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Why Has The Price Of Lemons Doubled In Kenya?

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Right. So as we know, the pandemic has created a soaring demand for some products here in the United States, like toilet paper, hand sanitizer, masks. Well, in Kenya, it is lemons. The price of the fruit has more than doubled, as NPR's Eyder Peralta reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLING)

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: In a lot of ways, Nairobi is pretty much back to normal. People are back on the streets, navigating broken sidewalks, and alongside them are thousands of hawkers.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

PERALTA: These days, they're selling masks and little baby hand sanitizers. But now that the coronavirus is peaking in Kenya, the ones who are making bank are those selling dawa, juices. Kenyans use to treat all kinds of ailments.

(CROSSTALK)

PERALTA: The drinks have become so popular the ladies who sell vegetables on the streets now arrange lemon, ginger and garlic in pretty triangles, like a potent trinity that you can take home to ward off COVID-19. They're so popular, the prices of limes and lemons have doubled in the city. Monica Muthuma has been making dawa at this bus station for five years now. At the beginning of the pandemic, when the government shut down the country, she says things were tough.

MONICA MUTHUMA: When we used to come in town and we borrowed fare.

PERALTA: She didn't sell, she didn't make enough for bus fare. But once Kenyans returned to work, once buses started running again, business picked up, and her dawa took center stage.

MUTHUMA: Now it's the most selling thing here in this showplace.

PERALTA: Dawa, which means medicine in Kiswahili, is used all the time in Kenya. If it's a little cold, you'd take a warm one smothered in honey to soothe your throat. If you're heartbroken or feeling down, a spicy one could do the trick.

MUTHUMA: Stomach ache, for your bones, even if you have a toothache - we have dawa for that.

(LAUGHTER)

PERALTA: Monica retires to her kitchen. She spoons some aloe vera, lime, a splash of sugar cane juice.

MUTHUMA: This is ginger.

PERALTA: That's what makes you cry.

MUTHUMA: No. If you want to cry, I add more, like this.

PERALTA: (Laughter).

So she pours like a bartender who wants a good tip.

Ooh.

It burns. I ask her if this means I won't get the coronavirus now. Monica squints her eyes.

MUTHUMA: No, they just - I think it's just a thing that we believe. Us, we are Kenyans, we believe in everything. We believe in dawa for everything.

PERALTA: Kenya has actually taken this pandemic seriously. Everyone wears a mask. Buses are running at half-capacity. Health officials are quick to bat down false information. So everyone knows dawa doesn't cure COVID-19. But at a time when so much seems out of our control, a dawa is the perfect comfort.

Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Nairobi.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE SHAOLIN AFRONAUTS' "SHIRA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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