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Where It All Started.

I am eight years old and in day school.  The first promotion group of ‘Always’, which I guess was then a probably brand new campaign of sanitary towels in schools around Uganda just left our primary school. They had had a session in which they taught the girls about menstruation, how normal it is, and how no one should stigmatize another because of this monthly happening that in our little minds, could have been troublesome. At the end of the session, the group of women, all clad in smart blue dresses, leave us with a couple of packs of sanitary towels, and a book, teaching us on what really goes on in a woman’s uterus once they reach puberty and adolescence. I remember thinking that these women, who were so smart, looked like nurses. I was in primary two (the year 2003) and at the time, I still hang on to my dreams of being either a nun or a nurse.  I loved the nuns at our Catholic church because they always wore veils but I loved the nurses even more because of how beautifully their dresses were shaped and how much I admired their cute little caps.

So yes, after these women leave, there is a huge fuss because of excitement among the girls; I now start hearing a few things I had never heard of before, just like I had known nothing about menstruation.  There is so much talk because the afternoon classes have been canceled and so we have all the time to ourselves. I never understood much of that talk, except that in the night, the girls in boarding school would be doing something to each other. Something I never really got to understand at the time, something along the lines of having to pull something in between their legs. As a day scholar, there were those little things the children in boarding school were always talking about but you never got a hold of! I learned that the girls would always pull each other in the evenings after preps.

Who has what? Showing each other private parts!
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I was so terrified at the moment, largely because I could not comprehend what was going on so as soon as I reach home, show mom the book and the sanitary towels that the always people had distributed to the entire school and what they told us about not being scared when the blood eventually come.

I tell mom that the women said the blood could come any time. Mom counsels me, emphasizing that I grew up that same slow way like she had, so it would take me quite longer than my classmates (Apparently our genes are that good). And yes it did take long, as it happened later when I was fourteen and uncomfortable, begging God to bring my periods or I was about to conclude that something is wrong with me.

Happy to bleed?
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Initial Image Source: Facebook

Shortly after my discussion with mom, I tell her that I overheard the girls at school saying that they did things to each other in the evenings, after preps. I tell mom that I really hadn’t understood but whatever the other girls were doing was not nice. I tell her I do not want to go to boarding school. My mom doesn’t understand much about it since my explanations are vague, but I guess she suspects that maybe the girls are indulging in girl-to-girl sexual acts. If your parents are typical Ugandans, you probably know that they don’t like to hear much of this same-sex affairs going on. So my mom later expresses her displeasure and I once hear her reveal to a friend that she did not want to take her children to single-sex schools because she wanted to limit the chances of her children being involved in same-sex affairs.

So yes, some years have passed. I am in primary six and I can hear the girls asking each other if they pulled. Me, what is pulling? Oh, I am lucky this time. The girls explain to me that pulling is a prerequisite for Baganda girls. It is more of a way of initiating you into womanhood. By then my mind has expanded and it can comprehend something. Read on pulling here.

I go home and ask my mom about this cultural activity called pulling. What is it? Why do we do it? Why should I do it? I am scared. I don’t want anyone touching me down there or doing anything painful to my clitoris. I want it but I don’t want it.

Labia Illustration.

My mom tells me this is cultural and she is not supposed to be telling me these. My aunties are supposed to. To make it easier, she calls a lady in the neighborhood, who is close to my age and would take me through the whole process. I am still terrified about this thing called pulling, in short, visiting the bush. Are they going to pull something inside my pee-pee? I do not know. I go to the bathroom and check myself. I do not see anything worth pulling. I am as pure as a child. What is this thing they are going to do to me? I am curious, excited, and scared at the same time. I want to become a woman but I don’t want to go through any pain down there. My twelve-year-old self wants to know more and she just has to.

Having to pull and to be pulled!
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I want to be well raised about to the standards of my culture but I also want to be a modern woman who is not holding on to tradition that much. But what’s modern? What’s Culture? What’s the tradition? What’s being a girl and what is womanhood? I am confused. What do I do? What happens to my clitoris or Labia later?

Left, after Pulling! Right, Before Pulling!
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