Monday, March 7, 2011
The Red Tent by Nilima Raut - Nepal
NILIMA RAUT from NEPAL is currently working on her masters in Mass Communication and Journalism. She is a member of Rotaract and has served rotaract as Vice President, President and currently Public Relations Officer for the Rotaract Club of Charumati District Committee 3292 Nepal. She won the ‘MISS ROTASIA 2010’ award in the south Asian rotaract conference, held in India. She is also a voice of our future correspondent for 2010. Nilima was recently selected as an OUTSTANDING CANDIDATE to represent NEPAL at the One Young World conference, taking place in September 2011 in Switzerland (www.oneyoungworld.com). The conference is described as "the premier global forum for young people of leadership calibre. It manifests the reality of common humanity and the shared existence of all the peoples in one world, Its purpose is to connect and bring together the youngest, brightest and best and to ensure that their concerns, opinions and solutions are heard.
She is looking for sponsorship to cover the 3,000 Euro tuition. You can support Nilima to represent Nepal in OYW conference by making donations, the best way to do that is WESTERN UNION and IME. Please email her at email@example.com for enquiries. Feel free to tell her Art By Mia (Mia) sent you.
The Red Tent by Nilima… Nepal
Going to school was tough at that time due to the cold temperatures. Snowy in the winter season, there were hardly very hot temperatures even in the summer. This mountain area called Dolakha is where I was born. I developed my first crush on one of the mountains called Mt. Gaurishankar on a beautiful morning when the sunshine kissed the mountain and it glowed like heaven as I had heard in legendary stories about it. Named after the Gauri-goddess and Shankar-god from the Hindu religion, Climbing this mountain is prohibited because of religious beliefs and respect. But every time I went close to the mountain or saw its heavenly view, I imagined hugging it.
Imaginations and dreams were part of my life when I was growing up. However, as I got older, I noticed changes occurring in my body and this was a very weird experience for me. It was shameful for me to ask my parents about these physical changes and even my mom never told me exactly what would happen in my body as I matured. Back then, our culture didn’t allow us to talk freely about physical bodily changes, or reproductive or sexual health; even now, the custom remains in my country.
Due to cold my cheeks were redder than usual on this particular day; I was 12 at the time. Feeling some strange pain in my belly, I also felt like my underwear smelled. I still remember this day! I was wearing yellow underwear and later at home, I observed a red color on them. At first, I thought it was a stain I may have gotten while playing. Then I started thinking bad thoughts—maybe I had stomach cancer or an intestinal wound and maybe it would cause death. I was trembling with fear seeing strange things in my life. I couldn’t be sure that it was menstruation because our woman elders used to say, “Nachhhunu bhayapachhi nidharma tika lagchha.” This means we get a mark on our forehead when we have our first menstruation. I didn’t see any mark on my forehead. To this day, I am not sure why they say it like that. I was too afraid to tell my mom so I wore three trousers and went to school. The whole day I was nervous thinking of the heavy bleeding. I didn’t know anything about menstruation, except that my mom would not touch anything for five days each month.
The Nepali word for menstruation is nachhunu which means untouchable. It means while we are menstruating, we are considered untouchable or impure for five days and everything we touch becomes impure. When we have our first menstruation, we are not allowed to touch any males (including our father and brothers) and are not allowed to enter the kitchen or prayer rooms for 22 days. We also have to use separate utensils. Further, looking in the mirror during menstruation is considered bad luck. Our culture has the superstitious belief that menstruation is the punishment of sins from our previous lives.
So when our house maid noticed the blood on my dress after I came home from school, she immediately told my mom. They packed some of my dresses and told my dad to go out of house so that I couldn’t see him. I went with our house maid to her home which was approximately 1 ½ hours away. While there, I was given a dark room with no sunlight and given one plate and glass to use for eating. People said to me, “timi aba thuli bhayau” which means now I am grown up. Ohh! Now, grown up means I had to be careful from then on not to play with male friends, not to stay out too long, not to go out often or at all. I used to cry when I was alone for being grown up—all coming from this one simple, natural physical change in my body. I hated that blood which made this sudden change. At the time, I had to use rags because I didn’t even know there were things like sanitary pads. Using rags was unhygienic and I was also unaware of how to wash them carefully. Days were so hard; all of the restrictions were the worst part. On “those days,” I was kept away from school and feared what questions my friends and teachers would ask. I saw many of my friends miss school during their menstrual periods; I also saw some friends get married after they started menstruating because they were now considered “grown up” in my culture.
I was supposed to stay away from my home for 12 days but luckily my mom allowed me to come back on the seventh day. That day, I was given new cloths and new things. I entered our home after they sprinkled gold water (they put gold in water, as it is believed to be pure). I was told that I shouldn’t touch my dad for 22 days. This was extremely challenging because I was always “Daddy’s Little Girl” and couldn’t imagine not talking to or hugging my dad. I cried a lot and hated being grown up. Many people stared at me and scolded me, telling me it was a sin. This depressed me for a long time after that.
There are many cultures in Nepal. Some of them treat menstruation in a good way and some of them treat it as if it is a big curse(more in the eastern part). The majority of girls learn about menstruation from their mothers, sisters and girl friends but what happens when they don’t know about menstruation hygiene? And what happens when they have knowledge, but they lack proper facilities for their hygiene? As a result, some of them suffer from depression and some get various infections. Many girls prefer to stay home during this time, which leads to their poor school performance.
My parents were unaware of this and I am sure they didn’t do it intentionally. But I had to aware them about it so my younger sisters didn’t pass through the same condition. And I am spreading awareness on the same through rotaract. I am proud to be in Rotaract (sponsored by rotary club of Charumati) and one of our recent projects was a Girls Toilet Project for which I am a coordinator, funded by the Matilda Bay-Australia Rotary Club. We have completed the project and I am currently working voluntarily in that school to raise awareness on menstruation hygiene, as well as other basic teenage problems. This is the first step of a big mission of mine! I am still learning and seeking new ways and ideas to include both genders. And I am happy that young girls don’t have to suffer in the same way I did in my early days of menstruation.
It depends upon how different cultures practice menstrual hygiene. But it is a very important part of health education like other major health issues without which woman empowerment is incomplete. It’s only possible to increase menstruation hygiene when not only health officers but teachers and parents play a vital role in transmitting a message of proper menstrual hygiene. This wouldn’t only save girls from many health hazards but would break the barrier to their regular school attendance. And we can play a most significant role through communicating with each other to create safe menstrual hygiene in our families and in our communities.
This is where the woman empowerment begins…
Thank you Nilima for being a Goddess Warrior and sharing your VOICE!!!
We RISE as One VOICE!