COVID-19 canceling out weddings
The long lent fasting, which lasted for about two months, came to an end with the celebration of Easter. The couple of months that follow are filled with weddings and huge gatherings for various types of celebrations. Now, the wedding season is being disrupted by the lockdown and the ban on gatherings because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Ethiopia announced a state of emergency to combat the spread of coronavirus around three weeks ago on April 8, 2020. With it came restrictions on gatherings and new regulations on social distancing. It required less than four people to gather within two meters apart at all times and all public gatherings of more than four people have been banned.
Weddings in Ethiopia are usually huge with a large number of family, and friends in attendance. People spent tremendous amount of money for this event. And leading to the wedding days there are so many activities. Usually on the third day of the wedding there is something called Mels (Post-wedding party) with close family members and friends and then a week late there is Kilikil (getting together or mixing) with close family member from the bride and the groom in order to get to know each other’s families and there are many other events as well.
Wedding are expensive in Ethiopia. The money that is spent to organize a wedding is sometimes outrageous. There are wedding planners, hotels, clothing, decorations, limousines, make up and so on. Be that as it may, now, wedding planners are saying that the industry has taken a blow from the pandemic.
Sara Abdulkader is a freshman student at New Generation University, who works as a freelancer wedding planner. Sara also works at Big Dream Ethiopia, a non-profit organization, as a PR director. Sara told The Reporter that her partner and herself started this business about a year ago. They supervise the bride and the groom on their wedding and help them plan their dream wedding. Sara said that the COVID-19 has a tremendous impact as there are no jobs and that they cannot book any weddings during this time.
Sara told The Reporter that despite the lock down some people still wanted to host their wedding. Some people are careless, and they do not believe it will happen to them, she said. Despite the lockdown and the government’s restrictions, since weddings are planned way before, some people still do not want to miss their big day. Sara shared her experience. She got seven calls from customers who want to have their wedding but make it a bit low profile with less people congregating. She refused to take the job and try to make the customers aware of the danger.
Sara explained that there is low budget weddings that include 200-300 people, medium budget will include 300-500 people and high budget will have more than 500 people. She added that it takes at most 2-3 month to plan a wedding.
One of the biggest challenges during this time for weddings is that since all the business in connection to weddings take reservation fee. The reservation fee is usually half of the payment usually for decorations, catering, hotel, car rentals etc. Sara explained that some businesses were not willing to give back the money and led for people to argue. Most of these issues were solved by postponing the wedding for an indefinite time.
Lastly, Sara told The Reporter that people are not aware of how dangerous the situation is and that weddings can become a spreading ground for COVID-19. She thinks that many people are not taking the pandemic seriously. She added that she keeps hearing people say, “Oh that won’t happen to us or we won’t get sick”. It is not worth their life to go on with weddings as it is risky for everyone. She advised that if anyone has planned their wedding, they should postpone it or cancel if possible.
Selamawit Moges, owner of Selam Design and Décor, told The Reporter that her company mainly deals with wedding décor, but they also do wedding planning as well product design and manufacturing using leather and plex. She said that it has been very hard since all events have been canceled because of the lockdown and large numbers of people are not allowed to gather. Usually the decoration works will cost from 25,000 birr up to 60,000 birr depending on the amount of people, the location and the style etc.
Selamawit explained that her business has been hugely impacted because of the pandemic. They have cancelled all previous orders and they stopped taking orders early when regulations of the lockdown were announced. She added that every weekend they usually had to do two weddings. She explains that usually they get around 10,000 birr profit from each wedding and now she estimates her company has lost revenue of about 50,000 - 70,000 birr. Selamawit said that during this season for a month they would have usually eight customers, but they had already accepted four customers. She noted they had returned all the payments they had received because they could not postpone because there is still no known time when this will over. Thankfully, Selamawit explained that all their clients had understood the situation and have not tried to go on with their wedding.
Akbi Photo Studio, which is located around Saris area had booked some 20 weddings. However, all 20 weddings had been cancelled for now. The owner told The Reporter that he estimates his lost revenue during this wedding season to be around 250,000 birr. His studio is still open, so he had managed to take 10 wedding studio pictures. He added that all payments are done in advanced but since there is trust between him and his clients, they have not requested refund but instead have decided to postpone indefinitely until things get better again.
He told The Reporter that he admired how his customers are being very careful and cautious. “During normal times the studio will get crowded by people waiting to have their pictures taken; however, now there is only one person in the studio and the rest do not even dare come in, they wait outside until the other person has left and there are sanitizers by the door and people sanitize before coming in without being told to do so,” he said, sharing his observation
Contributed by Sesina Hailou