Last week i lost someone close to my heart.She was Aids orphan i knew her since 2012. She was a good fighter,Leader, Wise and a kind person .We kept contact via WhatsApp and some times we would talk things related to our Hiv or She would ask me things related to sexual health reproductive. I remember telling her the big news about U=U which means Undetectable Equals Untrasmitable .That she should not be scared of falling in love because of her Hiv status. She died at age of 20 so you understand why some times we need to talk more grown up stuff. I was like her big sister although she was calling me "Mom" well almost same generation of my daughter who is turning 16th . Do I keep on asking myself how can someone so young leave ?Well i guess that's life. I will miss her dearly!
While thinking about my dear friend I found myself in my childhood memories which would like to share here.
I was born in Mulira Village(Gihanga)Burundi , I am from a family of 10 children(4brothers and 6 sisters).I was the young one.So I always had my 5 big sisters to take a care of me. I never really sat down to be spoilt as I enjoyed playing outside with other children across the street.
We fetch water at Ninga River , I did not need to do it at age of 4 or 5 like most children because i had big sisters to help my mother out.I did not need to go in forest to get dry woods to use for cooking ,my big sisters always did that. But some stage ,I wanted to do it. I found very interesting how all girls and big the"mamas" (the name given to the older women)gathered in one house for one night and sometimes earlier around 4h O'clock in morning they would go to the forest the whole day to fetch woods.(GUSENYA) That was a safe place to learn about Sexuality.
At young age i had questions at age of 12.I wondered why some of my others sisters were married and i was left with one big sister.I also wondered why my mother never forced me to go wood fetching (Kuja gusenya)in the forest.It was later that I discovered that my mother was protecting me from hearing all kinds of sex related stories preached in the forest.
On my street ,there was this girl Mukeshi I used to play with every day. We once talked about going together to fetch the wood.She was allowed by her mother to go so I told my mother I am sleeping at her place because we like to talk all night fables stories. My mother knew that i love fables stories where i learn more about our Burundian culture and history and so she granted my request.
So we sneaked around and went to this house where all the girls and big "Mamas"gathered . It was a big moment for me. My ears were so sharp I wanted to hear everything. As teenagers , we were not allowed to ask ,not allowed to tell anything we heard in Forest. WE SWORE TO KEEP SECRET.
The big girls talked about getting menstruations (UBUTINYANKA) , how much it hurt.How many days they menstruate. Another one will talk about their first time having sex,the big mamas will talk the stories of their men in bed. Believe me some stuff was very heavy to my ears. Little girls had no voices. We only listen and no questions .When i heard the word"Menstruation" I knew this must happen to me at some stage. But I could not ask what to do or when I have pain,what i should do ?or if I could go to the clinic.
All were stories heard in the forest and i was not even going to ask my mom, I was afraid she will find out I went to the forest without her permission. I did not want to disappoint her. All i have learned remain my secret. Next step i did was observing the big girls at my school at end of month when the cycle starts. I observe how most of them having kaki skirt wrappen a cloth around their waist to cover the blood stains that spoiled their skirt as a result of their menstruation. Or you see they go with a wet piece of cloth cleaning the chair where they sat. Then i knew that the girl has menstruation .
I did not learn from school, neither did i learn from my big sister, nor learn from my mother. I found out my own way everything I learned about puberty and sexuality ,these were things considered as "Taboo" in my community. What heard from Forest must stay in the Forest"Ivyavugiwe mu Rusenyero biguma mu Rusenyero"
At age of 13 when i had not yet menstruated ,I found myself worried, started to blame myself. I thought because I was playing more boys games, climbing trees, playing football, fishing with boys from my neighborhood. I was not thinking of any gender. Being a girl of the boy did not matter to me .All i wanted was just being me and doing what i like to do. I was lucky my father never stopped me. He was happy because I was the best at school. But still the story of getting menstruation as a girl never stop ringing in my head. I remember trying to bring up the conversation with my mother by asking her how she met my father.But she told me briefly that they met in Muramvya in Kiganda Ngara market ,and they relocated together in Gihanga. But she did not want to go into details .She said when is your time to get married I will tell you many things .Now you are too young to know useful stuff.
When i turned 15 i got my first menstruation. My mother was so happy to learn that i have menstruated. She considered me as a Big girl and from that day she started telling me all i needed to know as young woman.She started telling me how long she has been waiting for this to happen! I asked her why she never explained this to me before so that when it comes it's no surprise to me. She explained she did not see it 's very necessary to talk about some issues while I am still young. I decided to open up about going to the forest to find out some stories about young girls. That this was one of the topics. That i am glad i knew a little about girls having blood coming from nowhere. She was surprised and a bit angry but in end she forgave me . She said "From now on ask anything you want to know I will tell you" Since then till she died 04 september 1999 we could talk about many things deemed as taboo topics between me and her.
Back to Sexual health education .A lot of girls in my villages went through the same situation. Still today we don't talk about sex, contraception ,reproductive health for young woman, no Hiv and Aids program was available at school .
Now we do not use the old system for fetching wood in the forest so then a young girl can hear about sexuality. This method is no longer applicable for certain circumstance due to security reasons.You never know what can happen in forest nowdays.
Education is the Key ,my wish is to educate those vulnerable people ,and talk about all taboo things .
Girls in villages matters!
We can make a big step!
With positive mind