Thaw … and Chaw

It’s official:  2011’s January Thaw has come and gone in just about 48 hours.   Here in the Mid-Atlantic United States we’ve had two consecutive days with temperatures in the low 40s (Farenheit), along with prolonged rainfall that gnawed away at some of our accumulated snowcover.   Not much of a thaw, but still counts.   Now that that’s over with, it’s back to winter:  another storm with 4″ of snow is on the way in from the far side of the Appalachians.

In completely unrelated news:

European researchers in the field of cognition (it used to be called ‘psychology’ before neurobiologists got involved and turned it into real science) recently announced their finding that prolonged, habitual ingestion of the herb khat reduces self-control and may lead to risky, reckless behavior.   As every American schoolchild knows, khat-chewing is the principal pasttime of (virtually) the entire adult male population of Yemen, Somalia and sizeable portions of Ethiopia.   Whether your idea of risky behavior includes kidnapping foolhardy Western tourists, rebelling against the central government, or ranging far offshore in small boats to board and seize Panamax tankers, a cudful of khat makes those long, long hours under a blazing sun with your AK-47 just that much more pleasant bearable.    But there’s a upside as well:  the social rituals of khat consumption tend to reinforce kinship and community bonds, and also provide a natural nexus for information exchange and renegotiation/affirmation of cultural norms.

Weightier matters are discussed at khat chews, and they are a major forum for the transaction of business and for religious and political debate.   Many people also chew to aid concentration on study or work, and khat is an inevitable accompaniment to all important occasions from weddings to funerals.   But at the classic chew, it is ‘lightness of blood’  –charm, amiability–  that is admired, not gravitas.

Chewing or not, ‘lightness of blood’ goes a long way in many parts of the world.   Look for it in the eyes.

original caption (I swear): "Somali trader takes khat out of bags"

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