I had my first monthly period when I was about to enter the Senior Secondary School. (When it comes to school, I was an early starter. I started far earlier than my age mates). It was during a long vacation preceding my fourth year in secondary school. I was home in my village. It was the month of April and the weather was extremely hot. On that day I accompanied my mother and elder sister to the farm and it started when I was there in the farm. Immediately I sensed the hot gush in my underwear, I ran out of the farm and headed to our house without uttering a word to neither my mother nor my sister.
My mind raced back to ‘senior Angela.’ Senior Angela was my corner mate in the boarding house. I lived in the boarding house all through my school years. My corner mate has already told me about monthly period. She educated me on how to use toilet roll. In my school, we did not have access to sanitary pad or tampon. Most of the girls used tissue paper and some used re-washable clothes cut for that purpose. In our villages women generally used pieces of clothes cut and kept well for the purpose of monthly periods.
In my boarding house then, it was one of the unsolicited jobs of the senior girls to educate the junior girls on menstruation. The monthly period was popularly known as ‘cabin’ in our boarding house. The name (parlance) was derived from ‘cabin,’ a brand name of biscuit very popular among students in the boarding schools. Once it was said a girl in the house was chewing cabin, every one especially the senior girls understood what it means. Our seniors would make jest of girls when in their monthly periods. The jest made girls feel ashamed instead of feeling proud. Girls try as much as possible to hide themselves or traces of any kind that might expose this to others. I was so happy that mine started during the holiday.
On getting home, I made straight to my school suitcase. There I had a roll of tissue paper bought for me by my senior in school. She advised I keep it handy because I would soon need to use it. I rolled it the way I was taught and placed it firmly inside my black pant. I did not return to the farm again. I was avoiding my mother and sister from knowing.
Prior to that day, my mother nor the three girls (my elder sisters) never discussed monthly period with me. It was a taboo to discuss such issues with children. My society thought such discussions would expose children to harlotry. Little did they know that we discussed and even got more knowledge on such issues from our cohorts in school. On my second day, my mother called me and asked me if I have started seeing ‘my flower.’ I answered ‘yes’ and she started crying. I was confused. I asked her why she was crying. Her lamentation was that the society has changed, that we the younger generation are strong-hearted. “So you can hide such a thing from your mother who carried you for nine good months in her womb?” I felt so guilty by her words. My heart was pounding heavily with fear. I felt bad for upsetting my mother but was speechless. I turned my tear filled eyes to my elder sister who I thought was the one who told my mother. My sister quickly intervened and said. “Mama, I told you she already knew how to manage herself. Remember she was growing up in boarding school. Please, don’t be angry.” My mother became calm and later talked to me.
The problem I had was lack of communication, which created a big gap between my mother (representing older generation) and me representing (young ones). The problem was created by our cultural environment. It was created by levels we operated. Societies should debunk the myths and do away with beliefs that hinder free communication and education on very salient issues. Women should be encouraged to freely discuss and be proud of the fact that they are bestowed with that nature’s unique gift of seeing monthly period. It is never a taboo, it is given by God. I am not a menstrual hygiene activist but I educate my community on menstrual hygiene. I discuss and educate them on how to avoid or manage pains during the period.