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.

The Story of Phillomen N. (31yo, Uganda): My Sister Called and asked if I was Raped, I was so Embarrassed.

I applaud the 28th May initiative and ask God to permanently break the silence. 
My 1st menstrual experience was a horrible one. I was living with my sister and when I realized something that seemed abnormal then; blood on my under wear I was so scared! I could not tell her because I felt so ashamed. I got some old clothes padded myself but this caused more embarrassment because I think I used such a big clothe that I could hardly walk. My sister called me and asked if I was raped I was so embarrassed. I did not know what to tell her. Then I thought that may be it is to. I thought everybody is going to laugh at me just as it happened to girls at school then I would not go back to school again. My sister showed me what I should do but that made me feel more embarrassed. We need to break the silence.

The Story of Anita Afonu (27yo: Accra): A huge Lump Travel from my Tubes and….Down my Uterus and Stop!

Menstruating for the first time was a very daunting experience. It wasn’t weird because I knew nothing about it, it was weird because I was a bit too over grown when it happened. I was in Secondary school. An all girls secondary school. In my first year. Still a teenager, contemplating life and why I was alive at all. I hated my school, partly because it wasn’t the school I wanted to be at. My mother had forced me there because it was her alma mater and I was at serious loggerheads with her for sending me to that school. I was undergoing a serious sexual orientation issues and at some point in my life felt I was a boy trapped in a woman’s body. I couldn’t relate with many of the girls there because they had conversations I couldn’t have. They liked to have conversations about boys, menstrual cramps and Elle magazine. I wanted to discuss films, politics and literature.

So it was one of those days, a Monday to be precise. I had turned 17 about 8 months ago. It was time for math class. Oh how I hated math class. In fact, anything that had to do with numbers, I stayed away from. Mr Owusu was there rambling about an equation when all of a sudden I felt a huge lump travel from my tubes and sort of make its way down my uterus and stop. It felt funny, but I didn’t know how to react. Within a few minutes I felt wet and a slight sharp pain. Not sure what it was, I excused myself and run to the bathroom. I took off my underwear only to realize the horror. Red! It was blood. Oh My God! I shrieked. This cant be it, this cant be it. Not knowing what to do, I run back to class to talk to Victoria. Victoria was a no-nonsense girl, I have to say. She took crap from no one but had a very loving side to her. She was very slim with curly hair and was light skinned. When I informed Victoria, she immediately summoned her two side kicks, Sally and Sena. They lined up in front of me in the bathroom and took a serious look at me as if I were in the military. She ordered to see if it was true and when she did, she looked at me with such incredulity and said; ‘Oh Anita, what took you so long?’ Immediately, Sally hugged me so tight and so did Sena. They put me in the shower, helped me clean up and taught me how to use a sanitary towel. I had seen many women from Reproductive health organizations come to our school to tell us about how to use sanitary towels and all but I had never paid any attention to them because I just didn’t care. I hadn’t menstruated so why should I care?

Victoria, being the boss of all of us, assumed her role and taught me step by step how to wear a sanitary towel and what it means when I don’t menstruate. She taught me how to walk and what to do when I experience menstrual cramps. In that moment, I missed my mother. Not because I wanted to share with her this ‘joyful’ discovery, but to let her know that I am sorry. That I was sorry for hating her so much. In that moment, I needed her to assure me that there was nothing to fear, that there was nothing to worry about. That I will be fine. I felt she didn’t understand me, that she didn’t understand how I felt. Now, as I write this, its another time of the month. I am experiencing menstrual cramps as always, but I am grateful to Victoria, Sally and Sena all three of whom spent the remaining two years of High School with me, teaching me about boys and how to take care of myself and how to appreciate my womanhood. For me, menstruating was one major turning point in my life, in that it will be a constant reminder of two things, that I am not pregnant and the fact that I was a woman.

The Story of Morenike Badmus (32yo: Lagos): I Thought I was Going to Grow to be a Boy…my Menses Were Such a Disappointment.

 

How do people do that? All I can remember is that I was terrified and disappointed. My mother sent my brother to buy pads and he played with them as if they were a soccer ball..oh my, I didn’t know how to use them so I removed everything and was left with cotton….and of course blood was everywhere. I thought i was going to grow to be a boy later…so, my menses were such a disappointment and I saw it as a complete disaster, future plans ruined. I wouldn’t miss it anyway…too much stress