Writers Space Africa-Rwanda
Creative non-Fiction Issue 2 Umukarago

Red and Pain – Gisele Umurungi

When I was young, my favourite colour was red. I thought that red symbolised a heart full of love, a dawn that exhibits another chance to reflect on life, and transformation, among other things. That was before I saw a red tint on my aunt’s skirt, which formed a map-like delineation. I realised there was more to red, especially when it comes to girls and women. To them, ‘RED’ is an acronym for Real Endless Danger. It is a sign that trouble is approaching.

In 2021, one of my male friends asked me if I had any chronic diseases or phobias. I responded, “Yes,” and from there, I narrated my ill-fated story about periods (menstruation or menses). I told him how I felt something unusual in my lower abdominal cavity when I was 11. It was as if there was a knife piercing my visceral organs. I told Mom about it, and she said that perhaps I had eaten something bad. She would never believe that I had my first period. It kept hurting, and all of a sudden, I felt wetness in my pants. My demeanor displayed both surprise and irritation. I rushed to the toilet, and when I reached there, all I could see was red. From then on, I realised that life was not going to be the same.

Have you ever heard a girl screaming in pain as if she were bitten by a venomous snake? Or have you ever seen a woman vomiting and sweating as if her red blood cells were bursting? Or if you are a man, have you ever noticed that sometimes your wife loses appetite and all she wants are hot drinks? These may sound like the symptoms of numerous diseases, but they can also be the side effects of menstruation. This red hooligan can change an annoying extrovert into a cold, shy introvert. It can turn a foodie like me into an anorexic. That is why sometimes I am as lively and playful as a kitten, and other times I am feeble like a reed. 

According to science, menstruation is the shedding of the uterine lining and tissues inside the uterus, and it is supposed to help in the growth of a baby that the woman’s body is expecting. And this happens in the absence of fertilisation. But to me, menstruation is the monthly pain that comes with chills, sweats, and nausea, resembling malaria paroxysms. It is a red pet that bites in a way that only I can see and feel. It is a knife that pierces my insides and sends out blood through my genitals.

“Do not use painkillers; they are bad for your health.” That’s what “everyone” says. I respond with a proverb, Agahwa kari ku wundi karahandurika, which translates to ‘A thorn that is inside one’s body is pluckable.’ 

I remember one day when I woke up sweating and gasping for air. It was as if I were lying in a blood bath. My body was in so much pain that I could barely move. I looked at my phone only to find out that it was still 5 a.m. I crawled to the table and drank a cup of water, expecting to feel better. However, the pain didn’t stop, and I started vomiting. A few hours later, I decided to walk to the bathroom to take a shower. On my way, I collapsed, and Mom decided to take me to a gynecologist. I don’t know what they injected into me. All I remember is that I woke up with no more pain. From then on, I decided to take painkillers whenever I felt my period coming. 

You might think that I am crazy, but I am only stating facts. I know that some of my friends experience immense pain during their periods. When Divine Avia, one of my friends, wrote about menstruation, she called it ‘Moon’. One would have expected to read a beautiful poem about the moon, but all the piece portrayed was pain and agony caused by menses. Another friend of mine nicknamed it ‘Our Pet’ in a poem where she compared it with a dog that bites its owner. All this evidence shows that this ‘red monster’ is determined to kill women alive. 

They say that it’s important for a woman to have periods, but what is the role of periods? When I ponder, I only find that menstruation is a sign of the body’s pointless protest. The body makes all sorts of substances as a part of its preparation for a baby. After a long time of expecting and working hard for a baby, the body gets a ‘no’ from the owner. No sexual intercourse, no fertilisation, no baby. After this turnoff, the body gets disappointed and decides to expel everything. That makes me say that menstruation was the body’s mistake from the beginning. Who told ‘it’ that I was going to have a baby? I suffer the consequences of something I didn’t cause.

On September 18, 2023, I passed by Nyabugogo bus park and saw a middle-aged woman caressing her lower abdomen. Her forehead was covered by sweat, her eyes were releasing tears, and her legs were trembling. When I looked at her, I could sense that she was in pain. Her male colleague approached her and asked what was wrong, but, as expected, the woman didn’t tell him the truth. It was as if something that was causing the pain was more like a sin she committed because she felt embarrassed. When I reached out to her, she asked, “Why would he have time to listen to this bullshit?” Listening to what this woman said, I felt shocked and intimidated. Why would a woman feel so embarrassed to let out her pain? 

Menses are a sign of femininity and fertility, which could be taken as a crown that women wear. Yet for some reason, women always feel so ashamed to speak about it. They may endure extreme pain but still say nothing. This may have arisen from the fact that some people or cultures take menses as a shameful taboo, as a small study entitled Menstruation Practice among School and Out-of-School Adolescent Girls in a Rural Area in Laos (Savannakeht) found.  

Even if people’s perspectives about menses have created a discomfort zone for women, menses are not something that one should criticise. I believe that menstruation and its cramps are just like any other unfair part of the double-edged-sword world. Women and the whole world should be aware of and accept the fact that menses are an unchangeable part of life. Thus, menses and their cramps should be discussed and shared openly and boldly. 

Featured image by 8Photo via Freepik

Gisele Umurungi is a passionate writer of fiction and non fiction. She is med graduate who enjoys reading romance genre. She is also a foodie and a lover.

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