The Menstruation Myth

Period, period, period, period, period. Are you comfortable with it yet?

When I was 17 years old I tried to send my brother to the local pharmacy because I needed tampons. Before he could step out of the door I could hear a mumbled conversation and then a resounding WHAT, before he was loudly told to get upstairs and my father stormed into the living room to give me a piece of his mind.

 Little had I known that my insensitive request had nearly turned my brother gay, or worse, transgender.

I was astounded by the ignorance flowing out of the mouth of someone I respected. A well educated, well read individual, and one who had no problem discussing fashion and makeup with me, hardly the manliest of conversations.

The line was drawn at periods.

The attitude towards periods he had experienced growing up was one where they were treated as a curse, a sign of uncleanliness, a burden women had to endure as discreetly as possible without tainting any innocent men with it. In the later years we managed to educate my father away from the fears borne from menstrual ignorance; he no longer handles a box of tampons at arms length, nor washes his hands compulsively afterwards.

My mum remains quite sheltered on the topic, like many Indian women of her generation. It was something whispered behind closed doors. Uttering it too loudly may cause your uterus to explode. She was taught that it was something to be ashamed of, something women suffered.

Maybe it was a good thing that she wasn’t around to give me the talk. I had to rely on my sister and PSHE for my information. My dad’s only recognition of the event was adding sanitary towels to the shopping list and then promptly reminding me I had to help him buy them, else he be considered a pervert by the rest of London. By the time she came home, my dad was now privy to my cycle, and I was using tampons.

Revelations that garnered an “Oh lord, the shame!” and an afternoon of praying.

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“They attract bears”

The ignorance surrounding the menstrual cycle used to really anger me as a young woman. Periods make women ‘unclean’ in my culture. You are not meant to enter a holy place when menstruating, nor are you meant to touch a man about to pray, or give offerings to god, and a whole other list of things you can’t do because you are tainted by your own biology. The most embarrassing part when I was a young teen, was you would be asked whether you had your period. I could understand this from a doctor, but not when all I wanted to do was step into a building. My mother would discreetly inquire if I had my period and if I did I didn’t have to go to temple, or religious events, or partake in religious ceremonies.

Needless to say, I was always on my period during such occasions.

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Yeah, he’s not convinced

For some of the men I dated ‘that time of the month’ was a punchline and an inconvenience. Periods meant sex was now a hassle. Ignorant fears of fathering a brain damaged baby, or seeing tampax in the bathroom were too much for a minority. In fairness these comments were made by the Bricks of this world who believe periods opened them up to bear attacks.

Most men my age aren’t that ignorant.

But that isn’t to say they are well informed, or that they want to be. An ex once asked me how I was able to be in the swimming pool of our local gym if I was on my period. Confused, I replied tampons. He continued to look at me awaiting an explanation. Why would he know the difference between a sanitary towel or a tampon? Why would he care? The Bodyform woman’s roar was obviously a signal to put the kettle on for him. What he could do though was wipe the terrified look off his face and stop scanning the water for Sharks.

A uniquely female experience doesn’t have be seen as a curse, or unclean, or a negative.

 Man up. It’s just a little blood.

 

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British Comedy

Goodbye Europe. I always loved being inside you.

Since Thursday’s vote I’ve been a whirlwind of emotions.

Mainly disbelief and embarrassment.

I didn’t vote for Cameron and can’t say I’m sorry to see him go. But I was able to put my personal feelings aside to vote for something I believed in. A unified Europe.

Unlike some voters, who decided the thinking part was optional and eenie meenie minie moed our way out of a Union I was proud to be a part of.

Democracy has never looked like more of a farce. Especially when you listen to the motivation behind some of those Brexit votes.

 

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Oh Sunny, how do you not understand how a vote works?

 

Now as someone who knows a few Brexit voters, I can say not everyone is a xenophobe, ignorant about the EU, or the voting process.

Some were the children of immigrants and even so wanted to vote out. Not because they hate foreigners, not because they thought their eggs would be better from British chickens, and not because they expected mass deportations.

Some did it because they saw no future in the EU and genuinely believed the move could be better for the country. And they had their right to exercise that belief through their vote.

Whether you like it or not, that’s what democracy entails.

However the reasons below are a pretty compelling argument for an IQ test before you get a vote:

  • You didn’t think your vote would count.
  • You got gypped out of five euros last time you went to Disneyland Paris.
  • You hate watching the Euro Championship.
  • We never fucking get any points in Eurovision.
  • You magically want to see the country restored to all white pre- war Britain before you kick the bucket.
  • You think we are now going to become like Alcatraz and no one will be able to get in or out.
  • You believe thousands of immigrants and migrant workers will be frog marched out of the country and you will be given a pile of cash.

The backlash of videos, memes, tweets and updates have been hilarious. If you don’t laugh you’re bound to cry. More so when some of the dumbest points being made are given so earnestly. Full of confidence. Completely devoid of any doubts.

As one smiling lass put it:

“Britain’s on the map now!”

Yes, my moronic compatriot. That’s what mattered. Visibility.

There has to be a sitcom in all of this.

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D-sensitised

I think I am 95% desensitised to penis.

When I was younger and I used to worry that my enjoyment of uber violent films meant that I could find myself in a Die Hard style scenario, and would simply sellotape a pen knife to my back and throw myself into the mix without batting an eyelid.

It was a theory that was somewhat proven when I got held up at gunpoint a few years back.

I refused to give the gunman my bag without some kind of negotiation. My companions had either cleverly shoved their mobile phones into their knickers, or peremptorily handed over their bags, while I rued the day I decided to wear a dress and no underwear, whilst clutching onto my shopping.

The gunman told me not to be an idiot. But why change the habit of a lifetime?

“Because he could have shot you.” The police officer sternly informed me, surprisingly unimpressed by the fact I managed to save my purchases.

I was pretty sure the gun was fake. I’d seen plenty of guns. On screen. The officer kindly unholstered his gun and asked me if it had looked like that. Hmm, his looked fake too.

Whoops.

Penis has become guns for me.

And it’s all thanks to online flashers.

The threat of the 80s flasher, accessorised in a  filthy mac, bumbling his way towards you, then whipping open his coat and waggling his willy at you, has now been brought into the digital age.

The sexual ambush that I have been subjected to on dating apps though amusing, is also quite disturbing. When did it become acceptable to send someone an unsolicited picture of your genitals? Or even worse, a video of you vigorously abusing said genitals?

The idea that you have ‘earned’ viewing rights to the horniness you unwittingly inspired is not as flattering as the sender thinks it is.

If someone tried to flash you in public it would be considered indecent to most.  But social media functions like a blanket of anonymity  for flashers to disappear into once someone hits report, block and delete.

There are no real consequences, other than the reduced chances of offenders ever getting to communicate with that person beyond a screen.

I, for one, don’t want to be sent another surreptitious picture of a penis in an “Oh my gosh you’ll never guess what my dick did….’ fashion again.

If I ever see one in real life again, I’m only going to think it’s fake.

 

 

Year of the Monkey

It’s good to be impulsive. And occasionally life threatening.

It’s the year of the monkey. Naturally, I was born in the year of the monkey. Witty, sociable, easily bored, stubborn.

Sums me up perfectly I think.

No better time to get harnessed up and back on the face of a mountain.

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Coconut thief

It’s been a few years since I went boulder climbing. It used to be  a regular thing, but after my hand injury I didn’t trust my wrist to support my weight.

I didn’t know what to expect on the half day climb with The Rock Shop. I’d signed up for a beginners course because I was worried.

Climbing had been my way of dealing with my fear of heights. I don’t like to be scared, or limited. My way of handling fears is to throw myself into them. More than often the return is something beautiful. The views from the top. The reward of an isolated spot. It’s a risk, but one worth taking.

When I floundered on the first climb our guide grinned at me

“You can be good or bad, but you must have fun!”

He was right. Once the pressure was off, it was more fun.

After the day’s climb, the rest of the group wanted to grab food and see some of Railay. We were all keen to find the lagoon for a relaxing swim to end the day. We deserved a break.

Little did we know.

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Only 10 more metres…

We had assumed that it would be a calm walk, a couple of dips and then back to Tonsai.

The warning signpost and the exhausted faces of people scaling down from a point up into the mountain, should have been our first indicator this wasn’t going to be easy.

The route had ropes set up along the way. All you had to do was find your feet and hoist yourself up. Easy enough. I decided to pop my flip flops into my bag and go barefoot.

My feet still haven’t forgiven me.

When we finally reached the clearing at the top it dawned on us that we’d have to climb deeper down into the mountain to reach the lagoon. Unless there was an off chance this was a magical lagoon at the top of a mountain that defied gravity.

The downward descent to the lagoon was a little more than “strenuous” as the warning at the start of the ‘hike’ suggested.

We were lowering ourselves through slippery sharp rocks, climbing through narrow holes with back packs on and at times reaching around for a foothold, or handhold when we couldn’t see behind us. After my first slip and near fall onto craggy rocks, my faith in my wrist was completely restored.

It was a precarious climb to the bottom. But it was completely worth it. Photos don’t do it justice.

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Take the risk, reap the rewards

It’s the things we really work to get that bring us the greatest satisfaction.

I’m quite impulsive in the risks that I take. God knows how far this ‘All or nothing’ attitude will get me in Vegas in a few weeks.

Maybe it will get me out of student debt.

Asian in Asia

Have passport, will travel.

It’s 7am and I have a yoga class in an hour. I woke up because of the sea. Living in London, I’ve never had the luxury of waking up to anything other than the sound of urban foxes shagging. Mexico City wasn’t much better. Although sirens were often interspliced with drunken arguments, or thumping music. I didn’t realise how much I love to wake up to the sound of the sea.

The journey to get to Koh Phangan was not as tranquil.

The first night in Bangkok was spent wandering around the Khao San road shopping and avoiding teams of men in matching wife beaters, trying to drunkenly chat up anyone in grabbing reach. People like to touch here, not just drunken Brits out on a stag. I got poked in the boob, had my tattoo stroked and was awkwardly patted by a couple of giggly vendors, who may have been at the laughing gas balloons.

The night in Bangkok was a sensory overload. Lights. Vendors. Food. Massages. Rats. One of which I had an unsettling run in with that left me contemplating how much I really needed my right foot.

It was loud and bright and dirty and seedy. I liked it.

At 5am we were abruptly woken by our panicky Thai host who thought we were going to miss our flight. She had taken the liberty of booking us a taxi that was waiting as we spoke. I don’t think I’ve got packed and ready so quickly. I silently cursed her all the way to the airport.

The journey to get to Koh Phangan was a two fold nightmare. Unlike Alex Garland’s romanticised journey through jungle, jumping off waterfalls and swimming across the island, ours was more pedestrian and disgusting. The waves were dangerously high, so our speedboat jumped along the ocean for nearly two hours. The nausea it provoked was understandable. I regretted inhaling a pork bun and chilli chicken curry on the dock before we boarded. But the real kicker was the synchronised vomiting that began to take place about 20 minutes into the journey. Smiling faces handed out pink plastic bags and tissues, then the pukefest began. It was like the story Chunk describes in The Goonies: one person barfed and everyone else just joined in. It surrounded us and we sunk into our seats hoping we wouldn’t be hit by the spray.

My body’s natural defense mechanism in situations of high stress is to shut down. Much like a possum. Only more like a narcoleptic. I pass out.

When I awoke and drowsily got off the boat there was still another journey left to make. Kerry, had warned me that transport to The Sanctuary was a mafia. It’s lucky I had her and her amazing litigation skills to get me this far.

You couldn’t get a cheaper price no matter how good you were at haggling. What was worse they had decided to hike the prices up, to make the best of all the business that was anxiously waiting. We held out for as long as we could as the surliest driver in the world bitched at our attempts to bring the price down.

It didn’t feel great having to concede and get in the back of his shitty truck. It felt less great as we were hurled about along bumpy back streets out into the middle of nowhere.

Luckily we were headed towards Sanctuary.

The Great Escape

Distance can really help to gain some perspective on life.

In the last month I have been making a more concerted effort to find a job. A friend of mine pointed out to me that if I actually made an effort and a plan, rather than planning to escape as I always did, maybe I would get where I wanted to.

Fair point.

I am not the most patient person when it comes to my goals. If I haven’t made it work in a month it starts feeling like failure. The panic sets in and I start looking at the international teacher posts on TES, or escort work.

I get desperate.

In comparison, I am far more functional in a foreign country alone, with limited funding and only the clothes in my back pack. After 10 years of travel and living abroad I have grown to have more faith in that version of myself.

The woman stuck in her parent’s house isn’t to be trusted and is a proven flight risk.

After the last four months I needed to get away. Recharge. Try again. I needed Brazil.

My days would start with the view of Mount Corcovado and coffee. I visited The Selaron Stairs, Christ the redeemer, Sugarloaf Mountain, and relaxed on Ipanema and Copacabana. In the evenings I would have conversations with friends, grab a drink, have a laugh and make the best of my time in town.

I was pretty proud of how well I had managed on my own, a feeling that I’d forgotten after months of rejection emails and depressing bank statements.

In my short time in Rio I visited Paraty and Ilha Grande. My Portañol (Spanish/Portuguese mash up)  was getting me through the day and I was able to have conversations where I would normally be taught how to pronounce things, (that r is a killer) or how to swear.

Add to this the fact everyone in Rio seems to be a walking gym advert, and that they advocate for teeny bikinis and no tan lines, then you’ve got a city I can get on board with.

After talking to a few people, I found out that it might be possible to get a teaching job for the new year. So why not move there?

I’ve never had more reason to leave London. Everyone would understand if I gave up. If I went back to Mexico. If I went back to teaching. But things had changed and an escape plan, though great for the short term, would not get me where I needed to be.

On the way to the airport Nelson, my taxi driver, explained the meaning of the word saudade, a word unique to portuguese. He said it was the feeling of missing something you hadn’t felt or experienced in a long time. Like sadness and nostalgia, a longing for something that you didn’t have anymore. Though bittersweet it didn’t always have to be sad.

He then serenaded me with Girl from Ipanema before telling me all the beautiful girls lived in Rio, and I should come back.

I promised that I would when I had a job.

Day of the Dead

IMG_1060Over the last few few months I have been trying rewire the way I look at life and focus on the positives rather than my relationships and other failures.

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The British Museum Days of the Dead Exhibition

It has been a mourning period for me in many ways. I have spent months putting to rest my expectations. Trying not to be angry about the plans that I had given up so easily, and the life I had chosen to leave behind.

It’s hard to move on. As terrible as you might feel in the place you’re in, you get used to the misery in a way. I’ve been as positive and active as I can, but it sneaks up on me. 

My ‘ex-rages’ were a symptom of the fact I wasn’t over it yet. I could be in the middle of a perfectly nice evening, travelling, or out drinking with friends, and then a wave of anger would sweep over me. It was like Tourette’s. Anyone close enough would get a comprehensive list of grievances against him, and a demand for an answer to where the hell did he get off texting me to call me a ‘waste of his time.’

When I wasn’t raging, I was trying to just get on with life. Being as busy as possible. Remembering my life wasn’t defined by a man. Then I’d find myself in tears because this wasn’t how it was supposed to have worked out.

Between the bitching and crying my observant six year old nephew chipped in his two cents worth.

‘Forget him.’

The infant was right. But how do you move past it?

Our break up had been quite abrupt. We hadn’t seen or really spoken to each other in weeks. The last act had been a death in the family.

The British Museum Days of the Dead exhibition

The British Museum Days of the Dead exhibition

There are certain expectations around death and how we should treat each other, and behave when someone passes away. It’s a time to be sympathetic, to come together to put your differences aside, and offer your support.

I had wanted to do all these things. But after endless fights, unresolved issues and his go-to-move of ignoring me for three days at a time I just couldn’t find it in me. People can kill your sympathy. Especially when they demand it of you constantly. So I left him to it. He had expected me to be there to support him, but after so much drama, I just didn’t have it in me anymore. I ended it the following week.

In true dramatic fashion I was told never to contact him again. ‘Cross the road and pretend I don’t know him’ style break up.

Relationships with people you love can end abruptly. I learned that young. My little brother passed away when I was five years old. From one day to the next someone I loved had disappeared from my life.

My parent’s generation are not great believers of discussing ‘adult’ topics with children. We never spoke about death. It was just something that was innate knowledge.

After my brother died, his pictures were put away. His clothes were given away. I didn’t get to go to a funeral, or a memorial. Three years of my life with another person just disappeared and I wasn’t to ask any questions, and didn’t get to say goodbye. We couldn’t say his name in the house, or speak openly about him for fear of upsetting my parents. It was something we got used to.

My parents were trying to protect us and themselves. They bottled up their feelings and were ‘strong’. But I could see you couldn’t stay strong that way. We suffered silently. The pain seemed to last forever.

Life carried on, but I felt like he was being ignored, despite him clearly being on everyone’s mind. The only remaining signs he had existed were the crying, or the look that clouded faces when his favourite song came on the radio.

Mensajes para los muertos Messages for the dead

Mensajes para los muertos Messages for the dead

I needed Day of the Dead when I was a child.

From October 31st to November 2nd in Mexico and other countries around the world, Dia de los Muertos/Day of the Dead is celebrated. The belief is that the spirits of the dead reunite with their families and loved ones. They honour them with offerings or ofrendas, and put together on an altar for the deceased. The altars are often illuminated with candles, decorated with cempazuhitl (marigold flowers), their favourite food, drinks, photos and memories. The family will celebrate together, often lighting candles, eating, drinking and sharing anecdotes. They reminisce and celebrate the lives of the deceased fondly.

Day of the Dead helped me to come to terms with ideas of death and loss and move forward in a healthy way. It gave me a chance to celebrate my brother’s life, and the lives of the people I loved who were no longer with me. I looked forward to the beautiful ofrendas and rites that took places. From scenes of the floating of candles on the Patzcuaro lake, to bringing food, drink and even Mariachis to the graves of loved ones so they could enjoy their favourite songs with family. IMG_1086

This year the British Museum put on an impressive exhibition. They had huge skeleton sculptures towering on either side of the entrance. As you entered there was an authentic Atlanchinolli dance troupe,  performing a pre-hispanic Aztec dance ritual to remember the dead. There were also workshops where children could make their own marigold flowers to hang on a tree sculpture with their messages for their loved ones who had passed away. It was particularly child friendly. Helping them understand this concept and view on death. Something I think all children should be given the chance to do.

This weekend gave me time to reflect. I hadn’t been honest about how I was feeling. I was pushing myself to be over things. I hadn’t given myself the time to get over it, to feel sad about it, be angry or upset about it. Which is why it kept creeping up on me despite all my attempts to be happy and act like things were back to normal. They weren’t.

There is a reason why you have a mourning period. It helps you to come to terms with what happened and make your peace with it. You get to say your goodbyes and move on.

I just need a little more time.