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What isn’t sent off by truck or plane to neighboring countries and farther afield finds an eager Ethiopian customer base in the likes of Dire Dawa’s Chattara market, where sellers are predominantly women who haggle passionately.

Khat has a long history in the Horn of Africa and surrounding region.

Bob spoke to those near him in his last days in such a calm manner that he was comforting us, thinking of others as he had done throughout his life.

With his death, a piece of me — and those who knew him — also died.

Its leaves were viewed as sacred by the ancient Egyptians, while Sufi religious men chewed khat to remain awake during nocturnal meditations on the Koran — hence the leaf's affiliation with the divine. “It’s better than alcohol as you can still function normally afterwards,” says Abdul, who chews whenever he is on deadline.

“It affects people differently, it depends on your personality: After khat some like to read, others to work.” Among the 10 percent of Somaliland men not chewing khat, however, opinion can differ.

For several weeks before his death he knew his heart was giving out, and he spoke openly of the wonderful life he had enjoyed, and the realization that it was coming to an end.

However, as I was shown to one of a number of mattresses encircling the floor of a room to talk to people chewing khat and smoking shishas, I was reassured the Addis Ababa police virtually never bother to enforce the rule.

Another of Ethiopia’s eastern neighbors is a keen customer: Djibouti.

From those shores, some contend, dhows loaded with Ethiopian khat once set out for Yemen, where it now grows in abundance with an equally significant economic, social and cultural impact.

In 2014, khat sales generated 20 percent of the 2 million budget, according to the Ministry of Finance.

For Ethiopia, khat is a major earner too: even Somaliland spends 4 million a year, about 30 percent of gross domestic product, on Ethiopian khat.

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