How My First Period Snuck Up On Me 


How My First Period Snuck Up On Me 

It was a bright sunny Tuesday afternoon, and there I was, sitting for my KCPE 1Kiswahili paper. Time was ticking, literally, because I was sitting at the front row, with the classroom clock directly in front of me, emphasising the passing of every second with its ticking and tocking. That said, I was in no rush to scribble answers because this was Kiswahili, hands down my least favourite subject. I was blissfully shooting blanks  (no pun intended), you could say. 

The room was dead silent, the only sound heard being the relentless scribbling by the bookworms. This was it. The paper could essentially make or break me should I have failed to attain the necessary grade, and from the look of things, I was tanking. Then, from the back of the classroom, commotion broke out.

There were noises of desks being shoved aside and around, teachers rushing in. One teacher, as if knowingly, rushed with a bucket of water. Another brought a mug of water. A female student, pale as death itself, slumped over her desk. I couldn’t decipher whatever was happening, until I was brought back to my senses when I felt something completely strange was happening to me.

Initially, I thought my bladder had given in at my tender age of 13 and that I had wet my pants. I couldn’t stomach the thought, just as I couldn’t lose my cool. That afternoon, the role of damsel in distress was unfortunately already taken by my classmate, she-that-was-slumped-over-her-desk. I later learnt that the cause of the earlier pandemonium originating from the back of the classroom was she-that-was-slumped-over-her-desk’s menstruation, hers more public and severe than mine, making her my comrade in menstruation. 

So there I was, thinking how in the world was I going to get out of there with a patch I was now sure would broadcast to the world that I had wet my pants either due to my premature entry into old age or suggest my regression into kindergarten because Kiswahili had baffled me to the point of bladder failure? “Think!” I told myself. Then it struck me. I’d just wrap my sweater around my waist like we used to when we were ten. The clock struck midday, and time was up. This was it. “Keep calm, we’ll be fine,” I told myself. And calm I was as I made my way to the female student’s toilets, as if nothing was the matter. 

Then I saw it. Blood. My very first-ever ‘‘time of the month’’, a scene I had replayed many times in my mind seeing as I was among the late bloomers, how badly I had wanted them to come. And come they did, loudly, quickly, heavily. 

Panic surged through me as the realisation hit. I didn’t have a pad. What in the world was I supposed to do now? Back then, I was not as committed a scout as I am now, so the motto ‘‘always be prepared’’ had not yet been embedded in me.

Time was ticking. Breaktime was almost over, and I still had a bloody (again, puns unintended) Kiswahili insha to write. Such inconvenient timing – I would later on in life come to learn that inconvenience is my periods’ second name. 

Fortunately for me, there’s always that one girl in every classroom that’s always prepared. A human, mobile convenience store. If anyone could come to my rescue, it would surely be her. So I waddled to this beacon, a ship in the night in the hopes of getting to the warm glow of the lighthouse. “Hey Sheila, you don’t happen to have a pad, do you?” I meekly, humbly, urgently, quite deliriously asked. “No, sorry. I didn’t carry any today.” Today of all days! 

I was officially in my own little personal purgatory.

I had an hour. Less, even, before the end of breaktime; before I had to go and give a made-up hotuba as the pretend-governor of someplace on conservation or whatever it was. This was simply not the time. And so onward I went on my quest to find a saviour who would rid me of this misery. 

But alas, the search proved futile! Not even the teacher, for God’s sake, could save me. It was as though everyone had gotten the memo that it was the bank holiday version for menses, but mine had somehow missed the brief. I realised I had little choice. Once again, as I always had and have, I needed to rely on my mother to save the day. So I called her. And swoop in she did. We gave thanks. A girl could now peacefully sit for that dreadful insha.

I thought of this story one Saturday when I went for a pad drive at Kibiko Primary School in Ngong in the outskirts of Nairobi. I was there with the ‘THIS IS ME Community to donate sanitary pads to the many girls in need. As I handed out pads to those young girls, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own journey into womanhood, particularly the day my period caught me off guard during a crucial exam. It was a stark reminder that not every girl has the support system I was fortunate to have. I was therefore happy to be making one less girl miss school because of a lack of access to menstrual hygiene products in a country where approximately one million girls of school-going age miss an average of four school days each month, a staggering reality exacerbated by the insidious problem of period poverty. 

The shame that surrounds this topic is enough to send a girl over the edge. Lack of awareness and education on menstruation compounds the problem. In some areas, girls resort to sharing used sanitary pads due to the unavailability of proper products, exposing them to the risk of diseases and infections. The implications of this issue are severe, extending beyond missed school days to societal exclusion, taunts, mockery, and even sexual harassment.

As I engaged with these young girls, I realised the depth of the issue. In some parts of the country, girls are forced to squat in makeshift holes during their periods, missing precious hours of education. Others endure unrelenting cramps and the stigma associated with being perceived as unclean. Imagine facing these challenges without the luxury of changing a pad every four hours, as recommended for proper health and hygiene. 

This isn’t just my story. It is a shared narrative of countless girls battling the same struggles. It is a call to action for awareness, education and support. Organisations such as THIS IS ME Community and others strive to make a difference, and you too can. Whether it is through donations, volunteering or initiating your own drives, every effort counts. Period poverty is a pressing issue, and together, we can alleviate its impact on the lives of young girls.

 Views expressed here are anecdotal, and aren’t an endorsement.

  1. Kenya Certificate of Primary Education ↩︎


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