Wednesday 21 February 2024


Photo by Cliff Booth on Pexels

By Ruth Ajawu

My eyes fly open courtesy of the sharp pain shooting through my lower abdomen and instant panic grips my heart. Please let it not be what I think it is. It is way too soon: I am not ready.

“Do not be it. Do not be it. Do not be it.”  I whisper to myself like the words can change anything. I look down to check my undercloth and instant relief floods my heart. It is not my menstrual period. Hopefully, this sharp pain in my stomach is just indigestion and not a sign that my period is about to start. 

Looking out of the window, I see it is getting bright outside. I should start getting ready for church. I love Sundays, not because of the going to church part but because I get to sleep in. Every other day, I have to wake up early to fetch water from the stream before the sun comes up, clean up the house, and go for lessons. Sundays are the exception because according to Mama, “it is the Lord’s day and we ought to rest just as God did”.

I get up and stretch my hands as high as they can go, then roll up the sleeping mat and place it in the corner of the room where I usually keep it. Is that a new crack in the wall? Oh well, it is one more crack to go with the millions of cracks that make up this rickety house. 

As I walk out of my room, I notice how quiet everywhere is: Mama has already left for church then. I would hear her moving about if she were home. I head to the kitchen so I can take out some water from the drum. The drum is big enough for a child to drown in if they get stuck in it. I know this from personal experience: I nearly drowned when I climbed into it when I was younger. I can still remember the sound beating Mama gave me after she rescued me. The beating had the desired effect because I did not go near the drum for years after that.

I remember believing Mama hated me for the longest time after that. Those were the times I wished for my parents the most. My parents died in a ghastly car accident when I was an infant so I have lived with Mama, my father’s mother, all my life. I do not know anything about my parents or the accident that took their lives. Mama never talks about either no matter how many times I ask. She always says I do not need to know more because she is my mother and father now. Sometimes, I feel she is sweet for that. Other times, I feel she is selfish for hoarding information about my parents. 

I fill up the bucket beside the drum and take it to the back of the house where the toilet is located. The water is cool to the touch but I do not let that bother me as I quickly freshen up and head back to my room. Squatting in front of my small pile of clothes neatly folded at the corner beside my mat, I pick a dress at random to wear. Mama has mentioned a billion times that I should put more care into how I dress for service but I really do not care about impressing anyone with what I wear. I make quick work of dressing up, pick up my Bible, and head to church.

I always take a leisurely stroll to church because I love the sight of nature – the slight wind blowing the tree leaves, the occasional scurry of small animals across the path, the sound of wildlife, and the view of the spectacular sunrise. I have watched it since I was a little girl, up until now that I am the full old age of sixteen. It is all so beautiful and it never gets old. I wish I could stay here forever. Unfortunately, there is church service.

I do not like church. It is filled with the hateful and judgemental people of our community who gossip from the start of service till the end. I can never tell Mama this though… she will think I have been possessed by an evil spirit and take me to the pastor for special prayers. To be fair, it is not just the church I do not like. I do not like the entire community, their small-mindedness and nonsensical traditions make me so angry. I hear raised voices singing hymns from the church and sigh, I hate that too. 

The church is less than a five minutes walk from our house so I get there quickly. I take a moment to stare at the church building like I always do. I should be used to it by now but I am not. It amazes me that such a standard building exists in this community. It is tall enough to tower over every other building in its vicinity with its grey walls and ever-clean window panes. I wonder how much money was sunk into it, money that could have gone into improving the community. I snap out of staring, take a deep breath, and head to the church entrance with an ingenuine smile on my face. I am already dreading the long hours I will be stuck here for.

I enter the church and walk to the back with my head down to avoid having to make eye contact with any of the gossips. Why are the doors at the side of the building and not at the back? I know I ask this question in my mind every Sunday because it annoys me every Sunday. I finally get to the back. I sit in the last row of seats and watch the spectacle that we call a Sunday service. 

It starts with Sunday school which is taken by one of the church elders who, as usual, implies everyone is going to hell fire because we are not ‘perfect like her’. Then the sermon is taken by the pastor who requests for yet another donation to be made towards a church project we know nothing about. Then the singing part and finally, the service comes to an end. I leap to my feet before they finish saying the grace. I need to get out of here early so I do not have to endure the parade of pleasantries.  

I begin the walk to the doors but something feels different. It seems quieter than it should be. I look back and startle, everyone behind me is looking in my direction in shock. I turn around to find what they are looking at but see nothing. I turn back towards them and confirm they are indeed staring at me. I face forward and increase my pace, I am not sure I want to find out why they are all looking at me. I am about ten steps away from the door when I feel a hand grab me and drag me out.

“What do you think you are doing here?” The person that dragged me out says. I vaguely recognize her as one of the church elders.

I stare at her in confusion and she points at my dress when she notices I do not understand what she is referring to. 

“You should be at the hut”, she spits out. 

That is when I feel it. The wetness in between my thighs. Ringing thrashes in my ears as I look down. Blood. It runs down my legs, glaringly obvious for all to see. Oh God, it is heavy, my period always flows heavily. I want the floor to open up and swallow me whole.

“No no no no no no!”, I mumble to myself and tears instantly filled my eyes.

Voices and horrified gasps erupt on all sides as more women rush out of the church and begin to angrily scream at me all at once.

“How dare you?” I hear one of them shout. 

“You are old enough to know better!”, another one screams from behind me.

“This is an embarrassment!”, another says. On and on they go, hurling angry words at me. 

“I did not know!”, I whisper tearily but they do not care to listen to me.

As soon as a woman or girl begins her monthly menstruation, she is expected to immediately report to ‘The Hut’ where she is required to spend the entirety of her period. A woman or girl undergoing menstruation is perceived as unclean for however long she bleeds. It is taboo for her to remain amongst the clean people of the community. Ever since I turned twelve years old and got my first menstruation, I have been subjected to the horrors of the hut every month.

The women soon move from words to action. They appoint the woman who dragged me out of the church to take me to the hut. She does not hesitate, she just starts pushing me forward. I stumble a bit and manage to stabilize myself, barely avoiding falling face flat on the ground. She doesn't care, she doesn't even give me time to recover, she just continues pushing me ahead. 

I see Mama on the sidelines looking at me with sharp disappointment. I look at her with fear clear on my face but she just ignores me and walks back into the church. I guess I am on my own. 

The walk to the hut is short, the entire community is not big so everywhere is close by. I wish it was farther, maybe then I could have stilled my heart for what awaits me for the next four days. But one second we are at the church, the next second, the dilapidated building referred to as ‘The Hut’ comes into view. 

The view is all it takes to trigger heart palpitations in me. My palms begin to sweat and I begin to shake uncontrollably. I do not want to stay in the hut for four days, I don't even want to be in it for a second. I hate it and all it represents: I hate the cold sticky ground I would be forced to lay on for the duration my period lasts for. I hate the perpetual stink of menstrual blood in the air. I hate the complete silence when I am there on my own but I hate even more the pointless chatter of anyone else I might be forced to share the space with. I hate the thoughts that assault me there. I hate the nightmares I always end up having. I hate the tears I am never strong enough to stop. I hate the hut. 

The woman is not concerned with my visible trembling, she continues dragging me along till we reach the entrance where she hands me over to the caretaker. The first time I was here, I thought the caretaker was here to care for us like family. I have since then realised that she is here to ensure we do not leave the hut and contaminate anywhere else.

“Don’t leave me here”, I beg the woman that brought me. “Please.”

She looks at me with very visible disdain and I am instantly filled with regret for speaking to her.

“Your mother will roll in her grave if she realises what a disappointment her daughter grew up to be", she says in anger. “Such a dirty girl.”

She pushes me towards the caretaker, and walks away, like she did not just shatter my heart into a thousand pieces.

With tears rolling down my face at an uncontrollable speed, I turn to look at the caretaker. She stares back at me with a look that says she is very unimpressed with me. Maybe if I deny everything, she will believe me and let me go.

“I don’t know why that woman brought me here”, I tell her with false bravery. “It is not my time of the month yet.”

The woman does not bother giving me a response, she just glances down at my dress that is clearly soiled with blood. Okay this cannot work. Maybe I can offer her something if she lets me go?

“I will do anything you want”, I tell her with bravado. “Anything at all.” 

If the situation was not so dire, I would probably laugh at what I just said, like I have anything to offer her. It does not matter either way because she does not dignify my statement with a response. It is at this moment I realise there is no hope, I am stuck here again for the next four days. The shakes and tears return with a vengeance. Four days feel like a hundred years right now.

The caretaker stands up and looks at me from head to toe.

“Not knowing your cycle at this your old age? Disgraceful”. She says, the disgust clear in her voice.

She takes hold of my hand, and drags me to the hut. She leaves me and goes back to wherever it is she stays. I hear the click of the door lock and the bolts sliding into place, the sounds seem to be taunting me and screaming “You will never get out”. 

I try to hold my breath so I don't smell it. I lose the battle after 40 seconds and I'm forced to take a lungful of the air. The stale metallic smell hits me with full force, it smells as horrible as always, I hate it. 

But I hate even more the awful words spoken to me by people who do not even know me. My tears start to fall harder and faster. I wrap my hands around myself, collapse to the sticky floor, and weep. 

I cry till my eyes feel too heavy to keep open and only then do I close them so sleep can take me away.


Period poverty is a deeply troubling issue that extends beyond the mere absence of sanitary products. It encompasses a broader spectrum of challenges, including the lack of knowledge and understanding about menstruation that perpetuates harmful stigmas that view periods as unclean and something to be ashamed of.

In various parts of the world, especially in low-income communities, girls and women face significant barriers when it comes to managing their menstruation. The financial constraints that lead to the inability to afford sanitary products are just one aspect of period poverty. Equally alarming is the pervasive lack of education surrounding menstrual health, perpetuating myths and misconceptions that contribute to the shame and silence surrounding menstruation.

At Shades of Us, we stand against period poverty and recognize that addressing this issue requires a comprehensive approach. It is not just about providing access to menstrual products: it is about dismantling the societal taboos and cultural norms that surround menstruation. By fostering awareness and education, we aim to empower individuals with the knowledge they need to manage their periods confidently and without shame.

We advocate for increased access to affordable and sustainable menstrual products, comprehensive menstrual health education in schools and communities, and initiatives that challenge societal norms perpetuating period shame. By addressing period poverty holistically, we aim to empower individuals, especially girls and women, to manage their menstrual health with dignity and without the burden of stigma. 

Together, let us work towards a world where everyone has the knowledge, resources, and support to navigate menstruation without barriers or shame.

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