KUWAIT: Shop workers at Souq Safafeer work inside the popular metalwork market in Kuwait City. - Photos by Yasser Al-Zayyat

By Ben Garcia

KUWAIT: You can still hear the sounds of hammer against metal, the grind of steel against stone but these sounds are muted now. Since the coronavirus pandemic came to Kuwait, the popular Souq Safafeer, a metalwork market in Kuwait City, has mostly gone quiet. Souq Safafeer was ordered closed due to COVID-19 on March 15, 2020 along with most other markets and shops in Kuwait. It only reopened in early July and has not yet won back a steady stream of customers.

"There are few works here now, business is coming back slowly; our business now is really slow compared to normal operations prior to COVID," explains Rafiq M, a shop worker in Safafeer. "Few people are coming to order from our stocks. The normal busy days are gone but we are all hopeful things will return to normal soon," said Rafiq, a native of Rajistan, India.

The souq is really a collection of workshops, its origins dating back to the 1950s. The majority of which make items including metal and tin braziers, storage lockers and boxes, fencing, stove hoods, pots and other items on site. The shops take custom orders and deliver within a few days.

"I used to do a lot of orders for corrugated tin turning and had three other workers with me. But these have gone back to India during the pandemic or looked for work elsewhere so they can feed their families. Now I am doing everything by myself because there are very few orders from customers," Rafiq admitted. Rafiq estimates that business dropped 75 percent during the crisis but has started to regain some lost ground and is now up to as much as 50 percent of pre-corona levels.

Fewer customers means fewer orders, and as a result, many skilled workers from the Safafeer market have left Kuwait. Hussein Kamruddin, 47, said that one of his workers left to India during the crisis. "He decided to go back to India immediately when the lockdown ended. I have only one remaining coworker. It's okay for now because we only have few orders. But when I get many orders, I will ask help from the people I know here," he said.

Kamruddin has worked at the market since 2002 and is a popular designer. "If I design a brazier, I design the best. That is why it's a bit expensive because many people are attracted to my designs. I also do tin exhausts for kitchens," he mentioned. One item that has sold well during the crisis: metal cargo boxes. These are popular with people leaving the country as they are strong, ship easily and hold large amounts of stuff.