“Our only wealth is our farm, they are working the land,” says the voice of a mother. Ethiopia has had an interesting history from a national with insular strength to a developing nation. It no longer experiences the same suffering as it did during the 1980s but a full recovery is miles ahead. The climate has also forced farmers to switch from harvesting coffee to harvesting khat. That’s plant with addictive edible leaves popular in Ethiopia and Eastern Africa. The mother who we hear in one of the scenes has a son who has limited options to make his mother proud. He can either stay in Ethiopia, harvest khat, and be a foot soldier in a growing yet borderline amoral industry. Or cross unnamed seas to join his relatives for a promise of a better life. This resonates so much to people who belong to separate diasporic communities.
Through its almost two hour running time, Faya Dayi provides enough context, painting a unique picture of the effects of the khat industry in Ethiopia. A young man tells his brother than he can’t take the latter to Egypt, where a better life waits for them. Men in their physical peak tell younger men not to chew khat or work with khat. A middle aged man cries, telling himself that God will provide, shaking because of his addiction. A woman reluctantly marries. A part of me wonders what the film would look like in colour, possibly showing the fields’ deadly fertility, but the choice to capture its images in black and white accentuates the anguish that the documentary’s subjects feel. A few critics have written how they dislike the film’s poetic approach, but it’s still effective. And surprisingly, it doesn’t belabor its points like some documentaries do.
Catch Faya Dayi here.