LFI: What is khat?
Marion Péhée: Khat is a drug with active ingredients similar to amphetamines, which has been used legally for centuries in the Horn of Africa. The saying goes: “Khat makes men docile and impotent, but makes women rich”. With men consuming it on a daily basis and becoming addicted and idle, it is the women who partly manage this lucrative business. Thousands of them retail khat.
How were you going to trace the drug?
To do this, I had to go to Dire Dawa, which is Ethiopia’s second largest town and one of the most important redistribution platforms for the plant; but also one of the stops on the Addis Ababa-Djibouti railway line, once the scene of khat smuggling. So I knew when I set off that this line was going to be part of my subject.
How did you perceive the train journey?
There are lots of women and children on the train. My camera intrigued and amused them. No one made any comments or refused to have their photo taken. The train crosses the desert landscapes and the heat is intense both inside and outside the train. It's even a physical experience, with the cries of the shop assistants, the heat and the sound of branches sliding across the metal sheeting of the carriage.
Please tell us something about the atmosphere on the train.
On this train, you could feel a certain tension and apprehension, as most of the passengers were preparing to flee on a long journey. The train that took us to Dewélé was packed with young men, women and children. Some told me they wanted to go to Yemen or Saudi Arabia. (Interview: Carla Susanne Erdmann)
All images on this page: © Marion Péhée
Equipment: Leica Q with Summilux 28 f/1.7 Asph.