Since last year, the blog Freetown Fashpack has been documenting Sierra Leonean street style. Ebola Deeply is sharing its profiles of frontline Ebola response workers, who say fashion keeps them grounded and cheers them after a tough week.
The following excerpts and photographs were originally published on the blog, Freetown Fashpack .
While much has changed in Freetown, if there’s one thing that remains unchanged, it’s the city’s commitment to Africana Friday – the day of the week when many people in Sierra Leone and Liberia opt to wear local designs and fabrics. Saidu is a cleaner at an Ebola isolation unit. He had just changed out of his sweaty scrubs and was relaxing in his favorite Africana two piece when I spotted him.
This ensemble was given to him by his uncle. “It’s a lot cooler than Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and the design is more stylish as well,” he says.
The job of a cleaner on an isolation unit is not easy. It’s tough on those wards, and keeping them clean involves a lot of physical work [while wearing] a stifling plastic suit. It’s also extremely risky because [of the risk of coming into contact with] bodily fluids.
“I’m not scared though, I am protected and I know how to be safe,” Saidu said. He is saving the money he earns to further his education; he plans to study economics when universities reopen in Sierra Leone. “I would also like to buy some more clothes,” he adds. “Some more Africana trousers would be very nice.”
Miniratu is one of many Sierra Leonean staff at the Freetown and Western Area Command Center, 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, right up until that same patient either survives Ebola, or is buried in a safe way.
Miniratu was snapped on a Sunday in this Africana ensemble. She says [that because of Ebola] she now works seven days a week, and no longer has time to attend her favorite church service.
“Right now the Command Center is more important than church,” she says. “I still wear my Sunday clothes, though; my tailor made this outfit. Now I pray at my house. I pray that this sickness will dissolve from our country, I pray that this will happen tomorrow.”
Scrubbing Up Well
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. Along with its obvious fashion kudos, the splash of bold print adds light and color to what can often be a difficult environment.
Tamba, who works for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in Kailahun, is excited about his new scrubs. “I love [them], the design is African,” he says. He also has a lot to say about his role as a health promotion officer. “I didn’t know anything about Ebola before this outbreak,” he adds. “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 same treatment center. “The health promoters wanted to look different from the nurses, so we got these scrubs made,” she says. “I think we look better and when people see us they know we are on the health promotion team.”
Words and images from Freetown Fashpack , by Jo Dunlop.