Trending now: The Addis Ababa shirt

Ebola is on the run (two cases in the past week!), the kids are back at college and campus fashion has never looked so cool. At Fourah Bay College, and all over Freetown in fact, it’s all about the Addis Ababa shirt. Not since the ubiquitous ‘hot guys with head phone‘ look or those street style stalwarts the ‘disco tights‘ has a trend so ferociously permeated the country. In a f*ck you to Ebola, Sierra Leone is reclaiming its fashion mojo.

IMG_5556Engineering student and college beauty N’delei leads the Addis Ababa Shirt (AAS) craze in this tasselled version. Casual, fresh and ideal for sitting in those lecture halls, N’delai says the AAS is her go-to wardrobe item this semester.

IMG_5559 A cinched waist gives this AAS ensemble a whole new silhouette. Political science student and aspiring model Danita is a devoted fan of the new trend. “I like it because it’s unisex, look around and you can see both boys and girls wearing the Addis Ababa”, she says.

IMG_5577 Look around indeed and HELLO ARNOLD. Fresh off a plane from Accra, Arnold bought his shirt in Ghana’s capital while on a study tour where he couldn’t resist some international shopping on the side.

Sunday morning suit

This is not the kind of outfit most people slip into on a lazy Sunday morning, but while everyone else is nursing a dirty hangover and reading the horoscope section of the Sunday papers, Harold Sutton-Koroma is dressing up for church. Harold’s wife, Reverend Christiana Sutton-Koroma is the big boss of St. Paul’s Evangelical parish in Freetown and sitting in the front pew each week eagerly listening to her sermons you are guaranteed to find her handsome other half Harold. “My wife is the pastor here, so I have to look respectable for her and the congregation”, says Harold. IMG_5149

Harold jazzes up his morning suit with a red cummerbund, handkerchief and bow tie and says he always polishes his shoes.

IMG_4345Photo courtesy Tom Dixon

That’s Harold with his bae Rev. Christiana. And what’s it like to be married to a Reverend? “She is my wife it is just normal for me. I do many things as well in my life, I am a fashion designer, a driving instructor and a community priest which means I am not yet ordained but one day I will be”.

An elegant witch doctor

Salimatu Bangura was wearing her favourite ‘meeting clothes’ when I snapped her on the outskirts of Freetown. Ribbon lace is something you don’t see enough of these days, but Sal reinvents the classic 80’s mother-of-the-bride go-to, with this elegant page boy collared cream blouse.  The unexpected combination of a pink and grey Mende lappa and matching head wrap ties the whole thing up nicely while the gold jewellery adds a touch of lux.

Salimatu’s meeting was in fact a gathering of Freetown’s traditional healers. Known commonly as witch doctors, they are often the first port of call for those seeking medical attention in Sierra Leone.

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In times of Ebola though, the role of a witch doctor has changed drastically and their lives have been vastly affected. Communities are now being told to not visit traditional healers because it is un safe to touch people with Ebola symptoms without the protection of PPE. Most traditional healers are complying with the new by-law to not treat sick patients and are referring them to health clinics or calling the emergency line 117.

The first case of Ebola in Sierra Leone can be traced back to a traditional healer who had been treating sick people in Kenema district. In May 2014 a well-known and widely respected trad healer was seeing patients who travelled from over the border in Guinea (where the outbreak was already raging). Not surprisingly the healer became infected with Ebola and died. Mourners turned up in droves to her traditional burial, a practice which involves touching and kissing the body of the deceased. It was estimated that that one funeral can be linked to 365 deaths.

The Ebola outbreak has meant that Salimatu and hundreds like her are currently unemployed, “Ebola has taken my money”, but it has also placed this group at the frontline of the community response. Without the co-operation of traditional healers Ebola will continue to spread.

A furry friend and a head wrap

The people of Sierra Leone were offered some brief respite from last weekend’s nationwide lockdown when the Government allowed all Muslims and Christians across the country to leave their homes and attend their respective Friday Jumah Salat prayer and Palm Sunday Service. Freetown beautician Aisha took full advantage of the opportunity to get out of the house and trotted off to her local parish’s three-hour gathering without hesitation.

IMG_5132 Church is not only a place where you can say hello to god, it’s also a great opportunity to dress the hell up and flirt with whoever you have your eye on that particular week. While Aisha didn’t meet her future husband in the pews of St Antony’s Church, there’s no denying that she looked glamorous while trying. Aisha’s glittery blue Africana came from over the border in Guinea and she shopped the spectacular matching head wrap in Freetown. The exotic furry animal dangling from her arm is actually a handbag leftover from her own last season stock (she is also a fashion trader). Aisha refers to the look as ‘Beauty Queen’ and I have to agree, those words sum her up perfectly.

And how does Aisha feel about the lockdown? “I am ok with the lock down if we have a good result from it. We will do anything extra if it means Ebola is finished in this country, we just want it to GO!”.

Lockdown in a dog collar

An Africana shirt and a dog collar, Rev. Lawrence Davis from St. Johns Cathedral sure knows how to blend on-the-job basics with off-duty flair. “I usually wear this type of combination when I am showing a more casual style, people know who I am but I look relaxed as well”, he says.

The big question though is why is the Rev’s hand on his heart? Because the Sierra Leone Government has just launched a Zero Ebola campaign and this good man of god is pledging a commitment to end Ebola in his country, that’s why. And what is his pledge? “I promise to tell my congregation how to prevent this dreadful disease of Ebola”.

IMG_5014The Zero Ebola campaign kicked off this weekend in celebratory style with the country’s third lockdown since this sh*tty outbreak started in May last year. It’s a final push by the Government to end Ebola and also a chance for people to sit at home for three days and complain about being forced to sit at home for three days. The hope is that it will allow people to pledge, reflect on the hard work and sacrifices already made, and re-comitt to ending the spread of this evil disease.

For some the long weekend is a break from work and a chance to relax, but for many it’s an overbearing pain in the a*s. If you live a hand-to-mouth existence, like most people in this country, and have to rely on a daily subsistence income, it’s tough gathering enough food to feed your folks for three whole days.

A team of friendly door-knockers known commonly as social mobilisers are visiting households and giving out bars of soap (yep, everyone needs a bar of soap right?) and spreading those Ebola messages we can all recite in our sleep. In case you need reminding: call 117 if someone in your house has Ebola symptoms and don’t touch dead bodies.

Rev. Lawrence we wish you and your congregation well in the lockdown and we are thinking of all Sierra Leoneans this weekend, e nor easy O! Let’s hope this marks the beginning of the end of Ebola in Sierra Leone.

No palavars, only respect

A vision in white, Alhajee Tamba Senessie is wearing the same outfit he wore seven years ago when he travelled to the Hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. “It was beautiful nice and holy and everyone was wearing white”. When I spotted him, he was leaving his Mosque after Friday prayer in Congo Town. IMG_4259
This quiet man with a distinguished background is not only a local politician, he is also a Justice of the Peace and Commissioner for Oaths. Someone with this much repsonsibility recognises the importance of dressing with reverence and respect, “White clothes like this distinguish you, they force you to conduct yourself politely and control your mood and behaviour. I avoid making a palaver when I am wearing these clothes”.

IMG_4255And how do you keep those whites so white Alhajee? “Washing carefully, ironing and being respectful to your clothes. My wife usual helps me do this”.

Self help and fashion by Kallie Weezy

When you meet the sometimes controversial yet always loveable Kallie Weezy, the first thing you notice is his special brand of swag. An edgy nod to detail, coupled with a quiet sophistication makes Kallie a fashion role model for the young men of Freetown. Yet it’s his sage words of wisdom that also demand you stand up and take notice, and when delivered by a man wearing a Louis Vuitton bucket hat teamed with a crisp white Abaya you can’t help but listen.

ice-cream“From when I was a small boy to now, I love fashion, it is a big happiness for me”.  Kallie’s biggest style secret is to always look presentable. “Cleanliness is next to godliness, when you are clean you will be inside of god”. This tidiness mantra has also helped Kallie when it comes to dating, “If you’re untidy, girls won’t like you, so I stay clean always”. “You should not be the tail, you should be the head”, Kallie adds. What the hell does that mean Kallie? “Be the best, always!”.

Off-duty cleaner

While much has changed in Freetown over the past months, if there’s one thing that remains unchanged, it’s  Sierra Leone’s commitment to Africana Friday.  Saidu is one of the Ebola isolation unit cleaners, he had just changed out of his sweaty old scrubs and was relaxing in his favourite Africana two piece when I spotted him.

IMG_3417This ensemble was given to him by his uncle and he says, “It’s a lot cooler than PPE and the design is more stylish as well”. Couldn’t agree with you more Saidu.

The job of a cleaner on the isolation unit is not easy, it’s tough on those wards and keeping them clean involves a lot of physical work all while being dressed in a stifling plastic suit. It is also extremely risky because you are dealing with highly infectious bodily fluids. “I’m not scared though, I am protected and I know how to be safe”. Saidu is trying to save the money he earns as a cleaner to further his education and plans to study economics when university in Sierra Leone resumes. “I would also like to buy some more clothes, some more Africana trousers would be very nice”.

For a compelling peak into the dangerous world of an Ebola isolation unit cleaner, check out this video created by award winning film maker Mike Duff.

Whine time

Do you live in London? Got no plans for tomorrow night? Well do I have a plan for you! ‘Sweet Palm Whine’ will bring together the best of contemporary West African musicians under one thumping roof for a fundraiser to support the fight against Ebola in Sierra Leone. Part of the money raised will be channelled through Fashpack and we will be using it to support the real heroes of this fight, local health workers as well as Ebola orphans.

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And here are the deets:
Date: 5th December
Time: 8pm-12pm
Venue: The Russet : 17 Amhurst Terrace, London E8 2BT
West African Artists including: Mensa, Silvastone, Zambezi experience, Dj Little, Fire Fire Fire and Vicky Sola will all be there.

The dream team behind this event includes Celia Turley, Catriona Towriss, Neema Patel and Rabia Gungor. These London-based ladies all met and became friends when they were living and working in Freetown earlier this year.

In Celia’s words, “The images of victimhood, disease and death which is the inevitable narrative of much of the international reporting on Ebola in West Africa, did not tally with our experiences of Sierra Leone, or the reports from our friends still living there, who are facing Ebola with typical resilience and strength. We decided to put on a night of music which would showcase some of the culturally vibrant, exciting artists coming out of West Africa and act as an alternative representation to the ‘dark continent’ trope being rehearsed by initiatives such as BandAid30,”. Take that Geldof.

I spoke to Rabia Gungor about her love for Mama Salone and the nation’s beverage of choice – palm wine.

RabiaThat’s Rabia hiding behind the sign.

Why do you have a crush on Sierra Leone?
My connection to Sierra Leone is indescribable, sometimes I find the English language restrictive, for example the word love cannot capture the actual emotions of love. Sierra Leone is the same, it is difficult to describe and it is so much more than Lion Mountains. I feel I sowed seeds and have become rooted as I have a name sake, friends, colleagues and people I love there.

Why do think people so many people around the world have such a fondness for this country?
Sierra Leone has magic and gets under your skin! It is difficult to generalise humans and nations as it cannot be generalised, however I think most people love Sierra Leone because it is a beautiful place. Also Sierra Leoneans are friendly, hospitable and sharing people. When I think of Sierra Leone, I think it is creative, resourceful, amazing and inspiring place, so I assume these things draw people to love it.

Why is the name of the fundraiser sweet palm whine?
The name of this fundraising event was inspired by Sierra Leones sweet palm wine and dancing (whine). I first had palm wine in the bush somewhere in between Makeni and Magburka. It was the sweetest thing I had tasted; freshly tapped from the tree it reminded me of lychee juice, it was milky white, sweet and refreshing. I have also seen some of the best dancers in salone whining! That is why I and my friends named the event sweet palm whine.

Do you have any recommendations on how to drink this exotic beverage?
My recommendations for drinking palm wine are as follows; get it freshly tapped from the tree and never drink alone! Palm wine is from god to u/man and needs to be shared, once you share palm wine, you sit back, relax and enjoy the oral stories and histories everyone shares, this wine was made to be shared!

Rapel style and hair product

Anyone who has spent time in Freetown will know it is home to hundreds of tailors. But Ibrahim Charlo Bah is not just a tailor, he is a designer, a wardrobe chameleon and a man with great hair.

IMG_3425 Let’s talk first about the attire, “I call this Rapel style”. I just googled ‘Rapel style’ and…. well….. nothing. But whatever, if ‘Rapel style’ means wearing an embroidered two piece with poo pants, it rocks! Moving onto Ibrahim’s hair.  Those finely moulded finger waves have been achieved by applying a truckload of hair product and avoiding any direct contact with water.

It hasn’t been easy for the tailors of Freetown in the past months, in the words of Ibrahim, “Ebola is breaking businesses and slowing down our country. It is a war for us, we are not hearing gun shots but we are seeing dead bodies”.

If you are in Freetown and feel like some ‘Rapel style’ or just a great new outfit, why not give Ibrahim a buzz. He is waiting for your business +232 76994588. He’ll come to your house, listen to a long-winded vision of your chosen clothes item, measure you up, then return several days later with an original masterpiece. Get on the blower now!