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.


Responses generated by the audience (paraphrased and condensed):

-- I’m surprised that even though the movie is feminist in its story, we see patriarchy being enforced by a woman rather than a man. It is the mother-in-law who causes the family’s demise.

-- That patriarchy is represented not through the men in the movie, but through the actions of a female, is a clear example of how the oppressed often perpetuate their own oppression.

-- Why is the husband such an angel? He is perfect.

-- It’s a fairy tale. We don’t see such characters in real life.

-- It actually is a very honest picture of middle-eastern and Irani views on marriage.

-- The husband isn’t really an angel. He is a very impotent character here, one who cannot or does not appear as a strong figure, one who does not make a stand against his mother.

-- The men here are mostly submissive: both husband and father-in-law seem unable to be part of the decision making scheme in the two families.

-- The movie is a cry for men and women both to see more in the relation between man and women than the begetting of children. The couple’s life together demonstrated their ability to create, not necessarily children, but rather a happy and productive life.

-- The movie uses color to background the feelings of the characters, moving away from the Hollywood tradition of using music for such effect.

-- The billboard that the wife hid behind in order to see the new wife had a picture of a man’s eyes, enlarged. This reminds me of The Great Gatsby where the billboard was a witness to the husband cheating on his wife.

-- The billboard’s eyes also suggest the idea of the gaze, a very recurrent theme in feminist works.

My connection was acting up so I could't post this last night.