Let’s face it, menstruation can be a bit of a pain. Literally. For some girls there are headaches, nausea, back aches, pimples, and all sorts of other discomforts. Now add to that all the myths and taboos associated with ‘that time of the month’ that some girls have to deal with and what you have is a potentially stressful and distressing situation.
What should be a natural joyous transition to womanhood is often times quite the opposite.
I know because my first period was anything but joyous.
I wish my parents (by that I mean my mother) had talked about these things with me. Instead the job was given to my aunt and in her absence my grandmother took over the role. There were a lot of rules and myths associated with puberty, most of which I have to admit I did not quite understand. As a result my transition into womanhood was a very traumatic experience. Even now, many years after the event, I still get apprehensive when I think about it.
One of the rules that were drummed into me was that I should not season any dish when I was menstruating, especially not with salt. Apparently this was because I would inevitably end up using too much salt and that would spoil the dish. The logic behind this? I know not….
During those days my paternal grandmother’s brother was the highest ‘spirit medium’ of the land (by land I mean Guruve). I use the term ‘spirit medium’ very loosely because I’m not sure it’s the correct one. But I will add here that he, ‘VaDumbu’ as he was known, was responsible for the rain falling and the people getting a good harvest. He was, to put it lightly, a big ‘kahuna’ in the spirit world and thus commanded a lot of respect (and fear!)
I was told that I should never shake his hand if I was having my periods as this was taboo and would result in me bleeding continuously for a very long time. I would then need to attend some cleansing ceremony to right this wrong. Or words to that effect.
So my first period like I said was an utter nightmare! It was an unmitigated disaster of near epic proportions. Ok, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration but it did not work out well. You see, as luck would have it I was on kitchen duty that particular day which meant I was responsible for preparing supper. My aunt had impressed upon me over and over again the need to keep my period a secret, no one else need know what was going on. So when it came to cooking supper I was faced with a dilemma. I’d been told not to season the dishes myself so how was I going to ask anyone else to do it for me without having to explain the reason why. And if I seasoned the dishes and ended up putting in too much salt then everyone would want to know why I’d been so reckless. Classic ‘catch 22’. Besides there was really no one to ask to help me as all the other girls were not around, having gone kumusha a week earlier and it was just me, my mom, my grandmother and my father.
I’m not sure why I chose to just cook without seasoning the food (must have been the pressure) but anyway I did and I think it caused quite a furore that evening. I have this mental image of my grandmother standing imperiously (she was quite a tall lady who cut an imposing figure) in the kitchen talking to my mother trying to understand what had gone wrong and me trying desperately to evaporate into thin air or to somehow get the ground to swallow me up, which ever was the quickest way out of there!! I was mortified. Everyone must have known in the end the reason for my sloppy cooking.
I don’t really know why I did not ask my grandmother for help, after all she was part of the training committee. All I know for certain is I couldn’t have asked my mom because this was not something you openly discussed with your mother. I think she would have sent me straight back to my grandmother. That’s just the way things were. Needless to say, it was all very distressing for me and yet it didn’t have to be. After all it’s only a natural transition.
I wish I could go back and tell my 12 (or was it 13?) year old self that there was nothing to stress about and that I could season the dishes and the world wouldn’t come to an end, lol!
It’s interesting to note though, that 30 odd years after I had my first period, many young girls in and around Zimbabwe are still confronted with the same taboos and myths that I faced when I started menstruating. The only difference with me perhaps was that I did have access to sanitary wear. Many girls do not.
So what is your story girls? What was your transition into womanhood?
Written and Submitted by Lillian Dzapasi