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Elizabeth Ohene writes... Hiding from the virus

BY: Elizabeth Ohene

I have been trying to find something, anything, to like about masks. Now that a mask has become an obligatory part of the attire that I have to wear once I step outside my home, I realise I better find some reason to like it.

I am obviously not going to make much progress if I am wearing an item of clothing that I don’t like and which irritates me.

First thing I dislike about the mask is how public it is and how loudly it announces itself.

You are obliged not to be naked when you are out in the public space. So you wear clothes. Even though not obligatory by law, you would be wearing underwear. Ideally, it should be comfortable, fit snugly and not make its presence felt or known.

Fashionable underwear

Throughout the years, designers and smart business people have done their utmost to turn the lowly underwear into fashionable items of clothing and we have been persuaded into spending far more money than we should on buying various brands.

I justify buying expensive underwear by telling myself those are the things that are nearest to my body and those are the things I wear for myself, for my satisfaction and not for the sake of the world or those who see me.

And if the truth be told, there is something very satisfying about wearing something absurdly expensive which is not visible to those who see you.

I also took to heart, long ago, the admonition of Mrs Hazel, my Domestic Science teacher who drilled into us that the beginning of a well-dressed woman was her foundation clothes, which in the old days, was the fancy name for underwear.

You would learn that good dressmakers and tailors also insist that good quality underwear enhances the clothes you wear.

Kofi Ansah is sadly no longer with us, but he, like my Joice Mills and young Tetteh Kwashie will not allow you to try on clothes unless you have a brassiere that would do justice to their efforts.

The underwear, of course, is not supposed to be visible to the public, but as we all know, the present day young people, male and female, have devised ways to turn what is supposed to be intimate, under and not visible, into very public, outside and in your face items of clothing.

As for the main item, this is hardly the time to start talking about clothes or shoes or jewellery that we wear to step out.

Mask — helpful, mandatory

Thanks to COVID-19, the virus that has dominated our lives this year, we now have to add an extra new item of clothing to what we already have; a MASK.

Right from the beginning of this pandemic, some people have always advocated the wearing of masks to protect one another.

The mutual respect part of it appealed to me and I decided I should start wearing masks.

Then I took a look at the Asian countries such as Korea, Japan, Taiwan and China that seemed to have a habit, almost a culture, of wearing masks, and they appeared to be doing much better at handling the coronavirus outbreak than the rest of us.

It helps that they have had recent histories of dealing with similar outbreaks such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), H1N1, and so I thought there must be something to wearing masks.

Then I saw one of these videos that get sent around and a young woman from the Czech Republic made a very persuasive case for wearing masks and attributed her country’s better coping with the virus to all of them taking to wearing masks right from the start of the outbreak.

I was persuaded and while the scientists were still arguing if it was helpful or not, I started wearing masks. Now, the scientists appear to have agreed that wearing masks is helpful in the fight against COVID-19.

Our President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, has now moved from urging us, pleading with us and encouraging us to wear masks to making it obligatory.

It is now the law and if you step outside your house maskless, (a covid-induced new word) you will be breaking the law and the police will have things to say to you.

I do not like to give the police reasons to want to stop me on the roads, so I keep my car and my documents in good order and I obey all the traffic rules. 

No make-up

The mask, unlike the underwear, is very public and very uncomfortable. It is unattractive and instead of enhancing your looks, the mask turns all of us into monsters.

The dictionary definition of a mask is something that covers all, or part of your face, to protect or to hide it. Protect my face, fine, but hide my face? Not sure. 

I have never really been a great one for make-up and cosmetics, because I find it all too much of a bother and I have operated on what you see is what it is.

I should, therefore, be happy that we are all now reduced to going around without make-up.

But I am not. I like my occasional forays into the realm of make-up and I resent it that such little pleasures have disappeared with the wearing of masks. Why should lipstick and lip-gloss disappear from the world?

Different shades of masks

Then there are those who up until now had never stepped out without their sophisticated, expensive mask, aka, make-up; and now they are being forced to appear unadorned, or to use my friend’s agonised words, going outside your house without any make-up and without lipstick is like appearing naked in public.

I know that there are many variations of masks to try to make up for the sameness and you can have a matching mask for whatever clothes you wear, but a fashionable mask is still a mask, and it covers up, instead of enhancing your looks.

What am I to make of an item of clothing that makes it difficult to identify people you know?

Last week, I went to a private burial, which, by its very nature, would mean all of us there know one other and yet, unless you heard someone spoke, you were never sure of the person’s identity.

I have tried four different types of masks, each one makes me woozy after 15 minutes, each one makes me look like a kaakabotobi, (can’t be translated). I have never liked masquerades.

But the definition of a mask that I like best is an expression or way of behaviour that hides your real emotions or character.

So, now we are all hiding from one other in plain sight. And hopefully, safely from COVID-19 and a good reason to put up with the mask.