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January 30, 2006

Khat dominates male life in the tiny Muslim nation of Djibouti

In this overwhelmingly Muslim nation, alcohol is frowned upon and hard drugs are exceedingly rare. But one stimulant dominates the lives of Djiboutis half-million citizens: khat, a green leaf that when chewed gives the chewer an amphetamine-like high. Here, khat is king. Women sell it, men chew it, and children either lament their fathers habit or count the days until they, too, can take part in the national pastime. Its influence becomes clear every day at lunchtime, when nearly all Djiboutian males retreat inside with a handful of friends to gnaw gently on ball-sized lumps in the sides of their cheeks.

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