I’m going to tell you this story in the strictest confidence. You must promise to keep it between you and me! Deal? Great.
I didn’t have my first pap smear until I was 27 years old.
I need to call up my OB/GYN and schedule an appointment to celebrate our tenth anniversary. After all, this is the same man who once said with no small hint of admiration that I had “a uterus of steel”. How apropos is it that I should be writing to tell you about my lady bits on this era marked by the giving of tin gifts? Anyhow…
I didn’t have my first pap smear until I was 27 years old because there was no such thing as “vaginal health” when I was coming up in Ghana. If you wanted a healthy vagina, you kept your legs closed to boys, and the rest would take care of itself. Miraculously, as three secondary school boys who served as my boyfriends will tell you, I failed to follow this advice and managed to escape the ravages of a ruined vagina nonetheless. How then was I to ever suspect that there was a foe more treacherous than an erect penis and squirting seminal fluid, and that I would eventually succumb to its power?
You’re curious, aren’t you? For what could be more dreadful to a girl under the age of 20 than a rogue penis? I will tell you now: that thing is moisture. Yes! Moisture! While this element is great for a black woman’s hair, it wreaks havoc on the nether regions of ALL woman kind. But I didn’t know this, because again, vaginal health…or even peeking at one’s own vagina…is not something that Ghanaian girls of my generation did (or would openly admit to doing).
In 1997 I was a freshman at Hampton University in Virginia. Although I had lived in America when I was younger, I was the ultimate JJC. My pants were too short, my clothes were too “ethnic”, my accent was weird and I had no idea how anything worked. I was shocked and pleased to discover that I could go back to the food counter multiple times to get my fill of sugary sodas and sweet, creamy deserts. Ahaaa. You’ve figured out what comes next. Don’t spoil it by interrupting! Just wait.
I quickly packed on 40 lbs (18 kg) in my first year. With my new girth, of course I needed new clothes, and naturally I needed new underwear. I took the opportunity to purchase myself something “grown up”, a departure from the small girl panties I had been handed my whole life while living in Ghana. I left Wal-Mart one spring afternoon with an assortment of satiny undergarments in every color of the neon rainbow. The brand was Vassarette. I remember it clearly. One never forgets the name of the whore who inflicted so much pain upon one’s flesh.
If you know anything about the Tidewater area, you know it’s humid. Humidity, in fact, is Tidewater Virginia’s mascot. Humidity is everywhere in the spring and summer months in Virginia, and everywhere included the now clogged space between my thighs. Combined with my new diet of sugar, sedentary lifestyle and “satin” Vassarette panties, fungus found a happy home in my tulips. I began to itch, and uncontrollably so.
Then came the burning.
Next came an opaque discharge.
Then came the smell.
Sweet heavenly Jesus! Had I not just given my life to Christ? What was happening to me? Could anyone else see/smell/know what was going on with me? Had I offended God in some way? I was no longer sexually active in this new country…could it be He was finally punishing for my misdeeds from years past? You know how it is with we Africans – bad things only happen because we have done wrong and God is exacting His revenge for your transgressions. My mother was right: I had left Islam and now Allah was having it out with me.
For two weeks I took scalding hot, extra-long showers with the hope that water could cure whatever it was going on between my legs. It didn’t. I tossed medicated powder on my mound with regularity. The minty sensation was pleasant for the first 5 seconds before eventually giving way to an intense and painful burn as the medicine found its way into the cracks of my chafed skin. I was sure one of these akata girls had given me something. I looked at each of them with suspicion. Yes…they had to be to blame! I offered anyone a mistrusting glance whenever I was greeted in the hall. Their witchcraft was powerful indeed.
Finally, (and I can’t recall who) someone stopped me as I trudged slowly to class and asked, “Malaka. Why are you walking like that?”
I had been in pain for so long that I had to confide in someone. I described my symptoms to this person whom I’d obviously trusted and who obviously cared enough to ask about the genesis of my odd gait, now resigned that this was to be my new lot in life: to stride around my campus, buttocks bent outward and legs slightly akimbo because it was the only way to achieve some sort of reprieve.
This kindly soul explained that I had a yeast infection. In fact, she had had one a few weeks prior herself.
“Get some Monistat and it should clear it up in a week,” she said. “I got some from the student clinic. It was practically free.”
The student clinic? Oh no, no. I couldn’t go there. Only bad boys and girls with gonorrhea went there. I heard one of the nursing students say so. If someone say me coming out of there, I would never live it down. Instead, I took what few dollars I had on me and went back to Wal-Mart and spent a fortune on Monistat. It was money well spent if it kept people from thinking I had gonorrhea.
I have never worn Vassaretta or gorged on cheesecake since.
*This is the third post in the seven day #YourTurnChallenge