Growing up I did not hear about menstruation until I was around primary five when we were taught in class. In our culture menstruation is never to be talked about, it is to be embarrassed about. In fact some people never sit next to you or shake your hand when you are having your period. You are considered dirty. Some religions don’t allow you to enter places of worship during that time of the month. All that made it the worst time and all women decided to hide it. It became a secret and most of them decided it should never be talked about in public especially if boys are around. No boy/man should ever hear that word or know that you are having your period.
"I spent the rest of my days waiting for blood to flow"
I remember this one time when I found blood on my shirt and as a child I feared blood so much because I had been told so much about HIV/AIDS. I knew I could get HIV through blood, seeing blood on my shirt just near the breast terrified me. I ran back home crying from school to immediately tell my mother. She looked scared too but all she did was instruct me to go check my knickers to confirm whether there was blood. I complied but in my mind I was wondering how those two would be related. I checked and there was nothing. When I told her and asked why she made me check, she told me I probably got the blood from someone else, “One day you will see blood flowing so you shouldn’t be scared of blood.” My mother was a teacher, mother’s union leader and she was a senior woman teacher. With all these titles she was entitled to speak openly about such matters but even she couldn’t tell me where that blood would even come from. So I spent the rest of my days waiting for blood to flow not knowing where from but mostly from my breasts to my knickers.
"when i finally had my period i couldn't even tell anybody"
When I finally had my period, I couldn’t even tell anybody. I couldn’t talk to my mother because I had never heard her talk about anything like that. I couldn’t even talk to my friends because my best friend was a boy. I had never heard of pads so I just used old clothes and bed sheets. What made even harder was the pain and doing house work. When I reached the third day I couldn’t take it anymore. I was wondering why it wasn’t stopping so I told my sister who explained it to me and it helped a lot. After that we kept our secret. Even after learning that people use pads I had no money to buy them. Considering that my parents had no idea what was going on and they were the ones to buy me the pads, they did not. What is surprising is the fact that most people think buying pads is a luxury because they are too expensive to buy and they prefer to use old clothes since you can keep them and use them for many months.
"the options are to either go back home or you just don't go to school at all."
I hated using old clothes because it was hard to clean them. To put this in perspective imagine a cloth that has permanent stains from years of use, is ripped and has got a permanent dirty colour. When going to school, it is really hard to hide because you cannot keep it in your bag to enable you change during the course of the day. The options are to either go back home or you just don’t go to school at all. How will you store them in your bag with books, and even if you succeed, you have to keep checking to be sure that the blood has not seeped through and stained your skirt. If you have a heavy flow you have to use a really big cloth and it is extremely uncomfortable. Most girls would rather stay home until the period passes rather than go to school and become a laughing stock.
"we thought she was going to die and there was nothing we could do."
All my sisters had exactly the same problem. I remember when my elder sister had her first period my parents had gone away for a conference and we were at home all alone. We all did not know what was wrong and she could not tell us the whole truth. All she told us was to put as much weight on her back as possible and that’s what we did. We kept alternating between sitting on her back and her tummy but nothing gave her the relief so we went to the neighbour to seek help. We never had phones then and there was no way of contacting our parents plus there was no nearby hospital. Our neighbour’s wife accused us of eating too much posho that was poorly prepared and gave her all the herbs she could come across. All that didn’t help and we spent almost all night awake. Hearing her cry terrified all of us and most of us started crying too. We thought she was going to die and there was nothing we could do.
"one time i was chased from home to go and bring test results"
Most of us have been accused of being pregnant by our parents because of menstrual pain but we couldn’t even tell the truth about what was going on. One time I was chased from home to go and bring test results from the health centre by my parents because I was showing signs of pregnancy - just because I told them my tummy was hurting. When I decided to take a walk with a friend (a boy), my dad saw me walking with him. To them that was enough evidence that I was pregnant. We were three people in the house and I remember for two weeks there was no conversation between us and nothing I did was right for them. All this was because it was almost taboo to talk about your period. My younger sister one day had to hide in a pit latrine for some hours because she had been accused of being pregnant too.
"i couldn't wait to reach menopause and stop the nightmare"
After learning about and understanding menstruation, all I wanted to do was to let people know that it is something to be proud of and not to be ashamed, it is not a curse, its means you are a healthy young woman and there are many things you can do to be comfortable during your period. If we knew the truth then, we wouldn’t have gone through all that. I wish somebody told us when it was still early, I wish it was possible for us to have better pads then that made us comfortable, I wish we knew about painkillers. Imagine if I went through all that and my parents were educated; what about those who don’t have the chance, whose parents have never gone to school? All I knew is that we need to break the silence. Our children shouldn’t go through the same thing we went through because it was the worst. I couldn’t wait to reach menopause then and stop the nightmare.
"since then my life has never been the same"
One day my dream came true, my lecturer called me when I was in 4th year medical school - I don’t know why he chose me but I always think it was that God sent a message – and gave me the advert from Irise International advertising for a research assistant for menstrual hygiene management which I applied for and was given the job. We trained girls and women around Kasese district, moving in different schools and women’s groups including Luhwahwa Youth Development Foundation. Since then my life has never been the same. All I would think about was finishing school and to give my fellow women pride, to make sure that no girl goes through what I went through.
"girls are actually stronger than people think , on top of teasing, EMBARRASSMENT and difficulties; we still persist to the end."
Girls and women were so happy to learn the anatomy and physiology of their bodies. They had so many questions about where the blood comes from, why boys don’t menstruate, how to deal with the pain and many more questions. We were able to answer all their questions and all I could imagine was me when I was their age. I wanted to teach as much as I could to make sure they don’t go through what I went through. I will forever thank Irise International for giving me that opportunity and since then I have not enjoyed doing anything as much as did back then because I was teaching from experience. It gave me so much joy and satisfaction to watch young girls get education about their bodies. I imagined myself learning when I was young. Many girls asked the same questions I had when I was growing up and that gave me so much joy. I wanted to teach as many girls as I could so that everybody has the knowledge about menstruation.
Those are just a few of the stories. I could write a book about my experiences during my periods because I had it all and I know some people have had it worse than me and that’s why I want to change all that. It shouldn’t be like this, life should be different. Uganda should be different. Girls are actually stronger than most people think, on top of the teasing, embarrassment and difficulties; we still persist to the end.