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’.
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.