Poetic Documentary ‘Faya Dayi’ is a Sensorial ‘Trip’ in Every Sense of the Word


“From now on” God said, “Whoever eats Khat will always remember you.”

Faya Dayi directed, written and produced by Jessica Beshir is an extremely hypnotic and poetic documentary that dives into the Ethiopian city of Harar and its inhabitants, their reliance on the growth of a drug called Khat and its effects on the community. Khat, a naturally grown crop native to East Africa is rooted within Sufism, discovered by Imams in the search for eternal life and used to reach higher levels of worship and spirituality during meditation and prayer. The core of Sufi meditation is reaching a state of divinity that is so pure, there is no longer a separation between meditation, God and daily life, which is only intensified with the use of Khat. As well as for religious reasons, Khat is simply used by locals to escape reality, whether that be long days at work in the fields or inner turmoil. 

Jessica Beshir manages to capture the hypnotic effects of the very drug she sets out to depict in her filmmaking, making it a sensorial ‘trip’ in every sense of the word, especially in the film’s use of sound, light and texture, which made watching the film a meditational and spiritual experience in and of itself. Like a hazy distant dream Faya Dayi encourages you to slip in and out of reality like the people within it. The film being in black and white decentres reality even further. In a conversation with Dazed, Beshir comments on this lack of colour, “I wanted to document the interiority of people. These voices are being shared from somewhere very deep inside someone’s soul. So I wanted to strip it from colour, and keep it in that space. When the film begins, one of the Sufi imams says: humans are given the ability to see the outside, but can we tell what’s on the inside?” Sufi meditation is grounded in the awakening of the spiritual consciousness, to reveal the inner workings of the mind, heart and soul which Beshir successfully replicates in her filmmaking.


The camera barely exists yet is so intimate in what it captures as we listen to people’s moments of deep reflection and ruminations which are astoundingly beautiful and raw. Discussions of homeland, migration and belonging are especially pertinent and drips through the narrative bringing to light issues of the current regime, the imprisonment of political campaigners, addiction and ultimately, the need to escape. We watch an Imam deeply involved in his practice, slipping in and out of worship and we meet 14-year-old Mohammed as he works the fields harvesting the leaf. Mohammed wants to resist becoming like his father who has become overtaken by the drug, he tells us, “Everyone chews to get away, their flesh is here but their soul is gone.” We hear of land rights and plans to crack down on the growing of Khat as well as musings on love, family and friendship. The voice of a nameless woman permeates the film as she guides us through the religious origins of Khat and offers up her innermost soul to us; “I want to run to a place, where I can’t hear these thoughts. A quiet place where I can forget.” These words are filtered through stunningly poetic imagery and cinematography which reflects the softness and beauty of the vulnerable truths being offered to us.

 Beshir documents the labour that goes into harvesting and selling of the leaf and the lucrative money-making market it has become as fields of Khat have now replaced fields of coffee, but she also silently brings into question its future and the impact it is having on the community. If the core of Sufi meditation is the revelation of the soul, what then of the loss of the soul that Mohammed grapples with as he cares for his father and contemplates his own future. Faya Dayi is a filmic poem presenting the battle between the relief Khat brings to people but also the apparent increase in addiction and the implications this is having on the people within its presence. As well as the internal battle between finding root in one’s own homeland versus the need to escape, seeking a new life of new possibilities and opportunities that 14-year-old Mohammed yearns for.

Faya Dayi is available to stream online now on MUBI, Curzon Home Cinema, Apple TV and Amazon Prime

by Elise Hassan

Elise Hassan (She/Her) is a writer, programmer and curator. She recently set up her own local community cinema called Haringey’s Global Cinema Club which has been screening some of the best non-English cinema from around the world. Elise is very passionate about shining a light on under-represented world cinema, whether that be writing about them or screening them! Her favourite films of all time are Mustang and Spirited Away.

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