The Story of Sharon (19yo Nairobi; Kiambu) ” I was dying…well…I thought I was. I was so embarrassed but didn’t understand why”

‘Well…here I am in the bathroom. A tear in my right eye. It must have been that puddle of water I stepped in outside the house. I could have sworn it had a tadpole. I am going to die…I should tell mum…I will probably bleed out by the time I get to her room. Why me? My science teacher never told us bilharzia spreads this quickly. How can such a small animal carry such a deadly disease? He never mentioned there would be so much blood. It’s time to tell mum.’
My first time was too scary for a girl that was just about to turn thirteen in two days. One could say it was a gift from Mother Nature but for this little miss…it was a nightmare! It was a sunny Sunday. The clock had just stroke eight and I was stuck in the washroom. I was dying…well…I thought I was. I was so embarrassed but didn’t understand why. We had just had a class on water-borne diseases the previous Friday thus my conclusion for the blood would have been accurate. The teacher said victims would bleed out and eventually die. I got on my knees, said my duly prayers and called out for my mother. My tone must have petrified her as she rushed into the room in a jiffy. I could not believe it when she laughed and gave me a hug. I had just handed her a blood-stained pair of knickers…I was dying! What was more astonishing was that she left me to bring back a piece of padding. It was unbelievable. Any minute I would drop down and never wake up again and here she was looking amused.
“Sweetheart…don’t be frightened…you’ve just gotten your first period. You’re a woman now!”
Oh well, figures why I’m still alive and writing this huh.

The Story of JerseyNai Chic (24yo, Nairobi): “I decided to do my research.. and learn about this mysterious womanly function”

It had finally come. I was in the eighth grade, stick thin, flat ass, a member of the Itty Bitty Titty Committee (IBTC), with badly permed hair that sat atop of an almond shaped face framed with crooked glasses. Needless to say, I had not had my transition from ugly duckling to beautiful swan. And yet, it seemed all the other girls in my class had. Many had already began their journey into womanhood, curves starting to show, boobs starting to sprout, boys starting to take interest. I was keen to unlock the secret to their womanhood. I was determined to learn why I was behind and they were ahead.

And soon I had figured out what it was they had that I didn’t. They had started their period! The menses, the monthly flow, the big red dot. By thirteen, most of the girls in my class had gotten their period, and like all other child developmental milestones, I was last in line.

But once I figured out the key to my eighth grade “Fly Girl” success, I decided to do my research, and learn about this mysterious womanly function that seemed to be the answer to all my awkward teenage angst. For months, I had been scouring books on puberty– mostly procured from the pre-teen section at my nearby public library–that graphically illustrated the functions of my female anatomy, both inside and out. All those icky things that made me cringe but also intrigued me at the same time. I read magazines, watched movies, and kept by my side at all times the bible for prepubescent girls at the time “The Care and Keeping of You” by American Girl.

So by the time mine decided to come, I was fully prepared. With all the knowledge I had digested, I began to create this grand image of the day I finally would get my period. Trumpets would blow, confetti bursting from thin air, my mother would cry tears of joy–finally her baby girl is a woman. I would be taken out for a special “Just Got My Period” dinner at my favorite restaurant, “Fun Buffet”, on Danforth Avenue, where you can get all you can eat lobster legs for $10. It would be the best day of my life.

But sadly, it did not turn out that way. When D-Day (or should I say P-Day) finally came, it was the most underwhelming event. I was sitting in front of the television, watching my favorite show “As Told By Ginger”, when I felt a peculiar wetness in my nether-regions. I shot up from the couch like a canon, and ran to the bathroom with haste, as if I had just found hidden treasure, and had to run to a secret spot to open it. When I got into the bathroom, I pull down my pants, and low and behold, a brownish, crimson dot sat boldly on my K-mart, fruit of the loom panties. I was ecstatic, and began to think of the grand reaction my mother would have. “Fun Buffet here I come!” I thought as I walked boldly to the living room, panties in hand, and turned to my mother and said “Mommy, I think I just got my period. Silence. She then stood up, grabbed the stained panties from my hand, took a keen look, and with the uninterested flare of a chemistry teacher said plainly, “yes, that is your period.” She then handed me back my panties, and nonchalantly walked down the corridor, back to the kitchen, where she was preparing our meal for the evening: ugali, with cabbage and stewed chicken. No congratulations, no grandiose pouring of affection, no instructions. Just a simple confirmation, “yes, that is your period.” I guess being the daughter of a single African mother, whose main concern was the constant collection of A’s on my report card, did not lend itself to open discussion or celebration of a basic, expected biological turning point as my period. So, dejected by the celebration that never was, I unceremoniously took my stained undies, threw them in the garbage, grabbed a fresh pair, got the “Always Teen” pad I had been given by my school nurse at our last sex-ed class, put it on, and went back to the couch to finish my “As Told by Ginger” episode. As the show’s theme song played at the closing credits—Someone once told me the grass was much greener, on the other side—I sat thinking to myself, the grass is just the same. Fun Buffet another day.

Menstrual Narratives: The Story of Sophie (38 yo, Nairobi): “I ‘knew’ that ‘bad girls’ got their periods early so I was happy I was not among the bad girls “

I knew it would come but somehow it found me unprepared. I had been told by my teacher to expect it, I had been told that once it comes it would mean I can get pregnant! Mind you it had not even crossed my mind to engage in sex yet that was a real fear. I still recall that day which was a public holiday in Kenya, possibly October 20th so I was at home. I went to the toilet and felt ‘funny’. Checking I realized my panties had blood. I felt sad, and the thought that went to my mind is “I can get pregnant”. The fear of pregnancy was more than anything else. I didn’t know who to tell, I did not think I was meant to tell anyone! Somehow I was among the last girls who got their first periods but I ‘knew’ that ‘bad girls’ got their periods early so I was happy I was not among the bad girls. Still there were some girls who had not got their periods, so I didn’t feel that much achieved. I needed to have it remain a secret! It did remain a secret. I was in primary school and since there is no pocket money for primary school students I looked for tissue then later cotton wool that was cheap. It took going to secondary school to have ‘shopping list’ where sanitary pads featured. I have never ever spoken about this, let alone write! Yes I wish I knew that this was the time to celebrate womanhood.

Menstrual Narratives: The Story of Joyce (37 yo, Nairobi): “It used to soak through my pad even if I wore two. I had to sleep with a towel on my bed”

My story is interesting, when I was 12 my mother thought I had started my period. One day as I was riding my bike, I crushed into a wall and hit my vejay jay area really hard. Of course I went to my mum and told her that I was bleeding but neglected to tell her of the bike accident. Immediately my mum thought I had began my period. She asked me to take a bath and then showed me how to line my panty with a pad. She used some pads that she had in the house. Of course since I had not really started my period. I was not bleeding the next day. Then when I was 15 my period started while at boarding school. I did not have any pads but I told the other girls in my dorm and they were so helpful. They let me use their packet of pads. Since my mum had already explained to me about my period about 3 year prior and since most of the girls in the dorm were already having their period. I just felt that it was time for me as well. Thankfully there was no shame surrounding it. However when my period did finally come, it was extraordinarily heavy. It used to soak through my pad even if I wore two. I had to sleep with a towel on my bed. There was a lot of shame in this as I did not know what to do and I felt like there was something wrong with me. I suffered through it till my adulthood without really addressing it. As a result I am highly anemic. I wish I would have felt comfortable enough to talk even to my mother about it. In hindsight I know she would have helped but it is something I carried with me and dealt with on my own.