On Saturday, the Africa Alliance Fashion Show returned to campus for its first show since the start of the pandemic. Representing a wide range of African countries, club members donate and model traditional clothing representing their respective countries.
As with other traditions reintroduced into campus life, increasing awareness of the activity’s heritage presents challenges for the club. For Treasurer Heldana Daniel ’23, who also models the show, seeing the fashion show as a prospective student adds an incentive to Bowdoin’s commitment.
“Watching [the show], I was like, ‘I really want to come to this school, be part of this club and be part of the fashion show if I can,’ ”Daniel said. “So that’s a cool whole time to have it and help plan it.”
However, this fashion show is different from Daniel’s original experience.
“When I [first] seeing it, the whole Kresge auditorium was filled, ”Daniel said. “I remember sitting on the side of the stairs because [so] many people came. I think socially, it’s recognized as a big event … I think the dynamics, the nature of [Covid-19]changes the way people attend events. ”
As seniors on the board, Vice President Afiah Somiah ’22 and President Ayub Tahlil ’22 were the only people who remembered the fashion show before the Covid-19 pandemic. Somiah and Tahlil saw their opportunity to further develop the event, this time including trivia and poetry readings for each country.
Somiah is also responsible for organizing the traditional music submitted by the models.
“I ask people to send me their favorite songs from their country, and I actually just put together a combination of snippets from each of the songs,” Somiah said. “My big thing during the actual event was to make sure everyone’s music was synced and timed.”
Providing community space for cultural appreciation is what makes the fashion show so important to Africa Alliance members.
“A lot of our students are international students, and it’s definitely hard to feel at home when you’re in Maine,” Somiah said. “Having this community is a safe space for most of our students”
“Seeing everyone dressed in their traditional attire and just standing and talking — it was heartwarming [and]comforting. ” Somiah added. “I was like, ‘I love my community in Africa.’ They make me feel like they’re looking for me.They make me feel like I’m like people who understand my culture.
As a future vice president, Daniel wants to build this sense of place. His goals for next year include bridging the gap between upperclassmen who have more knowledge about campus traditions and underclassmen who know less.
Daniel also hopes to provide a space where African students can discuss anything from cultural traditions to studying experiences abroad.
“We also just want to continue to unite people and build community,” Daniel said.
Ayub Tahlil ’22 is a member of Bowdoin Orient.