Monday, April 29, 2019

Talking about the Unspeakable

Annamaria on Monday

We are all thrilled and have been bragging about and congratulating our blogmate Sujata Massey for winning the Mary Higgins Clark Award.  It's a great achievement for any novelist.      But it is even greater in this case.  Sujata did it AND she did so with a novel that discusses a topic no one talks about: menstruation.

Yes, my friends, I am saying that word - the one no one says in public - right here on MIE, in front of all of you.  Sujata's book brings up the topic in connection with the inhumane way menstruating girls and women were treated in early Twentieth Century India.  By caging them.  Not in the Middle Ages.  Less than a hundred years ago.

In many places - to this day - menstruating girls are isolated, considered filthy.  Orthodox members of major religions consider them literally untouchable.

Yet this taboo - as a subject AND as a process - is an essential part of human reproduction. If your mother had never menstruated, YOU WOULD NOT BE HERE!

Yes, now I am shouting and talking about your mother.

Women through the ages have greeted the arrival their monthly bleeding with glee if they did not want a baby, or tears if they were longing for a child.  This part of the cycle of human reproduction often comes with quite a lot of pain.  Certainly with inconvenience and discomfort.

Now for some good news.  This nice story about menstruation began when I met my friend Sarah Lesiamito, a Samburu-Maasai teacher, working in a remote part of Northern Kenya.  She has mounted a singled-handed effort to save the girls in her tribe, especially her students, from circumcision and forced early marriage.  To do this, she needs to keep the girls in school.

Moved by her devotion to her goal, I wanted to do what I could to help her.  I asked her what she needed for her girls.  I thought she would say books, or school supplies.  I had thoughts of shipping her pens and notebooks.  Her immediate answer was, "Sanitary napkins."

While I was recuperating from my surprise at her answer, she explained that the girls in her school have no way of dealing with their monthly flow.  During those days, they find it impossible to go to school.  So they stay home.  This means that they miss a week of school out of every four.  Eventually, without 25% of the instruction that the male students are getting, many of them fall behind, become discouraged, and drop out.  At which point, they have no other life choice but to submit to circumcision and being sold, in exchange for goats and cows, into marriage to a man who is likely at least three times their age.

I promised Sarah I would find a way to supply what the girls need to have life of their own.

Again, being the cockeyed optimist that I am, I found the solution to be more difficult than I imagined.  My first approach - begging the supplies from an American manufacturer and sending them to Sarah - turned out to be undoable.  There would be import taxes and customs complications.

We needed a local supply, and best of all, a reusable solution.

The path to the answer went this way:

Tony Sargent, friend in NYC, a real estate agent, had introduced me to a FaceBook friend whom he had never met who lived in Nairobi: Lydia Halliday.   There, Lydia had introduced me to her friend Jessica Ramey, who works as a consultant in the fashion industry.  Months later, when Jessica heard about the plight of the Samburu school girls, she said one of her clients might know of an answer.  She introduced me to a woman in New York, who works for one of her client companies.  That woman put me in touch with Charlotte Horler who works for SOKO, a cooperative of women seamstresses, who sew clothing in Nairobi.  They make reusable sanitary napkins from the scraps left after producing all-cotton women's clothing.

Voila'!  And Whew.  The trail took a year and three months.  We achieved our goal as of this week.  These little items are ready, just in time for the beginning of the school year.

Sarah's husband is arranging for 480 of them - enough to supply 60 girls - to be transported seven hours from Nairobi to Samburu.

Study hard, girls!

And thank you to all the kind hearts and informed minds that got us to success.

The journey took a village, but we arrived.


  1. Well done. You never cease to amaze me!

  2. Great success! I’m proud of you. Nicoletta

    1. Thank you, Nicoletta. Now that you’ve met the Emusoi girls you know how important this kind of thing is.

  3. And just what do you do in your spare time? I'm sooooo very proud of you, Sis!!

    1. Thank you, my brother. It felt more like a treasure hunt than a difficult task. After the first blind alley, all I had to do was follow the clues. And talk to nice people who were willing to help. And then...BINGO!

  4. Wow, Stan! What a lovely thing to say! My life never ceases to amaze me. I feel so lucky to have the life I do.

  5. Another wonderful success after your achievement with the vehicle. We are all proud of you too!

  6. Thank you, Michael. I really see these goals as privileges. When they come to pass, they make me so happy.

  7. What a wonderful story!! It's amazing to think that something we take so much for granted in the United States means the difference between freedom and subjugation for these girls. Bravissima, my beloved friend - for setting your stellar problem-solving skills to work and making such a fundamental difference in the lives of these young women. I am so grateful that you are in this world.

    1. Dearest Susan, you put your finger on exactly what fired me up about this. That the difference for those girls should be something so BASIC! I really do think it is a privilege to provide something so ordinary and make such a difference.

  8. Yes, thank you so much for doing this. What you describe is a crisis in much of the world. Articles have been written about young women dying in huts in Nepal where they are exiled during menstruation.

    And in India teens are kept home from school due to lack of decent sanitation in their schools, including sinks and toilets.
    This is a global problem.

    And you, Annamaria, have helped to solve it for 60 young women. That is a noble deed.

    Now I hope others are working on educating people and raising funds to provide sanitation systems and the proper materials for women and youth to deal with an essential part of life without which, as you say, there would be no new generations.