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!

Bow down to Bilikisu

Introducing Connaught Hospital Ebola unit nurse, the beautiful Bilikisu Koroma. Her smile dazzles, her style is on the money and her story will make you want to bow down beneath her high-top clad feet.

IMG_3149Bilikisu’s experience of the Ebola ward has not only been as a nurse treating patients, it is where she spent 12 days battling the disease. Bilikisu lost 17 relatives to Ebola including her father, seven brothers and four sisters before she herself recovered along side her elder brother Jusif. Her grief is impossible to imagine and her resilience and optimism is beyond inspirational. “I have the skills and immunity to save lives, I wanted to come back to the ward and help people who were in my position, it is where I belong for now.”

K-K is the only one

If this image doesn’t intimidate you, it should. This is Kadiatu Kamara, otherwise know as ‘K-K’, Sierra Leone’s only female surfer. Her home turf is paradise-on-earth Bureh Beach, where she is a member of Sierra Leone’s only surf club. While Ebola has put a temporary kibosh on all sports and social gatherings across the country, it seems that surfing has survived and K-K is out in the waves almost everyday.

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K-K has been surfing for over a year now and is better than most of the boys. “My girl friends are scared of the water, this is why I am the only one. But I try and encourage them and say ‘come and join me’, I want them to try”. K-K’s chosen surfie chick look is a skinny rash and boardies and her smoothest surf trick? “A small barrel”. If you ever get to watch K-K in action I recommend it, she is simply awesome.

Mr Kenema

Eddy is not just another handsome man strolling along Lakka beach outside Freetown, no way. You’re looking at Mr Kenema 2013 and 2014. According to Eddy, he won the title for two consecutive years thanks to his ‘cool and casual style’.

IMG_2545Well dah! Check out the matching monochrome LV print top and pant, and exotic Pakistani pointy toed slippers.

Sunday at the office

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. IMG_2537Miniratu 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”.

Africana scrubs

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.

TambaMSF 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_low_resMattu 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.”

Virpi_low_resJust 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.”

Marsh_low_resAustralian 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”.

Morphsuits on the frontline

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.

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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.

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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.

Juliana the brave

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.

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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.