It was one of those days. After a heavy lunch at work, I realised I couldn’t keep my eyes open, so I decided to take a walk down the street.
It also happened to be the time school kids were walking home. There were several of them in different kinds of uniforms. They walked in clusters; despite the differences in their uniforms, they mingled freely. You would have expected kids with same uniforms to walk together but no, they giggled, poked fun at one another, displayed tricks they had learned and generally enjoyed their homeward stroll. It was refreshing to see that these ones didn’t see their uniforms as barriers to friendship as they streamed down the street in their hundreds like lazy soldier ants.
The sun was merciless and I was beginning to curse the idea behind my walk then my eyes caught something interesting: among a cluster of girls, a particular girl was surrounded by her friends, she held a bag to cover her back side and was looking furtively at other school kids around her.
Now, her friends had formed a ring of sorts around her, one walked directly behind her, two on one side and one on the other, while one walked directly ahead.
I immediately suspected one of two things, it was either her uniform was torn or her menses must have showed up like an uninvited visitor demanding attention…I have been there before…the menses thing.
Stained several times before I learned to count the days between when the next ‘visitor’ will show up. Many times I missed the dates and when I didn’t, I ran out of pads too quickly, hating myself for not taking enough with me.
I understood her embarrassment, though in truth, with the benefit of hindsight, I now see no reason why women should be embarrassed over something totally natural; something we suffer severe cramps over and yet are unwilling to let the rest of the world see our pain. I have friends who are sick the five days they are on.
Periods have embarrassed us for too long thats perhaps why makers of sanitary towels create ads that show women free to explore even while on.
Speaking of towels, I remember shopping with two teenage wards sometime ago; we got to the sanitary pad section and the two girls walked off while I inspected the wide array on display.
I was buying for them! But they both deserted me after I loaded about 8 packs of sanitary towels in the trolley. One of the girls came to cover the pads with other items then declined to follow me to the counter for payment!
Why should I be ashamed of buying pads?
‘It’s disgusting,’ we say…and it can be, really especially when disposed of carelessly. Our mothers taught us to dispose soaked pads in secret, never to reveal it to a second eye.
‘If you do, you won’t ever have babies,’ I recall mother’s warning way back.
We were also advised to wash thoroughly during our menstrual periods, ‘It is blood and blood smells’. So many of us did, trying to cleanse ourselves of this natural phenomenon and not succeeding.
A woman will always feel ‘unclean’ during her period because that has been drummed into her head from the day she saw the first blood.
Society and religion haven’t helped matters; a woman in her period is considered unclean, unfit to fast during Ramadan- among Muslims, (so she has to catch up, after the general fast) exempt from prayers and not kosher for altar worship in the Old Testament times.
Some men would not even make love to their wives during her period. One woman told me it’s the reason women give birth to albinos.
Anyway, back to the school girls.
A few steps later and I had guessed right; she was stained from her menses; she kept asking a lookout, one walking directly behind her, if it was ‘showing’. I moved in step with this group, shattering their code and walk pattern.
‘Where do you live?’ I asked. That would determine how far she could hide her ‘shame’
They were surprised. They stopped.
‘I live at Oworo’, she said. (That was some five kilometres from our location.)
‘Do you want a place to clean your uniform?’ I would have suggested taking her back to my office for a clean-up and got someone to buy her a pack of sanitary towels.
But no, she didn’t. I was a stranger after all and she had been warned like the rest of them, who now began to regard me suspiciously, not to follow strangers anywhere.
‘Please ma, we don’t have transport money, so we will walk home and her dress is stained,’ The tiniest girl in the group piped out.
‘How much do you need?’
Thankfully I had just that, I gave the group and they thanked me. In seconds, they zipped past me, the girl with the stain running ahead and her friends laughing crazily behind her.