For centuries in Ethiopia, the Sufi Muslims of Harar have chewed the khat leaf for the purposes of religious meditation. However, over the past three decades, khat consumption has broken out of Sufi circles and entered the mainstream to become a daily ritual among people of all ages, religions and ethnicities. It’s also become Ethiopia’s most lucrative cash crop. Faya Dayi takes us on a spiritual journey through the prism of the khat trade and offers a window into the aspirations of the unemployed and oppressed youth and elders alike for whom chewing khat to achieve Merkhana (the high of khat) has become a radical escape, a space of socialization and revolt against oppressive forces. For many, Merkhana is the only place where their hopes, dreams and aspirations can live.
Faya Dayi features the khat supply chain from harvest to market as its ever-present humming background. At the film’s heart is Mohammed, a fourteen-year-old who works as an errand boy for the daily khat chewers in the walled city of Harar. He lives with his father who, like so many in town, chews khat daily and often fights with Mohammed due to the mood swings caused by his addiction. The khat-chewing lifestyle of the adults that surrounds Mohammed and the inherent political pressures against oppressed Oromo youth like him, lead him to dreaming of reuniting with his mother who “took the boat” across the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia in
search of work when he was a small boy. He often speaks internally to her as a survival mechanism to ward off his loneliness.
Through his eyes, we meet the dwellers of Harar and Mohammed’s friends in the khat farming community who are instrumental in shaping his decision to finally take the treacherous journey to join his mother across the Red Sea.
Adrian Aniol, William Basinski, Mehandis Geleto, Kaethe Hostetter
Mohammed Arif, Ibrahim Mohammed, Hashim Abdi
Dustin Waldman, Jeanne Applegate
The Doha Film Institute
United States of America, Qatar, Ethiopia