Photographer's Note

I hesitated a long time before deciding to show this. It is a technically very bad photo and it will probably not please many of you.

This is from the city of Mukalla on the south coast of Yemen, towards the eastern part of the country. Walking through the traditional market I happened to come to the special area where only khat was sold. Khat (Catha edulis, also spelled qat) is a plant grown on the Horn of Africa and the Arabian peninsula. It is regarded as a mild but addictive drug, perfectly legal locally but banned in many Western countries. In Yemen it plays a central role in society. During the afternoons life slows down considerably as most men spend their time chewing khat, steadily filling their mouths with fresh leaves, usually in the company of their closest friends. It was said that a government minister or high state official only knew whether he was favoured by the President if he was invited to his khat parties.

The title of this photo only means that it is the first drug dealer I have shown on TE. Not the first one I made business with. I didn't do any business at all with this man. I just walked up to his stall, looked around, established an eye-contact and asked to take a photo. He obliged, but my instincts told me his "friendliness" would perhaps not last long, and I also didn't want to be observed by other shoppers, or policemen, so I wanted to take this quickly. I think the main problem was the extremely strong contrasts between the blazing sun outside and the relative darkness in the shade.

According to Wikipedia, some of the immediate effects of khat are "alertness, confidence, constipation, friendliness (maybe that is why I liked Yemen so much), insomnia, talkativeness, thought disorder". Among the long-term effects are "depression, infrequent hallucinations, psychosis and oral cancer". Listed as indeterminate effects are "stroke, death".

Here is just a short story of my experiences of khat in Yemen: In the port of Aden I was arrested by a policeman for taking photos. I was brought to the local police station, where the officer on duty was lying on a bundle of cushions on the floor, his mouth filled with khat leaves. He was informed of my crime, looked at me with rather blank eyes and asked "So you have taken photos?". I had to admit I did. "What do I care? Take any photo you want". And he waved me away like an annoying fly, showing clearly that he was very busy with more important things.

I have scanned this from a Kodachrome slide. If you want a closer look at the technical shortcomings, here is a larger version.

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Additional Photos by Gert Holmertz (holmertz) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 12689 W: 572 N: 24298] (103520)
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