One time when we were living in Toronto, my beloved sister from Sri Lanka and her family invited us over for cake. I asked her whose birthday it was. "It is no birthday. Tabitha is now a big girl and we want to celebrate it".
When we walked over, I looked at this skinny girl Tabitha and wondered why she was suddenly a big girl.
The mother proceeds to tell all of us that Tabitha had become a woman and seen the moon. OMG. This could not be possible. A culture which celebrates a girl going into menstruation. I then looked at our little girls and knew what would become of them.
You see, if you do not understand why Dr. Stella Nyanzi is fighting for pads for Ugandan kids, you need to know how Ugandan parents raise their kids.
Our family invented sticky notes on the fridge before yellow sticky notes were invented. We always had to write a list of everything Mzee had to buy on his way home from work. And he always bought everything on the list.
Then one day it happened. He calls from work demanding to talk to Leah. I go to the phone and he is half barking and this is a man who could never raise his voice except when talking to me because I always had it coming. "Leah Makhame, what is that last item on the list?". Always be scared when your parents call you by both names.
Father, I need sanitary pads. I think my period has come. SILENCE. He then says "Let me call Tabitha at campus (Makerere) to be sure. I was then thinking "oh this is great because at least my sister will tell him to buy those things because I think she will even tell me how to use them". So I waited for him to drive to Makerere and take my sister to Wandegeya and buy for me what I absolutely needed.
For about 3 months, I was having a lot of stomach pains. I told everyone that my belly ached. No one paid attention. But one time my sister asked me to explain and show where it hurt and said she did not think it was from me eating green mangoes (which was always the cause of my stomach pains). I explained that the pain was in my lower abdomen and the back but mostly in between both locations and I promised not to eat any more green mangoes. AND I had not eaten any. So this call of why I was suddenly in pain was already noticed by the family doctor. Epigastric pains are not like the menstruation pains. I know. They are like child labour.
Hope against all hope, mzee did not drive to Makerere to get my sister Tabitha. On his way from work, he stopped in Nakawa and came home with a box of pads. We were living in Mbuya then and with no mothers but the good thing the pack had instructions and that is how it all ended up well. For some reason, he even gave me aspirin.
As the gods would have it, this silliness came monthly. Sometimes mzee lost track and used to write a note "WHEN?".
I now look at Ugandans who make jokes about Stella and her pads for all girls and wonder how they cannot understand this. I only got my period when I was 16yrs old and in secondary school (yeah, late bloomer). Kids now get periods as young as age 9 and then have to suffer the shame of not having the necessary to deal with it. And then a full president is aware of the problems of why girls drop out of school, promises them pads and then buys bullet proof things and CCTV cameras instead of the basic things to keep the girls in school.
Do you think that Mama Janet Kataha Museveni would send her daughters to St. Mary's Namagunga without pads? But what if she was like my mothers in the village who could not afford it? What if father could not afford them pads? Then I would also be joining Stella's campaign to supply pads for all the girls in Uganda!
Fast forward. Our youngest daughter is a little monster in her own way. She wrote on the fridge note "Dad, please buy pads. Also, buy a lot of them. We are all getting our periods". It was a humbling moment when their dad returned home with 4 packs of pads. He will live to tell this story. He was in the line up with all the pads at the cash out. Some guy asked him why he had all those things. His reply "try to have 4 daughters and a mother and you will know why I am buying them!".
It is not so much that women tend to marry the men who most remind them of their father and men marry women who most remind them of their mothers. It is rather because when men do not accept the fact that women suffer 4-7 days a month and the least you can do is buy them chocolate and dot all over them, then God will punish you and give you only daughters. The men who marry women who remind them of their mothers are also looking for that loving woman like their mother and then they will treat her like the mom who raised them.
All Ugandans need to join Dr. Stella Nyanzi in her drive to put the pads in every classroom. Maybe some of you are already there but be assured that the reason why the Pad Revolution is overtaking the #AprilRevolution is because the need is much more urgent.
The First Lady will join this campaign because Stella has now revealed the truth which always wins.
PERIL OF AFRICA