Archive for the ‘Feb. 29’ Category

The Olive House in Toronto: Beit Zatoun

Posted: March 12, 2012 by mahmerkhan in Feb. 29

Hello to you all,


This post is about the space that I have chosen to analyze as an everyday part of Toronto life. Instead of choosing an area (Chinatown, Koreatown, Little India/Italy/Portugal, Greek town, etc) I have chosen a non-profit business called Beit Zatoun House. This place is on 612 Markham Street (Annex area aka Bloor and Bathurst, one block east) and its a semi community centre but more of a space that encourages and preserves culture. Beit Zatoun is Arabic for “The Olive House” and it specifically revolves around the Palestinian Diaspora. Why the olive you ask? Well, one of Palestine’s main exports is olive oil. Palestine has olive trees that are over five thousand years old. So old, that there is a mention of the olive tree in the Quran. And to this day, the West Bank is producing “authentically Palestinian” Olive oil which is sold all over the world at about $19.99 for a litre in glass bottle. The proceeds go to charities such as the red crescent (Palestine’s Ambulance and Hospital services.) You can buy this oil at places such as 1000 villages and ofcourse Beit Zatoun.


Palestinians relate to this symbol of olive because of it’s abundance in daily life. Before 1947, olive oil was never sold in markets since everyone cultivated their own olives and made their own olive oil hence the lack of demand. Now being diasporic, the longing for Palestinian olive oil is ever growing. In Barghoutti’s book “I saw Ramallah”, he mentions the officialness of being diasporic in his own homeland when he buys olive oil from a market. He mentions this would bring shame to his mother and family because buying olive oil signifies that disconnect between the cultivation of land. Almost transcending instantly him from native to tourist by just one transaction. Just being surrounded by olives, Palestinians can identify olives and olive oil as being part of their constructed identity. This attachment is increased once the diaspora is established, the longing grows. This is the same with oranges and lemons (Theres actually a move called Lemontree about a Palestinian daughter inheriting her fathers orchard but her neighbours happen to be the Israeli Defense minister…very interesting to see the least, you should watch it!!!)


With the business of anything comes politics. Palestine is a hotly contested subject as many of you know. Israel has control over most of the area since 1947 and thus has control over many of the exports including olive oil. It is thus naturally a place of exclusion for some. However, Beit Zatoun is not closed to anyone, they welcome all and their website states “ Beit Zatoun is a cultural centre, gallery and community meeting space that promotes the interplay of art, culture and politics to explore issues of social justice and human rights, both locally and internationally. This reflects the focus of our work: to bring peace and justice to Palestine and Palestinians and to use the space and resources to achieve the same goals in a broader global context.” Thus the olive is not only a symbol of identity but also a metaphor for building peaceful relations. Beit Zatoun also sells books, rents out the space for conversations and has an annual discussion on one of the more famous events called the Toronto Palestine Film Festival aka TPFF. The TPFF has been happening every year for the past 5 years (this year is the 5th annual.) The main venue is the Bloor Theatre on the same block as Beit Zatoun. TPFF promotes the Palestinian narrative through film. For 7 consecutive days the Bathurst Bloor Annex area is full of Palestinians remembering the 60 odd years of being exiled, building constructive relations and most importantly remembering Palestine. Beit Zatoun receives no government funding and thus operates through donations.


In one way Beit Zatoun is a museum and others it is not. In a few ways it acts a mediator of objects that are authentically Palestinian, however it is not a museum per say because there are no exhibitions or tours. Beit Zatoun is originally intended for a space for discussions, conferences, round tables and gatherings. It takes on the role of being authentic and representative because of theses discussions and its activism in promoting Palestinian culture and by selling the olive. For larger society, people may not recognize the olive as being Palestinian but with a little explanation by the receptionist, you can see the connection. Many would think the Kuffieyeh, Mahmood Darwish (Poet), Edward W. Said (Orientalism) and the Palestinian Boy (Handala) would be representative of the Palestinian diaspora, but indeed the olive and particularly olive oil are cultural representations of the Palestinian. Hope you liked it, see you Wednesday!


Khat and the Diaspora

Posted: February 29, 2012 by mitsar in Feb. 29

This week we read several readings on the use of khat, a mild stimulant drug originating from Africa and the Middle East. Each reading focused on a different region and their consumption practices with khat. Weeden observed khat use in Yemeni culture, while Carrier and Klein explored the worlds of Kenyan and Somali users. It is clear from the readings that the consumption practices of khat are different in every region but one thing that seems to be consistent across the board is that khat use is not considered a dangerous or harmful practice as it has been portrayed in parts of Europe and North America. While the lines of legality are blurred in each case, khat use has been deemed destructive, but as Klein and Carrier point out, it is the social context that might make them harmful, not the drug itself.

In Carrier’s article Bundles of Choice, he explores the world of miraa (another name for khat) cultivated in the Nyambene Hills in Kenya. Found abundantly in these hills, miraa’s intensity varies and is dependent on where, how and when it was cultivated. As Carrier points out, this gives users a wide variety of choices, and since commercialization, different types of miraa (cultivated in Nyambene and elsewhere) are enjoyed in different regions, claiming the loyalty of users to certain strains. The value of miraa therefore changes in every place; its origin, age, strain and location from the tree, and even the way it is packaged are all factors that determine a miraa’s worth, not just internationally, but locally as well.

Klein delves into the world of Somali khat consumption primarily in the UK. As Carrier points out, much of the international exportation of khat is run by Somalis in the diaspora, even though the tradition of khat chewing did not come to them until the 1970s. Chewed by Somali immigrants in the UK, khat has been associated with problems of unemployment, social exclusion and health deterioration. Migration patterns show that women and children are first to immigrate and once established the men find it hard to reassert their traditional family roles when they join their families. This has led to a trend in khat-chewing amongst unemployed Somali men in social settings. What Klein shows us is that khat use in Somali culture is widely taken out of the context of its original uses. Largely believed by farmers as a performance enhancer, khat use in the UK is misconstrued because of the large unemployment rate amongst Somali immigrants. Klein is careful to point out that while consumption practices might be more extreme in Somali culture, the research on other khat-using cultures in the UK is not sufficient to make any solid conclusions. However the little information that exists suggests that khat use in other cultures is not as frequent or socially unacceptable.

While reading these articles as well as the various articles on khat importing in North America, I finally began to understand the different shifts in value as an object moves through social settings. As Carrier points out, different standards and factors come into play, some being emphasized over others at various times. While I thought Carrier concentrated a little too much on defining value, it is clear from his article that the value of miraa can change over a short distance and one object becomes a multitude of objects all at once. By calling it by different names, picking it from specific places and cultivating it a certain way makes each type unique in its own way. Once it moves out of its place of origin, it takes on a whole form, laden with social, political and cultural connotations not found elsewhere, as we have seen in the UK. Klein prudently showed us that while we cannot make any definitive conclusions, the cultural context in which khat is used in the UK has a more powerful effect in the Somali community than that of perhaps other cultures; not because Somalis are drug-addicts, or even because it is part of their traditional history, but because their social situations have led them down a misinterpreted path.

Bali’s article speaks firstly of the chemical make up of Khat (Catha Edulis) then he proceeds to address its use in the social construct of how it used. He brings up past researchers such as Burton on how it is used. Since Khat is used regionally, he explains how it used in Yemen, Somalia and Eritrea. Khat is essentially used as a social stimulant. It is a leaf that must be taken in fresh otherwise it will lose it’s potency, which comes from a chemical called cathinone. It is not a drug that compares to cocaine or opium but more of a drug that mimics the effects of coffee or alcohol causing mental awareness, increase of social interaction and a slight sleepiness afterwards. Khat is used during social events such as breaks from work, during the evening or when the Oud (stringed instrument) is played. It is mainly consumed amongst men. Some say it promotes the economy while others say it bogs businesses down. Khat is consumed through smoking, chewing or via tea. Some users take it with alcohol or through a water bong. The U.S. (FDA and Customs) have deemed it illegal however England and most of Europe have simply placed a tax which is easily payable. Canada allows the consumption of it but not the importation or trafficking of khat hence the user is not charged but the smuggler is. It is hotly debated whether khat is seen as a positive or negative stimulant. Many of its users believe it be harmless and an everyday part of life whereas the political administration institutions view it as a class one drug.

The importance of this article brings to light the connection of the diasporic community of East Africa. Its through khat that the user can feel a sense of belonging, a sense of identity. Bali’s article highlights that men are the main users of khat and thus the male constructed identity is one that chews khat. We can see that Canadians are trying to bring in Khat not for profit but for a way to connect. At $50 a unit, that connection is expensive but it displays it’s importance. The money is used for immigration fees and to support large networks of the East African diaspora.

Question: Its interesting to see the view of the user in comparison to the view the larger political society. The view of the drug is important here. Who views it and how? We can allow tea, coffee and alcohol but why not Khat? Isn’t khat like coffee and less dangerous than alcohol? If it were to be accepted would that instill a culture of acceptance of one drug from the East African Horn and not…say Absinth from Europe? What holds Canada back from accepting it? Is it part fear? Part administrative bureaucracy?

Kliens article is about the traditions, the history and the social contexts its used in. He speaks mainly in a negative tone about khat and its effects. Klein highlights how khat came to be as a tradition making connections between highways, wars, trades and even global exchange. He downplays it’s authenticity in the article making it seem that it is not as long of a social tradition in Somalia as the users claim it to be. His article makes an interesting connection between allowing khat in the U.K. so that it becomes a handicap to the Somali male diaspora (addiction, not integrating into society, jobless, etc)… true or false, I am not sure but interesting indeed. Whats important in the article is that Klein’s article directly speaks about connection between khat and tradition. He connects khat as the male constructed identity and he questions the validity of khat as authentically part of the tradition. He explains that khat is socially negative for men as the women are affected indirectly by the user (usually the husband) which is diametrically opposed to how the Somali men view it.

Klein brings an important point about set and setting. He explains two sides of the argument: that the abuse of khat is not of the substance rather the new enviornment that the diaspora is in (setting) or the addictive properties of khat (set). Klein also makes a bold statement in his final conclusion “Somalis who idenity khat as part of their culture do so without really understanding the historical origin of this consumption pattern…Somali users, only gained regular access to khat in the dysfunctional setting of the civil war and the refugee camps. There is therefore no cultural memory of socially acceptable use of the susbtance among somalis.” (Klein 59) That is one hell of a statement.

Question: What do you think of Klein’s argument? Do you think the Somalis invented this attachment to khat? Do you think Klein has sufficient evidence to justify his statement? Another question I would like to hear being debated is the set vs setting. Are Somali diasporic men negatively addicted to khat because of the setting or because of it’s substance? Are Somali men as addicted to Khat in Somalia?


Posted: February 27, 2012 by lynndts403 in Feb. 29

Neil Carrier’s Bundles of Choice discusses the production, distribution and sales of Miraa itself. It is an interesting read for it illustrates the process and journey from farmer to consumer, the variety and region-specific preferences of its users. In addition, the valuation of different varieties of Miraa that ranges from cultural roots in Nyambenes to levels of freshness for UK consumers.

Axel Klein’s Khat and the creation of tradition in the Somali diaspora on the other hand explores the origins and truths behind the mixed feelings towards the use of Khat within this particular community. Klein argues that “ khat may be part of the culture, but its not part of history” contrary to the popular notion of a long traditional history amongst the second generation. In addition, Klein expresses that problems which arise amongst khat users are not from its pharmacological properties but rather the surrounding circumstances of the users thay perpetuate unemployment and poverty within the Somali communities.

I particularly enjoyed reading Klein’s article as he discussed the social implications of Khat in a narrow scope focusing on one specific community. He made clear logically arguments and depicted khat in both a historical and contemporary context ; addressing factors that have influenced its position and perception in society as a whole and within the community.

Carrier’s article is very informative and clearly articulates the manipulation and association of the value of Khat. My only criticism is that the article almost come across as a ‘product review’, having too much emphasis on the “logistics” of Khat – how it’s grown, the movement of the product, how different regions consume it etc. rather than including more social elements for a well-balanced argument.

Overall, I feel that both articles read together, complements each other very well. Carrier’s article discussed khat as a heterogeneous product, revealing its complexity and relationship with people while Klein addresses the problematic associations communities’ make with a  “false memory” of tradition; all of which cover important aspects of the evaluation of a diasporic object.


Klein states that “ Khat may be part of the culture, but its not part of history”. However, shouldn’t Khat be considered part of history even if it was recent? Does being part of history require a certain timeline?

According to Carrier, UK consumers only pay a flat rate of 3 pounds a bundle of Khat while others pay more/less depending on quality/origin etc. Since the value and quality of Khat consumption can be linked to knowledge discrepancy amongst consumers. Why isn’t the price be as reflective of that?



Khat abroad, February 29

Posted: February 27, 2012 by elyssamayer in Feb. 29

“Bundles of Choice” was an interesting article in which divulged into the various practices, techniques, valuation and processes of miraa and the miraa trade, but overall I did not receive any substantial information on miraa in relation to a diaspora context. Neil Carrier discusses extensively on these practices but makes a few crucial points worth contemplating. He discusses briefly how miraa becomes commoditized extensively locally and abroad and also simultaneously has the ability to become decommoditized for very specific ceremonial circumstances such. The most stimulating argument Carrier makes is that miraa has become increasingly valued both locally and overseas as miraa essentially becomes incorporated into an East African identity.

The Author Wedeen, L in “The Politics of Deliberation” embarks on a criticism of western style democracy and how other people participate in the democratic process. A rigid understanding of what it means to participate in democracy is widespread throughout western thought, where citizens as individuals cast a ballot and retire from their involvement as an active member of the nation. This article contests these notions and condemns this process as an impersonal and ambivalent process that does not fit into Yemeni political culture. The author argues that the experience of khat chewing gatherings allows for an arena where individuals may deliberate, discuss, negotiate, argue, air grievances and actively participate within their own politic. Wedeen goes on to argue that these khat meetings represent an integral aspect of the Yemeni democratic process.

The other pieces we read for this week strongly discussed the Somali experience with Khat, specifically their use, desire and the reaction to that in the diaspora. The article by Axel Klein divulges into the most significant debate on whether the use of Khat is mainly for a traditional or pharmaceutical use by Somalis, specifically in the United Kingdom. Klein argues that Khat was not widely used in Somalia until the 1970’s, however, it does not have to be an age old traditional practice to hold legitimacy as a relevant cultural tradition. The Somali diaspora has significantly increased since their tragic civil war and many Western nations have seen a large influx of immigrants from this area. With this rise of Somali immigrants since their civil war and there has been increased discussion on their traditional practices, cultural needs and social contributions. Many Somalis, and others, acknowledge that Khat chewing is a way of maintaining a connection to their home and their culture.

There is an ongoing struggle with maintaining the balance between preserving cultural components that hold important value and meaning to a community and controlling that community. The control over the use, definitions and distribution of Khat throughout the diaspora is two pronged, one being an argument that it is unsafe, its use as a drug and overall it is bad for your health and social wellbeing and the other to maintain domination over a group that is viewed negatively. News reports entering the United States during the Somali civil war showed drug-crazed Somalis, all strung out on Khat, which some argue has created deep rooted stereotypes and false understandings of the effects and usage of Khat by Somali people. These portrayals, some may argue may be the catalyst for legislative prohibition of Khat in the United States, or perhaps it is actually really bad for you.


-Is the prohibition of Khat in the United States just a conflict of cultures, or is there some legitimacy to the strict legislation against it?

-Does a cultural tradition have to be old to be authentic?

-Has the portrayal of Somali militias in Western media (from during the civil war) created a negative atmosphere the breeds adverse stereotypes of the Somali diaspora?