by Abdirahman Adan Mohamoud

Last year late February, I was traveling to Hargeisa from Nairobi via Addis Ababa. It was weeks before World Health Organization declared COVID-19, a global pandemic. But considering the crowds at airports with minimum COVID-19 protocols could potentially turn as super spreaders, I bought my first kit of facemasks. Onboard the flight bound to Addis, I happened to sit close to a group of Somali businesswomen. Wearing facemasks, while glasses off and deep reading a book, I could overhear one of the women pointing at me and uttering: “This small-eyed man, now covering his mouth and nose is from those spreading the virus to the world”. Another woman, evidently not aware of their racist remarks agreed to her instantly and even went further.

“Face up or not, we are Muslims, and this will not affect us” she laughingly said.

In those days, some famous clerics breached that Muslims are immune from this virus. It was so early to the extent that WHO, a specialized technical agency issued somewhat conflicting statements on safe methods to effectively curb the disease.

Pretending as if am not following their conversation, just continued reading my book. I did it by purpose. A friend of mine experienced similar sentiments while working with an international organization. A crew from neighboring countries along with him were living in a local hotel in Hargeisa. But the female hotel staff responsible for hotel’s upkeep, naively assumed they were all foreigners. They continued to use vulgar language, albeit in Somali, to describe the men. Later, my friend, determined to put this to an end, would talk to them in the local languages. They got so embarrassed and at least one of them almost fainted. That is why, I didn’t want to overreact and drive them to that level.

After a five-day trip to Hargeisa and Borama, I proceeded to Mogadishu, where I planned to work for four days. But, witnessing outpour of travelers from Mogadishu and the aggressive spread of the virus, I decided to come back to Nairobi. I didn’t want to be affected by the travel bans and other restrictive measures while outside my base and away from the family. Two days after my return, Kenya was partially locked down: all schools closed, work from home modality adopted, restaurants closed, prayers in mosques suspended and travel bans enacted.

International schools were very quick and responsive. They immediately introduced online learning platforms, where students can access classes from the comfort of their homes. But still teaching staff needed some training or at least to get acquainted with the new platforms and devices. For parents, many of whom already suffering from economic shocks of the pandemic – layoffs, salary reductions etc, this meant additional burdens. Children needed internet-connected devices with reliable connections to follow the online learning sessions. Still the vast majority of them remained out of schools as very few could afford this option.

Working from home modality, also on the other hand proved less dramatic. All stakeholders- team members and counterparts- all in panic, kept calling for never-ending online meetings, partly to catch up and partly, perhaps, to make sure that each other isn’t falling fast asleep but working and delivering.

For me, in addition to other restrictions, the closure of mosques particularly in Ramadan hit hard and was a big blow. A month of countless blessings and reflections, I could hardly cope with this. Simply, it was a Ramadan like no other.

As people back home first reacted indifferently, sadly many even denied the seriousness of the situation, I had a chat on this with my children. Exploring how they could possibly contribute, I asked if they would like to convey any message to the general public back home. Mabruka (13) at the time and Muwahib then 12, penned down a kind of advisory, in which I shared through my online platforms.

Now after almost a year, with devastating socio-economic impact, the virus with its more aggressive variants is cruelly causing further havoc. Here in Kenya, hospital beds are reportedly jammed, while ICU facilities are fully occupied. The country is again under partial lockdown, albeit stringent containment measures this time with less cushions to mitigate economic and social effect. Schools are once again closed, places of worship banned, restaurants serving only take-aways and curfew hours not only maintained but also extended.

Even in my wildest dreams, did I ever think of another partial yet stricter lockdown. Needless to mention the awkward timing of this, as it coincides with the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. If mosques remain closed, God forbid, it will be the second Ramadan in a row we miss the blessings and benefits associated with congregations- a lifetime record that will go down in the annals of history books.

At the end of last year, I asked my daughters Mabruka and Muwahib to review and reflect the year of 2020. They wrote touching pieces entitled 2020 Rewind and 2020 Year in Review. They summarized all the year’s ups and downs, special encounters, and its remarkable remembrance. In this regard, I believe, there is nothing more beautiful than borrowing few sentences from Mabruka’s closing remarks to conclude this:

“We need more love, compassion and empathy. We need to give up fomo, comparison and jealousy. So much pain was experienced just in one year. The pain wasn’t welcome, but nothing else could have made the change occur.

The choices we make now will affect future generations just like their choices in the past affect our situation.”

Abdirahman Adan Mohamoud