Last week one of my girls walked up to me and told me that she was not coming to the SCAB program anymore. My heart dropped.
“Why not?” I asked furtively. “Did I do something?”
“Oh no, Ms. Malaka.”
“Then why?” I pressed.
“I’ll tell you afterwards,” she promised.
I was on edge for the rest of the afternoon. A flurry of thoughts shrouded my mind concerning my teenaged student.
Oh God, I thought. She’s pregnant and is going to have an abortion, isn’t she? What else could it be?
The afterschool program ended and she had not come to seek me out. I found her chatting with some of her friends, and I pulled her aside.
“Eh heh! Why aren’t you coming anymore?” I demanded.
“Oh…it’s not like I won’t come again forever – just for a few days.”
Note to self: Remind self that ‘anymore’ in Africa usually means an extended period of time, NOT an infinite period of time.
“Oh. Okay,” I breathed, looking at her abdomen warily. “What’s keeping you away? Is anybody…sick?”
“I will be getting my period this week, and I don’t have money for Always,” she whispered. “I have to stay in the house and use rags…I won’t feel comfortable to come outside in rags.”
Oh!! So THAT’s what “on the rag” means! Because you’re literally…Oh, eww.
I broke into a grin. No one was going to die, and this was a problem that was easily fixable. She said she was going to ask one of the other instructors that she’s known longer if she could buy her some pads, but she felt awkward asking.
“I’ll tell you what, if you don’t gather up the courage to do it, then I’ll go get them,” I offered. “But I hope you DO gather the courage.”
I didn’t see her for 3 consecutive days after that conversation, so I guess courage failed her.
The first time I heard about this issue about girls missing school and other activities was from the Fabulous Akuba Sheen(!) on her blog a few years ago. I believe Always ™ had a commercial campaign during that time as well. Like if you bought 80 packages of Always they would donate 1 to one child in a village in Mobutou (or something) so that they wouldn’t miss out on school. The commercial featured a little girl in a hut, so I honestly (and naively) thought the issue only affected girls in the most remote portions of the world…like Mobutou – or something. Here I was, facing a real live global campaign issue! I felt like I was on the solution end of a UN crisis.
So today I went out to purchase a package of Always for my teen student; although her cycle has probably ended already. Why did I buy Always and not some weird, unfamiliar (albeit cheaper) South African/China brand? Because the only thing worse than being stuck at home, stuffing an old t-shirt between your legs in an attempt to pause ‘Mother Nature’s Flow’, is putting your faith in said cheaper sanitary towel, only to have it drop lifelessly (and soggily) from under your skirt as you skip off for a Spring outing with your friends.