Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Bristol, UK (HOL) - At 4pm for the last 5 years, Jama, (not his real name) would have woken up from sleeping in his tiny studio flat in Bristol after chewing until 3am in his local marfish (Khat house). He would then proceed to eat at a local Somali restaurant before buying a pack of cigarettes and hurrying to the marfish to purchase a minimum of 4 bundles of Khat before settling down to chew it in a corner at the top of the marfish in a designated room for customers. Today at 4pm he is sitting in a Somali coffee shop wondering what to do next as chewing khat has become a criminal offence.
“I can have tea but when you have eaten Khat for as long as I have about 5 times a week you get used to it. I can’t lie I am missing it today,” Jama said bemoaning the lack of activities available for him to do aside from sitting in a Somali cafe. “Today I will just relax but maybe tomorrow I will make a better plan like apply for college or something,” he continued.
Another regular chewer Ali, again not his real name for the purposes of confidentiality and lack of trust in Police as a former chewer today, had eaten some Khat last night but not as much as he usually does due to the low supply in the whole city of Bristol.
“Last night people ate like there was no tomorrow. It was like a way of us saying good bye to Khat but because so many people chewed it I did not get my usual amount,” moaned Ali. “It was cool though because I feel a bit more alive and picked up my child from school because I woke up early today.”
The impact of the Khat ban was physically evident on the streets of Bristol where Somalis mainly living in areas such as Easton, Barton Hill and St. Paul’s were out in larger numbers than usual and restaurants and coffee houses were full.
“More and more people are coming in to eat and drink teas and coffees so I am very happy with the Khat ban,” said a restaurant owner on the Stapleton Road in Easton. This was replicated in many parts of London such as Wembley and Shepherds Bush.
“It is good that the Khat chewers are coming out and spending their money wisely on food and not poisoning themselves with Khat,” said Ali Nur, a customer enjoying a traditional rice and meat dish in a Wembley Somali restaurant.
One of the key reasons for the Khat ban was that it was seen as socially destructive with the British Prime Minister today accusing the drug of breaking down families and exacerbating unemployment and crime in effected communities. Today many Somali female activist who formed the core of the successful pro Khat ban lobby were happy that the day had finally come.
“The Somali men need to go to school, work and look after their children,” said Asha Mohamed a mother of four from London.
“My husband woke up very early today and he did the shopping and took our children to school. This makes me happy and hopeful,” added Asha’s friend who did not want to be named.
Not all were happy with the Khat ban coming into affect today as Mafrishes remained closed in both London and Bristol. One former Khat dealer in Bristol who was clearing up the mess left behind from yesterday’s mass chew session beforemidnight in his place complained of the unemployment, loss of income and worried how he would pay the rent which he is obliged to pay for another few months without any source of income.
“For me it is a disaster and I am feeling the pressure already. I am looking for another job but it will take time before I find it,” said the mafrish owner who, again did not want to be identified for fear of stigmatisation and police harassment in the future. “I don’t know what I will do for now but who knows what the future holds.”