SHAFAQNA -Â Uganda plans to send 750 of its citizens â€“ including 415 women â€“ to this yearâ€™s Hajj pilgrimage in Makkah.
â€œI canâ€™t wait to get to Makkah and see Prophet Muhammadâ€™s tomb and Mount Arafat and drink Zamzam water,â€ 58-year-old Kasifah Nankumba told Anadolu Agency.Â â€œThe sheikhs have briefed us on what to expect.Â Iâ€™m so excited. Iâ€™m afraid I might faint.â€
For the last decade, Kasifah has been saving small increments of money from her modest smoked fish business, which she has run for the last 28 years in Kalerwe market near Kampala.
In 2006, Kasifah recalled, while sitting in the market, she suddenly felt compelled to perform the pilgrimage.
â€œBut, I didnâ€™t have a penny to my name, so I pushed the thought aside,â€ she said.
Nevertheless, shortly afterward, she got in touch with a man known for helping Muslim pilgrims travel to Makkah.
The man, known as Haji Musa, introduced her to the manager of the Mityana Hijja and Umrah Tour Agency, who advised her to start saving.
With her modest savings, they began buying U.S. dollars for her, for which they provide her with receipts.
From 2007 to 2009, she recalls, â€œI managed to save small amounts of about $4 to $5 eachâ€.
In 2009, she heard of a man who sponsored Hajj pilgrims and immediately began looking for him.
Two days later, she was knocking on Hajji Kajumbiâ€™s door.
â€œI explained my dilemma to this stranger,â€ she told AnadoluÂ Agency. â€œBut, unfortunately, he couldnâ€™t help me.â€
With her dollar receipts in her bag, she showed him what she had managed to save over the last three years.
â€œHe prayed for me and said I should start saving more, telling me to give the tour agency amounts of between $100 and $200,â€ she said.
From then on, she began making payments every four or five months.
On June 15, 2015, she remembers getting a call from the Hijja office manager, who told her: â€œHajjati Kasifah, the money you saved is now enough for the Hijja [pilgrimage].â€
â€œI was at the market at the time, sitting on the ground,â€ Kasifah said. â€œHe said my name four times, but I was too shocked to speak.â€
Now dancing with joy at the Wandegeya Mosque, where she attended a final travel briefing, she declared: â€œWhen I return from Makkah, God willing, Iâ€™ll stay home and continue with my ibadah [prayer]; Iâ€™m not coming back to just sit on the ground and sell fish.â€
While 750 Ugandans are going to Makkah this year, this represents a significant decrease from previous years.
According to Sheikh Ali Juma Shiwuyo at the Uganda Muslim Supreme Councilâ€™s department of Hajj and Umrah, during the 1960s and 1970s, thousands of Ugandans used to perform the pilgrimage each year.
â€œLate President Idi Amin Dada was very supportive; he used to send between 6,000 and 10,000 Ugandans on the pilgrimage each year,â€ he said.
Saudi Arabia had previously allocated 1,200 slots for Ugandan pilgrims, but Shiwuyo says this figure has not been raised to match the increasing population.
â€œIn 2014, we only had 957 pilgrims [from Uganda] due to the rising value of the U.S. dollar,â€ he said. â€œLast year, pilgrims paid $2,178 [for the pilgrimage]; now it costs $4,150.â€
Ugandaâ€™s current lack of a national air carrier is also a challenge.
â€œDuring Aminâ€™s time, we had a national airline, and he would ensure there were flights to Makkah for pilgrims,â€ Shiwuyo said.
â€œBut now we have to negotiate with foreign airlines, and this makes it more expensive,â€ he added.