I was reading blog posts to understand our artisan women in rural Kenya better when I came across something very interesting. The women in some tribal cultures in Kenya are considered unclean during their menses. For one week a month, they are shunned from their families and the community.
Most women are in a polygamous marriage. They have no access to contraception therefore have large families. They are responsible for making the huts for shelter, fetching water, cooking and cleaning, milking the cows, gathering firewood for light and warmth. The man’s role is to observe and advice. These women are overworked and underappreciated. If you have spent time in rural Kenya with the communities, you will know. If you haven’t, you should come along on my next trip.
When you spend time with them, you will realize how happy, kind and content they are. They are very grateful for every light in their life, they find happiness in simplicity. There is joy in their life – actual, authentic joy. They sing with peace in their soul. When they come together in their beading circles, they teach you about friendship and being neighborly. How can they be this unburdened with everything they face in their daily lives?
When I first read about the unclean week, I thought how unfair, how sad, don’t these people see how hard these women work, how can I change this, how can I help? Then I got the A-huh moment. Every month these women get a week off, they found a way to detach themselves and take a vacation. For one week, they don’t cook, clean, build huts, fetch water or care for their families. They don’t have to please their husbands or compete with the new young wife. They sleep in, relax, make themselves a meal and get a well deserved break. How clever.
I live in the ‘modern world’. We have cars, microwaves and supportive husbands. We have all the material things to make our lives easier and happier. Every day the modern mother cleans the house, cooks for the family, drives the kids to school, soccer practice, play dates, shops for food, reads the children to sleep and more. She gets an hour – maybe – to relax before going to bed. When that time of the month comes around, she shoots a cotton bullet up her hoo-ha and shows up. The modern mom does not get a day off. Studies show most mothers feel inadequate, they feel guilty for staying home with the children and not bringing home an income or for working and not spending time with the children. Maybe the unclean concept was invented by a woman who found a way to make the men think it was their idea!
Most mothers no matter where they are on the planet, give everything they are to their families. It is in their nature to nurture. It got me thinking about the unclean woman program. What if we could make the unclean week a wonderful, magical time. What if we could help the African woman feel loved, appreciated, pampered, clean and feminine. What if she could feel like she is on vacation, come out of it feeling happy, relaxed, recharged and ready to face another 3 weeks. What if it was a time to look forward to?
I thought of having a care package the women could pick up on their way to the bleeding hut. If it were me, I would want some clean underwear, sanitary stuff, nice smelling soap, lotion, pain killers, chocolate, food and beverage and some beading materials. This program is no where near a priority, it will be on the shelf until other more dire issues are fixed. I love it though and I am sure I’ll love seeing it into fruition. If you could imagine a care package for a menstruating woman in rural Africa, what would you want in it? What would you want in yours? What other ideas do you have?