Akual Awer is a student based in Nairobi, Kenya. Originally from Renk, South Sudan, Akual contributed to our Everywhere, Period series, where we’re aiming to demystify periods everywhere.
How old were you when you first had your period and what was the experience like?
I had just turned 14, it was on December 22. Honestly speaking, it came as a surprise to me. I remember walking out of the house with a clean pair of either white or pink shorts—I don’t remember the color; however, the stain was so visible. For close to two years I had been learning about periods from different sources but I had expected it to come in high school. Fortunately for me, I was well informed. After my moment of surprise I knew what to do next so I ran home, where, luckily, there were pads.
In your community is there much weight given to a girl getting her periods? Any ritual or tradition?
One thing for certain is it is considered a step into maturity. A girl who has had her periods is mature enough in the eye of the community. When a girl gets her period a celebration is held and a goat is slaughtered, which is to celebrate her growth into a woman. This gathering is mainly women. Our community is a patriarchal one and some things are considered private so something like a period wouldn’t be on display for men. However, it did mean that a new woman was introduced to the community.
Do you remember the first product you used to manage your period?
Yes—it was the Always sanitary pad.
How has your experience with your period change over time?
As I grew up, my period became much more painful and at a point unbearable. About three years into my period I reached the point where I was unable to sleep, walk, or even sit. The cramps were horrendous. However, as time passed it became slightly more bearable, mainly because I found a painkiller called Ponstan that works perfectly with my pain. It works magic. I can say that my period change has been notable in my stages of growth.
Have you tried or do you use different products to manage your period?
I have tried different products and I now have my preferences. I have tried Always, Kotex, Maxi, Cinderella, and OBs.
Do you have any special ritual, like a hot bath, using essential oil or eating certain food during the week that your menstruating that manage your period?
Honestly speaking, I do not. In the beginning I used a hot water bottle to reduce the pain but with time I’ve come to rely on walking or exercise and keeping myself distracted. When it comes to food I definitely try as hard as I can to avoid giving in to my cravings, which doesn’t always work. In addition to that I try to eat more greens, iron-rich foods, and foods that increase blood supply.
Do you have any advice for a girl starting her period?
First, there is no need to be scared. It is a natural bodily function that proves you are a woman. It might not necessarily be pain-free but it is beautiful. Sometimes stains happens but it should not destroy you. Whether or not people choose to believe you, it does come with hormones that can sometimes mess with your emotions. Therefore, you are not losing your mind, you are just becoming a woman. With time you will learn to deal with your emotions. Cravings are real, so if one day you wake up craving boiled potatoes and a tomato, your taste buds are not playing a trick on you. OK fine, you might not necessarily crave that, but you get my drift. Your period will sometimes frustrate you and you will question why you need to go through this every month, but sometimes we really do not have the answers to all our questions. You need to embrace the beauty behind the red stain.
Take care of yourself because during your menstruation period there can be foul smells that can build up if you choose to be carefree. Eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, especially green ones. You are losing blood so it’s good to keep the supply coming. My advice is cocoa makes the flow grow. Chocolate is sweet but it increases the flow. I would not necessarily say do not eat it; however, do not have so much. Last but not least, be happy, smile, laugh, and dance because your menstruation is proof of the magnificent dynamics of the woman’s body.