Same Shame Everywhere

I studied in a second shift school, which basically means that the campus and resources of a mainstream school are used to educate children from less fortunate backgrounds. I used to be a house captain in school and quite honestly, I took up that responsibility to feel a little more powerful and also to be able to bunk classes in the pretence of encouraging my housemates as they practiced for inter-house events and other unimportant meetings.

One day, our teacher asked all the badge holders to do a sudden checking of everyone’s bag to see if anyone was carrying a cell phone. I got really excited about it because I would be checking others’ bags and no one would be checking mine because I am a house captain! These little moments were my cheap thrills back in my school days.

Anyway, as I began thoroughly checking one bag after the other, the last bag that I spent time on that day has left a deep impact on me. That particular girl looked awkward as I went ahead and opened her bag. Her bag had a horrible stench and I was wondering why, till I opened the zip in the back pocket and it seemed like an ugly odor punched my face. I spread the section out, only to notice a few used sanitary napkins stuffed inside it. I think I saw insects or worms wriggling out of it, probably they were maggots or maybe they were flying snakes! I shrieked with disgust and announced immediately to the class how disgusting this girl had been for filling her school bag up with used sanitary napkins and even scolded her for not maintaining basic hygiene. The entire class laughed at her and the teacher added on with her scolding. Within the next few days this incident was discussed by all teachers and girls in the senior school. She was ridiculed and her sanity questioned. I really did not see anything wrong in it till one day a dear friend of mine shared how this girl used to be the best debater in her house and it was strange to see how someone so articulate, smart and confident could do such a thing. I never really paused to understand why this happened. That girl had started missing school more regularly after that and even on the days she came, I couldn’t really muster up courage to apologize to her and the most I could do was that every time someone brought up this incident to laugh at her, I would distract them into another topic.

I had never spoken about this incident with anyone till we had our story circle for the creation of this series. The question that I was not able to ask that girl, I asked the others in the room as to why this would have happened and one after the other girls started sharing the immense amount of shame that they experience while going to buy a sanitary napkin and even worse when they go to dispose of one after use. Someone shared how she waited in the toilet for about fifteen minutes, for her uncle, who was sitting right outside, to move away so she can walk out with the napkin wrapped in newspaper and how she ultimately had to hide it in her clothes to bring it out and then go back to take another shower. There were girls who had kept disposable pads wrapped in newspapers hidden inside their bag because a brother, even though a younger one, or an uncle or just about any other male family member happened to stand a little distance away from the bin.

Hearing each of their stories made me feel heavy in my heart and a lot more guilt on how my mindless reaction might have scarred another girl for life. We obviously never kept in touch, but if you happen to be reading this, I want you to know that I am deeply sorry.