Faya Dayi review – the ups and downs of khat’s zonked-out bliss

Alongside a mystical state held sacred by some Sufis, this poetic documentary shows the hard labour of growing khat and the damage done by its use

First-time feature director Jessica Beshir weaves a voile of torpor and reverie in this dramatised, poeticised documentary in gauzy monochrome about the cultivation of the khat plant in Ethiopia. Chewing its leaves induces an addictively woozy high, and it has long been treasured by certain followers of Sufism as an aid to religious contemplation.

The title is an incantatory chant uttered by the farmers of khat at their work – meaning “birth of wellbeing” – but in fact the film contrasts the zonked-out near-bliss of the khat consumers with the very hard work involved in actually producing it, along with the reality of what addiction means, with families torn apart. Khat is a part of their poverty, their discontent, their sense of imprisonment, and their (temporary) escape. Some young people employed in khat production are shown here listlessly dreaming of making it as refugees to Europe or to Saudi Arabia, where members of their fractured family have gone. There are ruminative monologue-voiceovers, memories and thoughts that Beshir has perhaps elicited through interview and research and reconstituted in scripted form.

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