Tampon Taboos

Yes, this piece might be about Tampons, but as has been pointed out to me several times, a taboo is something that has been known for a time, and then classified as a no-no for a specific community. Since we are in Africa, a taboo would have to be known for several generations and quarantined as a taboo through those generations likely backed up by some oral tradition about why-not. There, so we really cannot have tampon taboos, since tampons are fairly new *phenomena* around these parts of Africa. :)

Well, the thing is, the thingy I am talking about is not a taboo either. True, the menstruation period (when the actual flow of blood occurs, rather than the cycle itself) has been, in both African Cultural and Mosaic Law codes classified as an unclean time. The Mosaic Code stated to this effect: Leviticus 15:19 “‘And in case a woman is having a running discharge, and her running discharge in her flesh proves to be blood, she should continue seven days in her menstrual impurity, and anyone touching her will be unclean until the evening.

It would seem that the prohibiting of sexual union during menstruation contributed to health, perhaps preventing, for instance, the occurrence of inflammation in the genital area, simple urethritis. Israelites also may have been reminded of the sanctity of life and blood by the Law’s regulations involving menstruation or blood flow. These rules were not necessarily discriminatory against women, because men were also subject to being deemed unclean if found to be experiencing discharges.

I don’t know about anyone else but I’m sure that I would not be particularly interested in sex when I’m cramping and hormonal. So that would be a thumbs up from me for that particular rule in the Mosaic law. Now we can talk about cuddles, and chocolate. Wait, Chocolate gives me headaches, but I think I just heard an Amen from someone female.

Seriously though, while menstruation was, is considered unclean and for good reasons, I am convinced without a doubt that in this day and age, 21st Century and all, the reason anyone would consider the discussion about menstruation, tampon use versus sanitary pad use, between pubescent youth and responsible adults, would have nothing to do with the ‘uncleanness’ of menstruation.

I think, and until you prove me wrong, staunchly believe that the icky tampon taboo has much more to do with sexuality. Sexuality, which the 21st century ‘African’ strangely believes should never ever at all be mentioned.

You see, a tampon as opposed to a sanitary pad, requires a process that requires penetration into a woman’s body, in a process that faintly :) mimic sexual penetration. Because we have this unwritten rule that sex, grownups and teenagers should never ever be involved in one conversation, even if the conversation was to be formed with the sole purpose of educating and arming young persons with enough information such that they can make smart, informed choices.

In our defence, we always say, “We are African, it is not in our culture to discuss sex, or anything that has to do with sex.” And that is what makes us shove under the bed and refuse to discuss with our children everything that might be remotely related to sex; body changes, teenage infatuations, tampons, condoms…

It makes me mad. Plain face red mad. If my face could turn red that is.

African culture celebrated sexuality, assigning a full celebration of rites around ‘it’. When a girl reached puberty, she would go through education at the hands of the elder women at the end of which she would go through the rites of passage and become a ‘woman’. Talk about informed consent. Yeah, yeah, you are going to point at the circumcision that went with it. I am against genital mutilation. Just so we are clear. This article is not in any way an effort to make light of the brutal abuse that has caused pain for many young girls and women in Africa. But this article is all for the education that went with the rites of passage. I mean, how can you make a decision to be a woman without the information you need to make that decision?

So let’s go back to the thingy that started this all. The Tampon. At this juncture I might delve into my teen years, and an experience that very nearly jarred the bejesus out of me. The Bejesus remains in me, although a certain person who might be considered my boss has as of today Patented my insanity as his. Japanese Kiondos. Sorry, I digress.

Well, I was 15, maybe 16. Those who can remember me from back then will testify that I was a very ‘boyish’ girl. Arm wrestling when the teacher was out of class, rugby practice in a team with only one other girl, oh yeah, and sitting on the wall wolf-calling at the hot girls (Daddy, you shall not comment. Mum’s mouth is zipped. We are not going to discuss species, gender and confusion.) Oh dear, I have wandered off again, haven’t I?

Anyway, a few years before this particular incident I had hit menarche. I had been pre-informed by mum in the ‘talks’, so I was not really shocked about the blood. But I was surprised to find out that I was a girl after all. Mum was quick to explain that I did not have to stop climbing trees, although my brother strongly advised against it, since he ‘expected me to grow up and be worth some cows.’

Mum introduced me to Tampons. We did the read-up on how to use them, and how to look out for Toxic Shock Syndrome. And then she held my hand when I tried it the first time and there I was climbing trees, playing beach soccer, and sitting on the wall making wolf-calls, even on menstruation days. I had another separate conversation with the Principal about the possibility of extra fatigue if I went for rugby practice on the red days. So we found ways for me to have other priorities then.

And then came The Incident. After rugby practice, one late afternoon, I went to the changing rooms for a shower. While I was in there, the Home Science Teacher who was on discipline duty that week walked into the changing rooms. Just as she walked in, my box of tampons fell out of my school bag. I didn’t even think much of it, until she reached to pick it up, and then looked back at me with a frown.

“Are you a virgin?”

What? What do you mean ‘Am I virgin?’ I don’t even remember answering her. I do not think I answered her. And if I had, she probably would have died of stress related myocardia. Next thing I knew we had mum leaving her job to come for a PTA meeting. I think the situation would have deteriorated very fast if not for the Principal’s intervention. In retrospect, Ms. Lavingia rocked.

I can’t remember that Home Science teacher’s name. Mrs. Otieno, Mrs. Ochuodho, something like that. Anyway, the PTA meeting turned into a ‘let’s educate the damned home science teacher’ session including read ups on how the vagina naturally adjusts to the tampon, and how the reason for resistance might only be ‘fear clenching’. I was not embarrassed at all. But Home-science teacher could not believe we were talking about Vaginas in the presence of ‘the child’! Then she went on about destroying ‘the child’ by adopting European cultures by talking about sex. We were not talking about sex, just about the vagina, tampons, periods and adjusting to penetration. :)

So I remembered this incident a few days ago when someone decided to take a bashing on a kind mzungu who wanted to help collect and donate sanitary pads to poor Kenyan girls. The argument was tampons would be far much cheaper, and far much better for the environment, considering size, material and so on. At which point someone else, I think perhaps the kind mzungu, mentioned that Tampons are considered taboos by African women.

So here is my take on it, limited, since my insanity has been patented and I can therefore only use it with the very likelihood that I might be sued for copyright infringement.

Tampons are not the issue. Sex is. Sexuality is. (Honestly, judging from some people’s opinion, we should all not be alive, seeing how sex is such a bad thing) It shouldn’t be a problem but someone has perpetuated the idea that discussing sex and sexuality is a European thing. Wrong! It is not a European thing. If it was, there would not be any poor Kenyan to donate sanitary pads to. Now do not get me wrong, I have nothing against the kind mzungu. Remember that saying, ‘Mwacha mila ni mtumwa’? Well, that wise person should also have mentioned the consequences and absolute confusion of abandoning ‘all’ culture indiscriminately, and then trying to get back on the ox-cart. Seriously damaged home-science teachers.

So now, we are still having sex, but it is a bad bad thing and hush do not talk about it, or anything that has to do with it. Just use pads, which are generally uncomfortable, comparably expensive and do not ‘penetrate’. In the meantime, the same issues that have you accusing tampons of being taboos, will mean that more and more women are living unfulfilled sex lives, oh they do, cause the birth rate still has not dropped. It means that women will die of cervical and breast cancer. What didn’t you know breasts have everything to do with sex, and we do not dicuss sex, let alone go for pap smears or breast exams? I mean how can you let some strange doctor probe your ‘ladybits’? And did you know that quite a few gynaecologists are men?

Well, now, I guess what all this means is that we shall continue contributing to the environmental disaster, and continue dying of diseases that could be controlled and cured if caught early on. That’s our tampon taboo. Sigh.

© Juliet Maruru

Review: Monstrous Regiment

Monstrous Regiment
Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Spoilers ahead!

Appearances can be deceiving. Borogravia is a small country that gets into fights with any country it can get into a fight with, and most recently is a rather serious fight with Zlobenia.

Brogravians worship the deity Nuggan whose religion has as its main feature the Abominations; a long, often-updated list of banned things which include garlic, cats, the smell of beets, people with ginger hair, shirts with six buttons, anyone shorter than three feet,sneezing, rocks, ears, jigsaw puzzles, chocolate, and the colour blue.

Borogravians, finding the abominations rather restrictive, decide to deify their Duchess, who may or may not be dead and whose succession is at doubt but held quite strongly by one of her nephews Prince Heinrich.

Enter Polly, formerly a barmaid in her family’s Inn, also known as The Duchess. Polly joins the Ins-and-Outs military regiment of Borogravia, under the disguise of a young man so she can find her brother Paul who went off to fight against Zlobenia and has been MIA.

Calling herself, Oliver, known as Ozzie to her squad fellows, Polly discovers the twisting world of military politics. Her fellow soldiers include a vampire named Maladict, a Troll named Carborundum, and an Igor named Igor. They also include “Tonker” Halter, “Shufti” Manickle, “Wazzer” Goom, and “Lofty” Tewt.

Polly comes under the command of a bullying Corporal Strappi, and the mysterious Sergeant Jackrum. Strappi turns out to be a coward, disappearing when he is sent off to the front. Jackrum, though forcibly and honorably discharged, re-enlists and takes charge of the ‘little lads’. The regiment, under the leadership of their inexperienced commanding officer Lieutenant Blouse, makes its way toward the Keep where the enemy is based.

Standing up against the molesting Prince Heinrich of Zlobenia who is himself in disguise, Polly finds just a little more courage to stay in the war even as the newspaper man William de Worde tries to inform them that their side has pretty much lost the war. Lieutenant Blouse is determined to be a hero, inspite of Jackrum’s misgivings.

A few more problems arise as the Ins-and-Outs march on to the front, one of which is the disappearance of Maladict’s sanity coffee, without which Mal begins to experience contagious hallucinations. Wazzer has been having conversations with the quite possibly dead Duchess. There is also the little problem of the fact that everyone of Ozzer’s (Polly) squadron mates is actually a girl in disguise as a boy.

In the meantime, special envoy Commander Sam Vimes keeps an eye on Jackrum’s little lads through Angua the werewolf and Buzz the goblin. He even manages to miraculously provide coffee.

Jackrum’s ‘little lads’ are however tough enough to stick it through until they get to the ‘Keep’, where they have to face the challenge to get into the fortress and rescue Borogravian troops. Which brings up the little situation of a bunch of women, disguised as men, having to disguise themselves as women to get into the keep.

More politics arise when the little lads are found out. But the problem is not from the enemy, who is tricked into a truce. The problem arises from the ranks of the newly rescued Borogravian military who object to ‘women’ being in the military. Strappi reappears at this point, with the goal of punishing his former recruits for some perceived ill, mostly that of humiliation by Polly.

But Jackrum steps in with the political cards of cards! A number of the military brass have trained under Jackrum. But that is not all. They are women, living and fighting as men! In the middle of this revelation, the Duchess, now raised to the level of a small goddess by Borogravia’s belief, takes brief possession of Wazzer, her most passionate believer. The Duchess urges all of the generals to quit the war and return home, to repair their country, returning their kiss of service, and ending their obligation to her.

Polly is sent in as Peace Ambassador to the enemy, where she meets Commander Vimes. Once a truce has been negotiated, with several points of pride, Polly finds her brother Paul and returns home. But not before military rules are changed to allow women to serve openly as women.

As usual, Pratchett’s fantasy humour manages to reflect the social insanity of the real world in the most entertaining of creations!

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Review: Thud!

Thud!
Thud! by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Funny that I read this just when I was getting started on a project discussing propaganda sold as history, and history lost in hate.

So the trolls and the dwarfs hate each other because of a weird violent thing that happened thousands of years ago at Koom Valley. No one even knows who started the war, the battle or the hate that ensued. All everyone knows is DWARF HATE TROLL, TROLL HATE DWARF.

Enter Commander Duke Mr. Vimes, his lovely dragon raising wife Sybil, and cute little son Young Sam. Add in the usual cast Nobbs, Carrot, Detritus, Colon, and sprinkle in new cast Angua and Sally and you’ve got one story that needs a telling.

The death of Hamcrusher is shadowed by dark dwarves determined to hide a secret. This secret is related to the DWARF HATE TROLL, TROLL HATE DWARF history, but Vimes is having a hard time figuring it out.

I totally loved the part where Vimes stopped a violent riot by getting everyone so drunk they had no idea which way they were coming or going. Important thing is, there was no fight. But Koom Valley was still looming and in the spirit of DWARF HATE TROLL, TROLL HATE DWARF there could yet still be a battle.

The mysterious Mr. Shine, the dwarf king and Vimes and his crew find themselves on a race to figure out the SECRET and stop lots of people dying for no particularly good reason.

As usual, Ankh Morpork is one hell of a place to live and Terry Prachett is a master storyteller!

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Nothing but Fear Itself

Someone just told me: “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.”

It occurs to me that this applies to so many aspects of life that we all have to deal with. Fear moves us to do so many things; avoid pain by doing as much avoiding life completely, hurting others in an effort to avert our own hurt, giving up on dreams to avoid the pain of failure… I could keep going.

In my life, I have faced fear so great it has made freeze for a moment before I can gain the courage to act. That’s the thing about me, when I am afraid in the superlative sense, I freeze. The only time it may have been a good thing was when I came face to face with a cobra and my frozen fear gave someone the chance to scare the crawly monster away.

Last year, I was hit by a massive bout of depressive apathy. In hindsight that was a moment of fear so great that I convinced myself not to care about anything or anyone. Borne out of a series of disappointing episodes involving broken trust, friendships turned sour and a surprising discovery about myself, I froze. I remember only vaguely thinking that I couldn’t do anything that would put me in the same position of vulnerability to hurt, disappointment and uncontrolled anger.

In just a few months of being frozen in fear, I’ve lost out on so many wonderful opportunities. I regret that much more than any mistakes of judgement I could possibly have made.

Someone else who has been inspiring me lately said: If you can do one thing everyday, no matter how small, that scares you or challenges you, you are on the right track.

So here’s to diving into the really cold deep end of the pool. Okay, just sticking my foot in it. Yeah, just the toes.

 

Review: Going Postal

Going Postal
Going Postal by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think this is the Discworld novel I have enjoyed the most so far!

I am not a fraud, well, I possibly am, in that at one point in time I stood and looked at the rest of my life and thought: Well, I have no choice. I’m just going to make it till I die.

That’s Moist von Lipwig’s only choice, isn’t it? He didn’t have much of a choice. And then he found that he loved the only choice that he had. Which was to be a decent human being and a damned good Postal Master.

Of course, he could quit any time.

Terry Pratchett weaves this story in such a way that you smile even as you cringe. You fall in love with Lipwig, Ms. Dearhart, Stanley, Groat, even the Golem, Pump. You admire Vetinari and laugh at the wizards. But most of all, you pity Reached Gilt, because he as so out of his depths from the start!

And now, I must take a few minutes to return to the realworld :)

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Review: To See the Mountain and Other Stories : The Caine Prize for African Writing 2011

To See the Mountain and Other Stories : The Caine Prize for African Writing 2011
To See the Mountain and Other Stories : The Caine Prize for African Writing 2011 by The Caine Prize for African Writing
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Finally. 3 years later, I read this collection. Loved most of the stories.

A couple of the Workshop stories left me puzzled, not because the quality was below par but because I may have been a little slow to grasp the plotline. Or I was looking for plotlines where none were meant to be.

Enjoyed the read in two sittings. That means something.

Looking forward to rereading the 2014 Collection once it is published in print!

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The World You See

I spent a couple of hours with some young people this weekend and it got me thinking.

That statement is significant. The drug infusion didn’t go very well because someone screwed up and ended up giving me an overdose that left me puking my guts out for nearly three days. So being able to be outside my dark room and off my bathroom floor was pretty cool.

Then the really cool peeps I ended up spending time with in the name of ‘training’, happened to be very young. Maybe not young in experience but anyone on the -23 range counts as young to me these days. I feel old most of the times these days. Go to the gym and the young lady on the treadmill next to me hits 12 speed while I’m huffing at 6. Go to the supermarket and the kind till person smiles, ‘Hello mum, do you have a loyalty card?’ Okay, fine, I’m exaggerating. But I do have lotsa white hairs.

As to the thinking…

Anyway, the youth in the really cool peeps was evident in their ability to express ideas with such enthusiasm and hope, I found myself feeling a little peeved with myself for being so negative about some things. Sighed several times, ‘To be young again!’

One of the conversations we had was on the increase of narcissistic obsession. It’s all about me, I, mine… We are so focused on what’s good for me. Some schools of thought encourage psychopathic arrogance. You don’t have to be nice, just be good at what you do. Nice guys finish last. etc etc

Then we are shocked when killers kill – they are good at what they do, and definitely not nice about it. #Gaza #Westgate #Mpeketoni #Ukraine The Twitter hashtags abound to prove my point.

Look around you. How much narcissism do you see? Look at yourself. How many times do you put your needs ahead of the safety and well-being of others? In the way you drive, the way you grow the food you sell to consumers, the reports you hand in that affect that company you work for that supports 40 -100 employees, the policies you support, the politics you stand with…

Enthusiasm only comes in when I’ll be getting my way and gaining a lot from it. Hope is almost non-existent because I’m double sure my next door neighbour has just about the same amount of ill-will towards me as I have towards him.

I look at the people I work with and sometimes I am simply amazed by the sheer amount of politicking and scheming going on. What happened to doing your best and getting ahead by merit? Everyone assumes the other is out to get them and you’ve got an endless cycle of show downs. It generally exhausts me so I keep finding myself zoning people out and focusing on tasks, which isn’t easy because I have to pretend I’m working with a bunch of difficult AI. Reboot! Edit code!

I’ve caught myself saying more than once that I can’t deal with humans. Repeated the joke: “I used to be a people person, but people ruined it.” I hear my own narcissism in that.

I’ve watched with amusement as feminists and pseudo-feminists react to a certain ‘young lady’s’ articles on societal issues. A few years ago, I listened with amusement as people harped about the content of a certain radio presenter’s show. There was even talk – in both cases – of impressionable youth adopting the teachings perpetuated by these persons. Haaaarrr!

1. Words only have as much power as YOU give them. Emotionally/verbally abusive relationships destroy the victim only as long as the victim needs and seeks validation from the abuser.

2. Bad behaviour ignored, good behaviour rewarded. This kindergaten principle doesn’t always work, but it would definitely work if bad online behaviour was denied airtime/airplay and better /more useful content promoted. It isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

3. Humans have stopped thinking for themselves and will simply adopt other people’s thoughts. People go with the popular opinion.

I watched an Indian acquaintance declare that if you worked with Israelis, you would understand why Hitler threw them into the gas chambers. I wondered if he had even paused to consider what he was endorsing. I personally know a Kikuyu man who cheered at the brutal murder of an old Indian couple, because some other Indians he worked for were cruel employees. I bet you can add to these stories here.

We just don’t see each other as human beings. Africans see whites and either assume that all whites have money and ‘can help’ or that all whites have a ‘white-saviour complex’ or that all whites are racist pigs. The people from the other side either see ‘lazy niggers’, ‘what a gifted young man from Africa’, or ‘you are from Kenya, I have a friend in Nigeria, do you know him?’ Christian Kenyans see Muslim terrorists. Muslim Kenyans see hateful Christians. Kikuyu. Luo. Israeli. Palestinian. Just depends on which holy war you are fighting.

Like, I said, spending time with hopeful enthusiastic young people got me thinking. I didn’t say I found a solution. I don’t have a solution. But I know who does.

In the meantime, I’ll pop another pill and get me some sleep.