathtaking, i felt it was more like the scenes were for me to go there and practicing my digital photography rather than just sitting there in the dark, watching a movie...
i think a friend of mine almost fell asleep half way through lol

Hanan said...

ainialyaman. so you tried it? how did it feel? Movie's good. You should watch it.
mcarabian. thanks. you missed a good movie week. I take it you don't live in Kuwait?
stallion. swollen cheeks as manly performance. I like that :)
swair. I think the digital photography is what makes the movie in this instance. It's a documentary. And those sometimes have a certain element of dullness in them.

Postman said...

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I first wrote about it May 2001

Bader Ben Hirsi said...

Hello All,

How fascinating to read all your comments. Sorry I never found these earlier whilst it was still the topic of conversation.

Just thought I needed to highlight a few points - QAT - Well, the reality is I guess you have to try it to know its effect. I'm in the UK and its not illegal here and in fact can even be bought at Somali grocers...OK, it DOESN'T take three hours to have an effect, BUT it is a social 'pastime' and the three hours spent chewing also means you spend quality time with the people you are chewing with. I don't like it but you guys can't knock it when you don't know 'exactly' what its effects are. BUT let me point out one thing, when I have chewed, it is intense and I could be chewing with complete strangers, three hours later, I have opened my heart out to the person next to me and he/she has too...often, I feel that after three or so hours chewing with these 'strangers' I end up knowing them better than I do my closest friends since if I was to go out with friends in London, we'd go out to the movies or theatre and watch something rather than have deep and meaningful conversations, I mean on a personal and deep level...

As for the whole point of the film, I guess it was just me discovering my parent's ancestral homeland and a journey of discovery, that's all, nothing more and nothing less - Besides, I made it over six years ago and there have been other films since then.

HOWEVER - I've just finished my first feature film and its also Yemen's first-ever feature. Its called 'A NEW DAY IN OLD SANAA' - It premiered two months ago and is about to do its international round at festivals soon. Now this is one you guys need to shows a completely different side to Yemen.

Thanks for your comments. Its so good to see feedback (Good or bad).

Best wishes to you all,
The English Gentleman x

p.s. If you need to find out more re Qat, try checking out Tim's book 'Travels In Dictionary Land'.

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