Miniratu is one of the many Sierra Leonean staff at the Freetown and Western Area Command Centre working tirelessly on the management of Ebola cases. This means coordinating the flow of information and actions from the moment someone calls the 117 emergency Ebola hotline to report that they or a relative might have Ebola symptoms, right up until when that same patient either survives Ebola and is released from a treatment centre or is buried. Miniratu was snapped on a Sunday in this Africana ensemble, she now works seven days a week and no longer has time to attend her favourite church service. “Right now the Command Centre is more important than Church. I still wear my Sunday clothes though, my tailor made this outfit. Now I pray at my house.” What do you pray for? “I pray that this sickness will dissolve from our country, I pray that this will happen tomorrow”.
It was only a matter of time before the health workers fighting Ebola in Sierra Leone said “Enough with the green scrubs, bring on the Africana”. From Kenema to Kailahun, the trend seems to be catching on and not a moment too soon. Along with its obvious fashion kudos, the splash of bold print adds light and colour to what can often be a difficult environment.
MSF worker Tamba is excited about his new scrubs, “I love my scrubs, the design is African”. He also has a lot to say about role as a health promotion officer “I didn’t know anything about Ebola before this outbreak. I used to be afraid of Ebola and I even refused to come to this hospital. But now I know more than anyone about Ebola, ask me anything and I can tell you. We teach the patients about the disease, I love my job”.
Mattu is another health promotion officer at the MSF Ebola hospital in Kailahun sporting the same subtly designed Africana print scrubs. “The health promoters wanted to look different from the nurses, so we got these scrubs made, I think we look better and when people see us they know we are on the health promotion team.”
Just when you thought no health worker could look smarter than an MSF health promotion officer from Kailahun, the good people at the newly opened Red Cross Ebola Hospital in Kenema came up trumps with this bold Africana print. Finnish nurse Virpi is happy with her new set “I love the print choice, it cheers me up when things are hard, but the damn bleach is playing havoc with the print.”
Australian Nurse Marsh resists the matchy matchy set and goes for a blue colour blocked bottom and the standard Africana print top. “The print was a combined decision between all of us , there were so many choices but I think we went with a great colour”. Will he be wearing them when he goes back to Australia? “I did buy some fabric so I might get a fresh pair made”.
Mr David Fufana, is a ‘fumigation officer’ at Connaught Hospital in Freetown. His role is vital during the current Ebola outbreak, while he doesn’t technically fumigate, he does spray surface areas where there have been Ebola positive patients with harsh chemicals to kill any trace of the disease.
Mr Fufuna’s role does not require full PPE but it does mean he has to be careful when entering medium-low risk Ebola zones, and protect himself accordingly. Enter THE MORPHSUIT. The incredible thing about this snazzy flouro body stocking is that Mr Fufuna didn’t order it online from morphsuits.com, instead he was lucky enough to stumble upon it at the Congo ‘junks’ Market in Freetown. “I saw that suit in the pile and thought I would make good use of it in my job, I put it on, it keeps me safe and I feel like a superhero”. Whether it does keep him safe is doubtful, I was also concerned about Mr Fufuna’s footwear, a pair of rubber boots is probably a more sensible option than velcro sandals.
Mr Fufuna said he has never actually done his job while the suit has been completely zipped up, but it’s good to know the option is there.
This is Juliana (19), an Ebola survivor from Heigbema village outside of Kenema, a district of Sierra Leone that has been ravaged by the outbreak. Juliana caught the virus from her mother, who she had shared a bed with, and then passed it onto her 7-month-old son Alieu who tragically died inside the isolation ward. When I spoke to Juliana two weeks ago she was awaiting the release of her husband from the treatment unit. “My husband is inside, he is improving, I hope he comes out soon”.
Juliana was obviously exhausted by the ordeal she had just suffered, but was also strong, and to me carried the beautiful glow of someone who was ready to start again. I commented on how bright she looked and complimented her on her embroidered skirt and top (there’s never an inappropriate moment for a conversation about fashion). They belonged to her mother and are two of the few items of clothing she now owns.
Ebola survivors are usually forced to burn their belongings when they return to their homes by family members who are scared of infection. Juliana said she has very few clothes remaining in her cupboard as most have been destroyed.
At the time of writing this I spoke to Juliana’s brother Alhassan (another survivor) he shared the crushing news that Juliana’s husband John had passed away two days earlier. Juliana assured me when we met “Our family is strong,”.
A video of Alhassan’s story shot by Mike Duff when we were in Kenema two weeks ago appears on the Guardian site and can be found here. It further highlights the courage of this family and the growing number of Ebola survivors.
Can you check my pulse Hassan, I think my heart might be racing! I met this fine looking nurse at the Ebola Treatment Centre at Kenema Hospital. He is one of the many Sierra Leonean staff working tirelessly in the triage area. When patients enter the hospital grounds, their symptoms are assessed and then if required are moved to the Ebola unit and tested for the disease.
Hassan’s role is frontline and while on the job he usually wears a PPE (personal protection equipment) suit over the top of his scrubs, a face mask and another pair of gloves. It’s not easy operating in the tropics under all those synthetic fibers, can you imagine how sweaty it gets?
…..and that’s why in between shifts Hassan changes into a cool cotton Mende two piece. The gumboots stay and so does the visor. You are a courageous man Hassan, your job is vital and Fashpack salutes you!
I’m not going to lie, things are unsettling in Freetown now as the fashionable people of this fine city confront the Ebola outbreak. While life goes on, we are reminded everyday of Evil B*tch Ebola through posters on the street (see example below), loud speakers screaming crackly Ebola messages, the stink of chlorine and so many tragic stories. One thing that hasn’t changed though is this town’s commitment to sharp style.
Some-time baldy – Shekur, who is often hanging around his turf outside Connaught Hospital, refuses to let Evil B*tch Ebola get in the way of his sexy fashion choices. Everything Shekur is wearing was purchased from a special boutique downtown which he (understandably) will not disclose. Shekur always wears a tight pant well, this white example with a new season printed poly top is no exception.
Another winning look – Shek colour blocks the sh*t out of this outfit in those famous Fashpack hues. And what about the slippers? Black velvet with an Asian embroidery. Irresistible.
No prizes for guessing why Abdul caught my eye. For a minute I felt like I was inCronulla Sydney, heartland of Australian flag fashions. Freetown is approximately 18,000km away from Australia (and Cronulla) so it’s not often you spot an over-sized pair of board shorts fashioned from that Union Jack/Southern Cross combo.
I asked Abdul if he knew what country the flag represented and naturally he answered Britain. Correct answer Abdul. After I explained some history and rehashed the details of John Pilger’s Utopia he commented, “Oh I know that country very well, my son is there, I haven’t seen him for more than eight years, he went there just after the war “. A familiar story in Sierra Leone. “I want to visit him but it’s very hard to get into that country. That guy? what is that guy’s name? the President? I heard about him the other day on the radio, he is not a fine man. He is making these people suffer, these people that go to Australia in those boats”. Word is spreading.
Yep, it’s that time of year again, the holy month observed by millions around the world – Ramadan. For those partaking, the next few weeks are in many ways a fun free zone (daily fasting, early morning prayers, steering clear of your boyfriend/girlfriend, staying off the sauce and fags), but that doesn’t mean the fashions have to suffer as well.
While half of Freetown is fasting, the city is certainly not starved of style. Check out government worker Alimamie who will be exercising constraint, discipline and general holiness this month but is also determined to keep his wardrobe up beat. The key to his great outfits are his red hat and matching beads.
“I’m from the Loko tribe, these beads are part of my culture. The hat I wear to the mosque. We are peaceful people and we are known for our style, “says Alimamie.
A different two-piece but same beads and hat, these accessories are a go-anywhere choice.”Loko men are also very nice to women, women like Loko men,” he adds. Call me after Ramadan Alimamie.
Things are getting heavy in Freetown at the mo’. As you may have noticed from the lack of blog action, I’ve barely had a moment to think about the important issue of fashion. The rain has arrived, so has the mac daddy of infectious disease – EBOLA – and in the past few weeks over three and a half million long lasting insecticide treated nets turned up at the Freetown port. Thanks to UNICEF (the one’s that deal with the kiddies) and several other health partners, every bed in the country will be protected from the evil malaria by a mozzie net. For those who do not have a public health masters from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, you may not know that malaria is the biggest killer of under 5 children in Sierra Leone.
While loitering around a net distribution point at Lakka Health Centre outside Freetown on Tuesday, my eyeballs couldn’t help but be impressed by the threads of retired policeman and father of four Mr John Mansaray. Mr Mansaray is working his rainy season steez in this bright mumu and plastic flip flops – perfect for deep puddles. But the best thing about his ensemble – those two nets under his arm. Let’s hope they have found a home hanging over beds at his house at Lakka beach. Enjoy your net Mr Mansaray, and people of Freetown, I hope you can all do the same.
The Freetown Fashpack Runners thrive under adversity, confusion and CHALLENGES and at this year’s Street Child Sierra Leone Marathon, the circumstances truly delivered. The race is Sierra Leone’s only marathon where the town of Makeni plays host to several hundred runners who travel from far and wide to endure hours of pain and agony all in the name of sport and charity. It is a proud day for the local community and the Street Child organisers, however the event on Saturday was marred by some serious logistical, organisational and safety issues which sadly shadowed the experience for runners across the field.
Without being a complete Debbie downer let’s start with the good news. While the race itself was a mess, the pre-race excitement and organisation was second to none thanks to Fashpack’s Operations Manager and all-round great bloke Ibby Fixer.
Ibby managed to get 52 rowdy runners on the bus from Freetown to Makeni, registered, fed, off to their hotels, off to watch a football match (Athletica vs Real Madrid – GREAT game) in bed by 10pm and up by 4am ready for the big race. The guy is a multi-tasking master who is so damned organised he should basically be running the country or at least be employed by Street Child on a high-end consultancy day rate to sort out the marathon problems.
I would normally post a riveting 800,000 word blow-by-blow summary of results and times but this year I don’t actually think a lot of the results are valid or fair. As those who ran the race are so painfully aware, the course was poorly marshaled and signed and for many runners felt more like a never-ending scavenger hunt than a road race.
The overriding problem was that dozens of runners (not only Fashpack athletes but those from across the international and Sierra Leonean field) were misdirected by volunteer marshals. A lack of water on the course did not help, leading to more confusion and disappointment. The pocket rocket ladies who were triumphant in the 5km race. Hawa Mansaray (3rd) on the left and Isha Kargbo (1st).
Problems were first reported in the 10 km race by a couple of the leading Fashpack runners who were misdirected in the final stages, costing them a fair result. As runners started crossing the line, it soon became evident that the half marathon and marathon runners were also affected. Several runners in the half ran up to 5 miles further and could not even find the finish line.
National record holder Idrissa Kargbo was leading in the second half of the marathon with an Okada (motorbike) acting as a guide. At one particular junction the Okada driver took the wrong turn and lead him more than 5km to a village at the end of a road. He was then forced to double back to the original junction at which point he was passed by his closest competitor and team mate Usman Challey who then went on to defeat him.
Official results indicated that the Freetown Fashpack Runners took home a total of 20 medals (out of a possible 24) which is obviously an OUTSTANDING result. However it is questionable as to how valid many of those results are given that so many runners were lost on the course, misdirected and as a result ran further than they should have.
The Sierra Leone Marathon is a race that our runners take very seriously and look forward to all year, it is also an event that many international runners pay a lot of money to attend and use as a platform for fundraising. While the organisers have no doubt wonderful intentions, it is questionable as to whether their staff and volunteers have the capacity to handle such a large scale logistical operation in Sierra Leone.
Like all other participants in the race the Freetown Fashpack Runners were hoping for a professionally run event with a legitimate course and fair results. We hope that organisational failures are acknowledged and a simple public apology is delivered to those affected. The Freetown Fashpack Runners would like nothing more than to return to Makeni for the race next year but it can’t be done unless the race is properly organised.
There were so many people who helped get our runners to the start line, a big thank you must go to those who sponsored a runner through our “I Heart Freetown Fashpack Runners” campaign, you really dug deep guys and your support is so greatly appreciated. Meghan O’ Hanlon all the way from Toronto also forked out big time and Ange Byrnes once again donated her precious time helping with the campaign.
BIG shout outs and hugs to our favourite Fashpack fundraisers Kate and Nina for their out-of-control motivation and generosity. Their efforts were so successful that we now have nice little start-up fund for our next project -sending the team to the Liberian Marathon in August.
We also had two wonderful sponsors on board, Morvigor Tea headed up by its charming director Mrs Eva Roberts. She was at the finish line on Sunday handing out ice Morvigor Tea to the runners and cheering them on. If you live in Freetown, go and get your hands on her tea (from any supermarket) today. It will make your hair shiny and your skin glow, improve your popularity and generally make you healthier.
The guys at Protec who have supported us in the past also stepped up with a generous donation. A big thanks to Joe and the team and if you ever need security or logistical help in Freetown look no further than Protec.
And just to end this post on a high, check out this uplifting video of 52 Freetown Fashpack Runners going nuts on the bus as they drove through the streets of Makeni after the race (thanks driver Alpha for agreeing to ‘Lap the main’ for our team).
Fashpack Runners, you came you ran you conquered and we are very proud of your marvelous efforts.