I was 16, in my final year at MabvureSecondary School, about to be done with it all, basking in the joy of becoming an 'adult'; because finishing secondary school and not having to be policed for homework and waking up on time was one of the things 'school leavers' in my village celebrated the most about the final year.
But, one afternoon took it all away from me, the school leaver joy and pride. I had woken up with a little nagging pain in my lower back that morning but I could not tell anyone because, again, one of the many mythical beliefs held dearly in my village is that back pain is only felt by people who are sexually active - emphasis added on 'only'. So I could not bear to tell my mother lest she would begin to imagine I had done the deed. And so I left for school, as usual, assuming it was one of those little disturbances that would pass.
At Mabvureschool, 10.am was break time and at the ring of the bell, school kids poured out of classrooms like ants coming out of a tight hole, into the open area in the middle of the school yard to bask in some sunshine for thirty minutes. That day, I got up like the others but something sent me right back down. My skirt felt wet at the back. And it was stuck on my skinon that spot. Oh, my, what is this, I wondered. I moved my hand cautiously, trying not to attract the attention of my classmates, to where the feeling of dampness had come from. It sure was wet on that particular spot. My heart began to beat veryfast. Is this what I think it is? I shivered.
For a while I sat on my hand, afraid to confirm my worst fears. Then I slowly pulled it away and checked and there it was, a parched red stain, tracing the lines of my inside palm. I was floored with shock. I could almost cut my shock with a knife, how could this happen to me so 'early' and so far away from home - 4km away at school.
I sat there on the bench meant for two pupils but that I shared with four other students. It was a struggle to the end of the day because I guarded the spot where I sat on like a lioness, refusing to budge even an inch because I did not want them to see I had stained the bench - that's an understatement - I was bleeding onto the bench. I had never had a conversation about how to expect my first period and prepare for it. It was nowhere in the school curriculum, briefly touched on in science as an academic issue but nowhere as a social issue for girls like me.
And so I sat there waiting for the clock to hit four o clock so that other students would leave the room, and I would wait a couple more hours stuck on that hard wooden bench for the sun to go down so that I could walk home under the protection of darkness. That way, no-one would see the stain on my skirt. The red spot that resembled shame. The coming of an event that was never celebrated or acknowledged as natural but rather a dirtiness for which you could not take part in sacred ceremonies if you were having your period. You could not go to sacred shrines for traditional rituals or ceremonies because you would contaminate the place and the spirits.
I have never forgotten the shame that I felt that day. I cannot forget it because I still see it and feel it, 21 years later. It's all around me; women being made to feel shameful for having their periods. As I sat on that bench for eleven hours without getting up, my buttocks cramped and with no longer any sensation, I was scared how was I going to tell my mom. That I had done this. Have this thing, that everyone hated. I had seen other girls laughed at for having their period. And heard tales of wives beaten for not telling their husbands their days were near and so they only found out during sex and she would be beaten for 'contaminating' him. And now I had allowed this dirty thing to happen to me.
My first period sure brought with it a shame, ridicule, and pain. It was also heavy such that when I got home I had blood running down my legs. Apparently, it was too much blood such that one of my aunties from my father's side who was visiting us suggested I needed to be tested for virginity because 'virgins do not bleed like that on their first one.'
My mother, afraid I was engaging in sex and could get pregnant, agreed and my aunt prodded the inside of my bleeding vagina with her dirty,untreated-tobacco covered fingers, looking for the hymen. All because I had gotten my period.
I have never forgiven her. Nor have I forgotten. But my aunt is part of a system that has learned her many untrue myths about menstruation. She is part of a generation that contributed to the shame that comes with periods today. I always ask myself or others: why can't we treat periods for what they are, natural and part of a woman's body? Why is menstruation blood so shameful? Why is bloodshownon TV in 'action' movie scenes but there are no scenes where women have stained their clothes or sheets with menstruation blood?
I have never really understood it, why adverts for tampons or pads use blue when demonstrating the strength or capability of the product. Really? If you are selling something that I will use to soak up blood why not just use blood to demonstrate it? Stage blood I mean.
It puzzles me, why the blood for periods would be such a bad thing to show when movies that we watch day in day out are flooded with scenes with huge amounts of stage blood. So it's not about the blood color because I used to think it was until I realized they do use ''blood'' in movie scenes and in any other visual which contains blood except when it's about periods.Because any blood that comes from a vagina is shameful right. It's dirty, it's not something to be seen or acknowledged.
By using blue water and pretending that women menstruate in blue, the media encourages stigma and myths around menstruation. The sentiments that society has regarding menstruation mostly varies from disgusting to shameful.
In my village when a woman is menstruating she is discouraged from cooking for people (as if cooking for people was not a burden enough already) or, as I have mentioned already, from entering sacred shrines of worship or traditional ceremonies because during that time she is regarded as 'unpure'.
And the media is complicit in perpetuating these myths. The images we see in the media inform our opinions on life as well as knowledge on certain issues.
The word menstruation is visibly absent in news stories and I am yet to see a movie in which they show a woman going through the paces of menstruation. They will create sex scenes and even vomiting scenes but menstruation is disgusting?
In order to have an informed and balanced opinionon menstruation, we need to start having a balanced and truthful conversation now. And we can start by calling it what it just is: periods or menstruation. And next, we create images that depict the realities of menstruation using colors that are representative of those realities.
*This story is one of the many stories that I have lived, which I strive to tell as much as I can here but hope my upcoming memoir,Dreams of a Common Girl: The Triumphant Journey to The Top, will tell exhaustively.