Two days before the start of a Ramadan that will have no public or religious acts to avoid crowds, the center of Cairo is crowded with hundreds of people who are struggling to get dates, sweets and spices.
Most do not wear a mask or take preventive measures. They worry about getting the most typical products of the fasting month that will probably start this Friday (depending on the moon) and in which Muslims must abstain from drinking, eating, smoking and having sex from sunrise to sunset.
GLUES WITHOUT MASKS
Women and men in two separate queues are pushed to buy the special dough to prepare the typical sweets, such as the “kunafa” and the “atayef”, and the salty dumplings called “sambusak”, which the seller handles and weighs without gloves on the counter.
Azza, a middle-aged woman and the only one in the queue who is wearing a mask, comes from the outskirts of Cairo and wants to buy a kilo of everything for the first days of Ramadan, enough for her, her husband and their three children.
“There is no crowding here. If you go to Boulaq or Sayeda Zeinab, there is,” Azza says, referring to popular neighborhoods in the city that never sleep but whose activity has been reduced by the coronavirus.
The Egyptian Government established a curfew almost a month ago, which, after its last modification, runs from 20:00 to 06:00. It has also closed restaurants and entertainment venues, as well as sports facilities and shopping centers.
But the most remarkable thing is that before the beginning of Ramadan prayers in mosques and any activity related to the holy month were suspended, with the endorsement of the highest institution of Sunni Islam, Al Azhar.
But that doesn’t dent faith. Imam, a young mother of two children, takes shelter under a tent with fans at the doors of a well-known dried fruit and spice establishment, to resist the temperatures that exceed 30 degrees, while her husband is inside with the shopping list.
“Yes, we are concerned about the agglomeration,” but “leave it to God,” says the woman without any protection.
EL RAMADÁN, AN OPPORTUNITY
Ahmed Rafaat was one of the first to notice the hard economic blow of COVID-19. He worked in the tourism sector, one of which suffered the immediate impact of the suspension of flights and the closure of hotels and archaeological sites such as the pyramids.
He knows that despite the coronavirus, Egyptians cannot do without dates in Ramadan, which are usually the first bite after fasting because they inject energy and because the Prophet Muhammad did so, according to Islamic tradition.
So two weeks ago, he opted to fill his vehicle with dates and turn his trunk into a mobile rack that parked in a central square in Cairo, waiting for customers.
“Although parking is prohibited here, the police allowed me when they saw what I am doing. In these circumstances they are being kind,” says Raafat, who assures with a smile that the residents of the neighborhood treat him well because “the crisis it has improved people’s attitude. “
Although before and during Ramadan the prices of the most consumed products used to skyrocket, this year they have been maintained or even decreased in the midst of a crisis that affects not only purchases but also the most deeply-rooted traditions.
Rafaat knows that the key to success is to offer dates a little cheaper than “greedy merchants”.
LESS MEAT AND LESS CHARITY
At the Bab el Louk covered market, Umm Hasan, who owns a small and desolate butcher shop, laments that there is less movement of customers, in addition to having to close on Fridays and Saturdays due to the restrictions imposed by the Government during the weekends to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
For this reason, the charity tables have also been banned, where traditionally the “iftar” is offered, the food with which the fast is broken, to the poorest and who represented a traditional image of Ramadan in the streets of Cairo.
The Government has proposed to those who previously organized the tables to donate that money to feed the most needy, but complying with social distancing.
“Sure, there is a lot of difference compared to the last Ramadan, and in the situation we are in … but we are going to endure, what are we going to do? Whether we want to or not, this has come to us like this,” Umm Hasan resigned.
Francesca Cicardi and Samar Ezzat