As the sun permeates the dark skies of Nairobi, Kiamaiko Market is a beehive of activity.
Located eight kilometres from the city’s Central Business District, the hub for goat and sheep selling in the country is headed for another busy day.
While the market is normally busy, a day to Muslim Eidul-Adhha festivities (annual Muslim celebration that signifies the end of the pilgrimage at the holy sites in Mecca), usually marks the market’s peak season.
During past such festivities, the market would receive an average 50 lorries of goats and sheep.
The number of trucks arriving at the market has, however, halved with, the trucks arriving from Tanzania conspicuously missing due to the tough border restrictions meant to curb the spread of coronavirus.
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The effects of the pandemic are evident in the market, with the merrymaking that usually accompanies the eve of the celebrations, conspicuously absent.
Merchants are seated in small circles watching their goats graze in bunches of ten. Supporting their chins with walking sticks, the merchants have weary faces that tell a story of how a virus that started in Wuhan, China, crept into Kenya and found its way to their livelihoods - goats and sheep.
But no place has captured the difference in this year’s celebrations like Eastleigh, the capital’s business hub.
A day to the festivities, the area dubbed, “Little Mogadishu” because of the high number of Somalis living there, would be abuzz with activities.
Traders from across the East African region would flock to Eastleigh to shop for the festivities.
Selling goods from imported clothes to electronics, the streets of Esastleigh would be fully packed.
Families would troop in, visiting shop after shop at Garissa Shopping Mall, located on First Avenue, which has been nicknamed “Jam Street” due to high human traffic.
Other than the malls and shops, hundreds of hawkers would be lining outside the malls and shops, displaying their merchandise on the pavements.
“Business is about people but with the fear of contracting Covid-19, the number of customers has reduced. On normal festive times, I would come to my shop by 6am and leave past 7pm,” said Mohamud Abdi, clothes trader in Eastleigh.
But it is not only the clothes merchants biting their fingers due to the missed opportunity that the festivities bring; hoteliers are also ruing the lost chances.
The local population being Somali, sharing a meal is commonplace. It is this culture that shrewd business people have capitalised on, with the festive periods being the peak season for businesses.
However, this year the restaurants have remained locked, with only a few of them offering take-away services.
“We closed business long ago. We sent most of our staff home because there are no customers. During Eid, our sales would grow to an all-time high, but now everyone has been asked to stay indoors and the take-aways being ordered are less than 100 in a day,” said Saadia Sheikh, a restaurant manager in the area.
Far from the business side, the virus has taken the colour, the sounds and the merrymaking that would fill the streets in various towns of the country.
Children would have jammed the streets, showing off their new clothes; men would be sitting along the streets sipping camel tea; and women, with their hands and feet decorated with henna, would be visiting relatives.
The pandemic has not only hurt the economy, but also the social and spiritual rituals that accompany the celebrations.
Muslims would have visited Saudi Arabia for pilgrimage, fulfilling the fifth pillar of Islam, and the thousands left in the country would have congregated for morning prayers in unison with their brothers who are performing Hajj.
Since the first Hajj in 632, Muslims have travelled to Mecca in the face of hardships, adversities and disasters, gradually transforming the pilgrimage from an elite pursuit limited to small numbers of people into one of the world’s largest Muslim gatherings.
In Kenya, no Muslim faithful has travelled to Saudi Arabia for pilgrimage, a stark difference from last year whereby 4,200 Muslims went to fulfil the requirement.
This year, the Kenya Muslim Hajj delegation had met in Saudi Arabia for the evaluation meeting in January and the number of Muslims allocated to perform Hajj had been increased to 4,500.
But the pandemic halted the plans.
“Six months before the pilgrimage, the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (Supkem) sent a delegation to Saudi Arabia for an evaluation of the previous Hajj and to plan for the next one. We had managed to negotiate the number of Muslims that would have performed Hajj, but unfortunately we received a communication that Hajj had been cancelled,” said Supkem national chairman Hassan ole Naado.
On Tuesday, Saudi officials narrowed the order, saying that only about 1,000 pilgrims would be permitted this year — a tiny fraction of the 2.5 million who attended the event last year — in a bid to curb the spread of the pandemic.
According to the Interfaith Council guidelines on reopening of places of worship, not more than 100 people are allowed to congregate for worship, a fete which according to Supkem chairman will be hard to achieve.
“Eid prayers usually attract a large number of faithful and normally we pray in open grounds. This will pose a challenge on ensuring the guidelines are followed, and we urge Muslims to maintain discipline and pray in small numbers,” said Naado.