Ann Keih was in Barcelona and sent us a post card. See what she saw.
I was maybe twelve, while helping my baby sister to bed, I felt a warm wetness between my legs. After tucking her in, I trundled to the bathroom to empty my own bladder before bed. Immediately, I recognized the tell-tale signs that I was now on the path towards “growing up and liking it”, as the lady from a sanitary towel company had said when she gave a talk at school, about sanitary towels.
Girlhood into womanhood, that includes a daily active life in sports, takes a lot of calculated action and a good sports bra. It’s something most male people and prepubescent girls take for granted.
I took up swimming aged five or six on my father’s back. Literally. He would wade in the shallow end of the YMCA pool as my younger sister and I clung to him. Arms wrapped tightly around his neck. He’d count to three to give us time to hold in a gasp of air, and then dive beneath the water at intervals. Slowly we gained the confidence to wade on our own clinging to the rail along the wall and practice our kicking. Finally swimming free after a few more lessons.
My dear dad’s idea of shopping for his many daughters involved a monthly supply of nearly two dozen maxi and midi sanitary towels. In retrospect, it was such a sweet approach that he made it a part of normal household shopping, so my three sisters, young aunties who lived with us and I never lacked, or had to ask.
As a super active child, I never quite took to sanitary towels. They were cumbersome and caused friction burn when running during tennis, field hockey, netball, don’t even get me into long distance, or cross-country.
Now, well into age thirteen, I was lucky that my period, never came on “swimming day”. My pal Fridah wondered if I had “started” because I had never missed a single swimming lesson. I smiled knowingly at my body’s cooperation with my active lifestyle. I remember an incident when a fellow classmate had deliberately left her swimming kit at home as she was on her period. The swimming teacher had jibed her, asking out loud for all the other girls to hear.
“Haven’t you heard of tampons, girl?” she mock goaded.
You could never really tell when Mrs. Raburu was joking. Her booming voice sounded the same when she was speaking instructions or counting down the starting line up. No microphone required.
The girl shrugged. The others giggled. Thankfully it was an all girls school, and there was no peer shaming, but enthusiastic curiosity about this “growing up” thing.
In the same year, I signed up and trained for a month, every week-day lunch hour, for a swimming meet that was to take place at the Nyayo Stadium. In the excitement of training and preparation, I forgot to monitor my calendar. That very morning as I prepared to take my shower and go for the meet, I saw the blood!
There was no way I was going to pull out and face the wrath of Mrs. Raburu, the swimming trainer. Also, I had trained too hard to drop out now.
Her jibe rung in my head.
“Haven’t you heard of tampons, girl?”
So loud, I thought other people could hear her too.
I had never used them before, never needed to as my active days were “no-bleed-days”, but I had sneaked a peek at my aunt Sarah’s pack and read the instructions insert enough to get the basic idea.
I walked to Nairobi West Shopping Centre, where “Omido’s Provisions Store” stood. A giant “kiosk” that had everything you can imagine or need, long before Uchumi set up at Birongo Square, or Nakumatt Mega along Uhuru Highway and their “You want it we’ve got it”. Omido himself was at the counter. The store smelled like everything; detergent, ball gums, chocolate, cup cakes, …
“Nipe O.B. Mini”.
I got a packet of ten “bullets” for Ksh 80, at the time.
If you’re still reading, you know I am telling you about my relationship, as a serial athlete, with a small tight wad of cotton wool that through history has been modified to suit women’s menstrual hygiene to date. The biodegradable cotton tampon has been a major equalizer on many fronts for women, from working in the fields to the military.
At Nyayo Stadium, I went straight to the women’s changing room beneath the bleachers, by the pool. I skipped the warm up session, and locked myself in one of the toilet booths to peruse the O. B. instructions insert. I’d read it a dozens of times before, but this time, I was actually going to use a “bullet”, I felt like there was something I’d missed; … “toxic shock syndrome”… “very rare”… “the string is out of reach”…
The pre-race call up seemed way too loud on the speakers, “Wind up your warm up…” and too soon. I inserted my first ‘bullet’, not knowing if I’d got it high up enough. Making sure the string was within reach.
As I walked out and climbed out onto the bleachers, very aware of the ‘foreign body’, I thought everyone could tell I was walking funny. By the time my race was called, I’d been to the changing room toilet four times to “check”. I came in fifth place when I could have easily come in third place.
Since then, tampons have been a great companion in leading a sporty life. I could not imagine doing the compulsory high school cross-country run wearing a huge maxi pad.
The other thing I “always” (pun intended) found odd, especially after the growing-up-and-liking-it talk, was how all TV ads for sanitary towels depicted menstrual blood as blue and not red. Anyway… the shame brigade was televised and still is.
Thankfully, we have come a long way in how menstruation is perceived, with open discussion about pretty underwear to ensure that girls have something to keep the sanitary pad in place, among other solutions such as toilets in schools.
In this digital age, girls also have numerous resources such as BeingGirl.com, to help them figure out this very important, normal, body function. Are you shy about discussing this with your daughter? Direct them there.
Fast forward to my twenties while visiting my Godmother in Johannesburg. I’d nipped to the shops to refill my supply of tampons and left the opened pack on my bed in the spare bedroom.
“Whose tampons are these? You should only use tampons when you are married…”
I came out of the bathroom chuckling to myself and ignored what she had said, thinking back to my swimming meet at twelve. It never came up again. I thought that was the most ignorant thing a woman can say about something so normal like menstrual hygiene.
There’s many issues that have been raised about young girls using tampons, mostly absurdly related to the prizing of virginity in women and girls, which quite frankly, is in direct conflict with flawed masculinity where men and boys are encouraged to sow their “wild oats”. With whom are they going to sow them, if not these very women and girls?
I’ve also read accounts on message boards of mom’s not “letting” their twelve-year old daughters use tampons. This is stupid and illogical. The focus should be on safety, clean hands; remove or change every five hours, to mitigate against toxic shock syndrome (which is extremely rare and is not always caused by tampon use). It takes time to get it right.
This kind of backward thinking absolves parents from taking responsibility for the role they play in their teenager’s decisions about sex. The more involved parents are in the child’s life, the less likely they are to engage in early sex. I had my first, safe, sexual experience in my mid-twenties.
Girls and their parents also need to know the link between delayed first, sexual experience and the risk of cervical cancer. So, dear parents, it’s not just the risk of pregnancy and resulting social, physical and economic burden your daughter faces. Please inform her early so she can make informed choices.
When my younger sister decided to start using “bullets”, I stood outside the bathroom door yelling instructions.
“Up higher …”
And her shouting back various rates of in-success.
“I can’t …”
It took a few more tries over a couple of months for her to succeed.
As a starter, I found the tampons with an applicator the easiest to use, just breathe in and out a couple of times to relax. This type came in handy for field trips/road-trips when you couldn’t ensure your hands are completely clean. Night accidents were very common, but nothing unusual. As you slept, tossed and turned when having the “falling dream”, that bulky maxi pad would shift. All perfectly normal. Which is why I was stunned when a photo of a young woman who was fully clothed, who’d had a period “accident”, was “banned” by Instagram.
The stigmatization of female bodies starts very early. As young as five, and get’s amplified as girls enter puberty. In my teens, I was fortunate to have had a positive body image, free of shaming. SaVonne Anderson’s growing up experience with the one male that mattered most, her father, was particularly unsavory. This is just the beginning of the categorization of women and girls as the slut, the spinster and perfect woman, to fit patriarchal constructs. It’s the story of many women and girls, very many, maybe most girls, perhaps all:
“Nani anakaa kama kikapu?” (Who is siting like a basket?), said a mom to her five-year old daughter sitting with a friend at a door step, just being little girls. Her little dress had ridden up her legs to reveal her little pink underwear.
Aged about eight, a house help introduced me to what I would later learn was menstrual shame:
“Utatokwa na damu nyingi, ita teremka kwa miguu yako, na wavulana watakuchekelea…”
(“Blood will run down your legs and the boys will laugh at you…”)
She may have been describing her own experience of menstrual shaming, or that of another girl. At eight years old, I was horrified at the idea of bleeding down my legs. Where would the blood be from? Would the boys be laughing because I fell down and injured myself? I had so many questions, but I just did not know how to vocalize them.
In the primary school I went to, the entire class knew Flora had “started”. She never hid her sanitary pads when she went to change during recess. Often other girls gathered around her asking how it felt, was it warm or cold. She was a good sport and answered all our questions.
Back to the mighty tampon.
No female athlete, amateur or pro, does her ten- or twenty- or thirty-kilometer run with a maxi pad when on her period. None. Of course it’s not a topic for the finish line media interview, so it has never come up. Every female athlete, no matter their age or level, wants to perform their best.
In the first year of starting my period, I learned quickly that being active also came with certain pleasant “side effects”, no cramps! I would hear other less active girls complain about painful periods and wonder how I didn’t have them. In the times leading up to exams, I would take part in sports less. When it came, it came hard, and painfully. I’m talking squirming-in-your-seat painful.
So staying active and finding ways to ensure my period did not impede my staying active, was essential, hence the tampons.
We’ve seen the statistics about how many poor girls miss school due to lack of menstrual hygiene tools. I am yet to see how many poor African girls fail to meet the recommended threshold for daily physical activity for the same reason. The importance of childhood physical activity cannot be over emphasized. Children who remain active or increase physical activity as they grow have been found to have stronger bones and better health later in life.
Growing up, many African girls fear being viewed as tomboys if they engage in sports. Fear their performance being judged. Other deterrents for deliberate physical activity among African girls in Africa, include the fear of breaking past gender stereotype barriers.
I see tampons as a way over one major hurdle.
Update: If your daughter complains of extremely painful periods she may be suffering from dysmenorrhea or endometriosis. Best to get medical advice to ensure that this is not the case, or how to proceed if it is.
(*)/ (*) Enjoy the ride!! Cycling! Nairobi! and beyond!
One important thing I did not give much thought to, and no one mentioned to me before I started cycle-commuting, is the hills of Nairobi. I am talking the areas of Nairobi within a 5-10 kilometre radius of Nairobi Central Business District, which form part of my daily commute. As a motorist you hardly notice the inclines, as a pedestrian working in CBD Nairobi, at the end of a long work day, it’s the first of arduous tasks before you can lay your tired head down.
I took Valley Road numerous times when going to school as a child; often down-hill very fast as my dad drove like mad when we missed the JIMCY school bus, or uphill onto Valley Road in the old JIMCY school bus from Uhuru Highway.
Valley Road’s steep gradient is best experienced on a bike; the painful uphill and the gleeful downhill, hugging the curb along the white line WEEEEEEEEEEE!!! Cars and 24 or 62-seater buses zip past at crazy speeds, even on the curve at the Milimani Road Junction. Watch out for the deeply set random manholes on Valley Road!!
Something about this road says ROAD RESERVE STOLEN!!! The walls and gates are flash right against the road you wonder how those who live or work in those compounds access safely, especially on the descent side of the road, and more so at night.
So, when my pal who is recovering from surgery and cannot wait to ride again told me she is excited to be getting a single speed Dutch bike brought in to commute in Nairobi, I quickly burst her bubble by counting out the climbs in Nairobi. Dutch country is mainly flat, so single speed riding is a breeze. Not so in Nairobi, you just need to check out the Black Mamba riders pushing their fixed gear bikes uphill even in sections that look flattish to get what I mean.
This last picture was the scene that was nearly the death of me in Live To Die Another Day.
Happy Cycling in Nairobi and beyond! ❤ Nairobi! ❤ Cycling!
Join in to make Nairobi a cycle friendly city… Some day! ❤NBO❤
Statement from organizer:
Innovent Africa Limited (IAL) is an organization dedicated to developing creative and exciting ways to engage our population in becoming environmentally conscious. We aim to provide new avenues to our demographic while encouraging them to play an active role in climate issues. Our Inspiration is a quote by US President Barack Obama on rebuilding our world:
“The Critical Truth is, the Nation that leads in the creation of a clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the 21st Century’s global economy.”
Even though our continent is the lowest contributor of substances that are causing a shift in climate, we are the most affected by these changes. IAL’s Eco-Green planned initiatives revolve around:
The Nairobi Cyclathon 2012 is a road race around the state house/ UON made up of a 3 lap, 9 km circuit, and a chance for you, your team and your family to push yourselves to the limit in this exhilarating experience.
The participants will be from 3 categories:
|Senior Elite||Over 18 and competing for prize money|
|Junior Elite||Under 18 and competing for prize money|
|Fun Ride||Riding for support of the cause|
The winners will be from the Junior Elite and Senior Elite, both men and women and will win the following prize money:
|Men and Women||Senior Elite||Junior Elite|
|1st Place||Ksh. 10,000||Ksh. 8,000|
|2nd Place||Ksh. 7,000||Ksh. 6,000|
|3rd Place||Ksh. 5,000||Ksh. 4,000|
HOW TO SIGN UP
To sign up for the Nairobi Cyclathon, visit www.innoventafricaltd.com and complete the form on the website.
Follow up with Mpesa payment to 0723 807 511 or 0720 322 840 based on the category you selected:
|Senior Elite||Ksh. 2,000||Over 18 and competing for prize money|
|Junior Elite||Ksh. 2,000||Under 18 and competing for prize money|
|Fun Ride||Ksh. 1,300||Riding for support of the cause|
Follow up with a confirmation text with your active email and names of the persons you have made payment for and category.
Proof of age will be required by showing a copy of your birth certificate, passport or National ID. All participants should complete the consent form and bring with them on race day.
The route planned will be a tight 9 km circuit originating at the Kenya Urban Roads Authority – Children’s Traffic Park around the general State House/UON area. Details of this will be given to the participants on the event day, for security and fairness.
One of our Nairobi commuter-cyclist community members, B, was in Germany and spotted some interesting cycling themes. She tells us that there, cycling is viewed as cool and there is plenty of city support for cycling that is not just paint on tarmac. She too will soon earn her stripes as “wildlife” up from “tourist” with how gutsy she is cycling through cycle-unfriendly Nairobi daily.
The other day on one of the local Kenyan TV channels there was a feature on commuter cycling in Berlin, Germany. In Berlin alone, cycling accounts for up to 13% of all commuter traffic, with almost 200 kilometres of cycle trail, a bike sharing service and a monumental cycle trail along the infamous former Berlin Wall.
Whereas in Kenya and London it may be odd for a banker to cycle to work, in major German cities it’s perfectly normal says this blog. Like in Nairobi, safe bike parking is a headache in most German cities. Whole families can be seen taking leisurely weekend bike tours in the German countryside, and it’s not unusual to see old people in their sixties and seventies pushing along slowly either.
Knowing the rules for cycling in every country helps keep cyclists safe, the rules for Germany are listed here. In Nairobi, I have learned to adapt the driving rules for arm/hand signals; when turning left, I use my right arm to make circles in the air. Just in case drivers do not notice my hand signals I make the hand signals way in advance and repeat while moving. Usually hand signalling is risky in Nairobi, as most Kenyan drivers do not pay heed to cyclists and the roads are not built to accommodate cyclists either.
Happy Cycling in Nairobi and beyond! ❤This Planet! ❤ Nairobi! ❤ Cycling!
Another addition to our cycling community in Nairobi is Jasper (Yes, we dig HeCyclesNairobi), an adept cyclist in Nairobi. We often tease Jasper that he is almost graduating from “Tourist” to “Wildlife” with his vast knowledge of how to get around Nairobi on a bike, having been in Kenya from Germany just under a year.
In today’s blog post he pays tribute to the female cross-global cyclist and a fallen SheCyclist.
Very inspiring to SheCyclesNairobi as my cycle buddy SK and I plan to cycle to Dar over the New Year.
With this blog post, I want to take you beyond the boundaries of SheCyclesNairobi. Nairobi is small and the world is big, but not too big for cycling. Right at this moment, there are hundreds of cyclists touring the continents on trips lasting from months to decades. Wherever you go on your travels, there will be a world cyclist nearby. (On the way to the Watamu Triathlon 2012, SheCyclesNairobi and fellow travellers has a serendipitous encounter with a German cyclist, Steffen, on the Mombasa Highway near Voi on his two year journey from Germany to South Africa.)
For an impression, how many there are, do check this excellent inventory of touring cycle blogs: http://www.gobicycletouring.info (Warning: this is one of the most addictive sites, I have ever come across. The only therapy to cure the addiction is to get a bike and start cycling with unknown destination.)
The most extreme among world cyclists, like Eric and Amaya (http://www.worldbiking.info), have set out to visit every single country in the world by bicycle, a feat that Heinz Stücke has almost completed after 48 years, more than 590,000km and more than 250 countries of cycling (http://www.heinzstucke.com).
The majority of world cyclists are men, but you will also find many couples on the road (check http://journal.goingslowly.com for a particularly inspiring one). Much rarer are solo female travellers, so much more reason to celebrate them. Best known among them are Dervla Murphy, Bettina Selby and Anne Mustoe, all three of them legendary bicycle travel writers.
Dervla Murphy set off on a single speed bicycle named ‘Roz’ in 1963 from London to India “with little more than a revolver and a change of underwear.” The journey is documented in her book ‘Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle’. While she met many dangers on the road, she described her worst incident as tripping over cats at home and shattering her left arm.
Bettina Selby was a late comer to the tribe: “At the age of 47 I found myself free of commitments. I decided the time had at last come to do what I had long wanted, namely, to see something of the wilder regions of the world. I had already discovered the eminent suitability of a bicycle for travel and exploration, and so, with little more ado, I set out to see something of the Himalayas.” What followed were two decades of cycle ventures. Selby’s many travels include two journeys covering the full lengths of the Nile and the Niger from end to end (http://bettinaselby.com).
Anne Mustoe had even passed her 50th anniversary before starting her epic bike journeys, documented in several books. This is how she described her moment of inspiration according to her Wikipedia entry: “Somewhere in Rajasthan she looked out of the bus window and saw a cyclist, a solitary European man, pedalling across the immensity of the Great Thar Desert. She said, ‘I was seized with sudden envy. I wanted to be out there myself on that road on a bicycle, alone and free, feeling the reality of India, not gazing at it through a pane of glass.’ It was the bicycle which had immediate appeal. ‘I made up my mind that morning that I would cycle across India. But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered why I should stop at India. While I was at it, why not cycle round the world?’” Anne Mustoe died in 2009, aged 76 in Syria (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/6790125/Anne-Mustoe.html).
Scanning the web reveals more female solo riders on the road right now:
Currently in nearby Ethiopia is Loretta Henderson (http://www.skalatitude.com). She covered quite a bit of the planet solo, but is currently exploring Africa with a travel companion. “What started as going to England to buy a bicycle has gotten out of hand”, is how she describes what started all this. The end of it is not yet in sight. Loretta, we hope to see you in Nairobi, soon!
Jill Sherlock, cycling all the way East and then a little further, is an excellent writer. Like that of many other cyclists, Jill Sherlock’s motivation boils down to just not wanting to fly: “Being a notoriously unlucky flyer – hijacked, volcanic ash victim, aborted landings, cancellations, not booked on flights, wheels falling off planes, struck by lightning – and also a non-driver I thought it would be an idea to head off East on my bicycle. Well, it seemed a good idea at the time…” Read her highly recommended blog at http://sherlocktales.blogspot.com.
Eleanor Moseman is a photographer on two wheels. On her way, she documents the culture and people of the religious minorities: Uyghurs and Tibetans. It’s a fantastic way to combine travel and meaningful work. See her amazing pictures on http://www.wandercyclist.com. What job could you combine with cycling the world?
Helen Lloyd cycled across Africa and she is not afraid of anything, it seems. Her travel statistics include: “Marriage proposals: 29*; Most books I had in my panniers at any given time: 15; Cycle tourers met in Africa: 6; Number of times I have worn a bike helmet: 2; Bribes demanded: 3; Bribes paid: 0; Books read: 55; Beers drunk: 491; Average kilometres cycled per beer: 34.9” Follow her amazing travels at www.takeonafrica.com and do not miss her pics: http://takeonafrica.com/the-photo-project/50-images-of-africa/ – and her non-solo follow up journey through the America’s: http://helenstakeon.com/
And these are only a few of the women, who actually maintain a blog or web-presence. I have met more preferring to travel without online exposure: the 67 year old lady deep in the Australian Outback, cheerful Kate traversing Europe with the worst travel bike I have ever seen (a Black Mamba would have been infinitely superior) and Ruth and Eva who spent about 5 minutes between idea and implementation of their European trip. May the road rise with all of you, may the wind be on your back and may many follow in your tracks!
The trigger for this blog post was the premature death of my friend and world cyclist Krista Bernard (www.ridehimalaya.com/kristabike.html). We traversed Australia’s Central Desert together just days after we first met 17 years ago. She cycled from Indonesia to Egypt on her own and from England to Pakistan with her soul-mate D. Thank you, Krista, for inspiring me and many others. The turn of the bicycle wheel was your analogy for life. We’ll keep the wheels turning in your memory.
Happy Cycling in Nairobi and beyond! ❤ Nairobi! ❤ This Planet! ❤ Cycling!
Cycling up and down Uhuru Highway was supposed to be the most daunting ride in my cycling-unschooled mind. Turns out it’s much easier than riding on any other road in Nairobi.
Why is it easier?
It’s smooth surfaced, has wide lanes, has relatively slower traffic and long stopping intervals to allow a cyclist to get to the head of traffic, has a great side-walk that is hardly occupied by pedestrians for when things get a little crowded (except in the early morning and evenings), there are no bus stops so no matatus (Public Service Vehicles) making sudden stops to drop and pick passengers, in wet weather the better (and I mean “better”tongue in cheek) drainage on Uhuru Highway ensures rain water does not sit along the curb/gutter (hate truck/lorry splash) and there is little tire-unfriendly gutter debris.
Made it sound good, eh. Wait, wait…
Cyclists in Nairobi don’t have the luxury of designated cycling infrastructure – separate lanes, lights, parking options, etc. The average cyclist has to ride along the gutter. Hugging the curb as tightly as possible along some narrower roads. One skill that has come in handy is flexing my pedals parallel to each other to avoid scrapping the left pedal on the curb paving block.
On Uhuru highway, the downsides include, numerous trailers on the left lane, deeply set manholes/drainage holes that you have to scoot around as quickly as possible as cars rush past at over eighty kilometres per hour. Ole wako (Woe unto you) if it’s a giant bus or trailer on the down hill decent towards Bunyala Road.
A quick glance over the shoulder helps to gauge how far, how big and fast the other vehicle coming up behind you is, as you slow down approaching a deep-set manhole. I relax if it’s a motor bike and tense up if it’s a sixty-two sitter bus or a trailer. Another great relief is the hand cart pullers who use the highway; they slow down traffic on the left lane enough to allow me to safely over take the handcart.
Uhuru Highway in Pictures:
Happy Cycling in Nairobi and beyond! ❤ Nairobi! ❤ Cycling!
Industrial Area has transformed, though only partially from the dusty, off-road zone it used to be, what with heavy trailers and trucks having destroyed the roads.
I cycle through industrial area at least twice a month; to visit my bike parts guy near Tetra Pak industries and to East African Sea Foods packing plant to stock up on Tilapia and Mackerel fish for a song.
My access point is from the Nyayo Stadium round and down Lusaka Road past CMC and on to Enterprise Road. The Lusaka Road ride is against a strong head wind which causes me to strain as if pedalling uphill.
Here is a ride through part of the main vein that is Enterprise Road.
Happy Cycling in Nairobi and beyond! ❤ Nairobi! ❤ Cycling!