Warning: This post is geared towards women. If you are a male reader, please feel free to keep reading because you most likely will learn something. But consider this your warning that the information may be a little (or a lot) out of your comfort zone.
I have been asked quite a few times about how I dealt with my period when I was in Papua New Guinea. This is a very valid question. And I will answer that question here in just a minute, but first I want to address some of the issues associated with women’s menstrual cycles in Papua New Guinean culture. Old cultural traditions are changing but women are still required never to step over anything. This is especially important with, but not limited to, food and children. This gets ingrained in you so even now I find myself getting tense if I have to step over someone’s legs to cross a room and I would definitely choose to walk around anything if at all possible. I heard a few different reasons for why this is, but the most common reason is because a women can often be unclean and stepping over something would defile it.
An even more extreme example is that some PNG sub-cultures wouldn’t/won’t allow women to prepare food while they were menstruating. This goes back to the whole defiling thing. One would assume that there are so many women around that this wouldn’t keep the men from eating because if their wife couldn’t cook, their sister or mother could. However, I do wonder how this worked since women in close quarters tend to menstruate together. I never had the opportunity to ask.
For the same reason, there are also places where women are not allowed upstairs in a house where men are downstairs. And it was also the reason that some Onobasulu would get angry with the kids for hanging out under our house in the village. On a side note: during village meetings the back part of our house was often used as shade and so we would have to remind people that they were sitting under an area andor leaning against a pipe that was essentially our outhouse. This usually made people move pretty quickly. But they often were confused if they were new to the area. I mean really, who does that IN their house!?
In the past women were sometimes sent away during their menstruation. This meant they lived away from the group in a separate house or area. This makes a bit of sense to me because they would have had no modern conveniences such as pads or tampons. I have no idea what they used in the past, but currently I think that most women use old rags or clothes. I was asked one to buy pads for someone and bring them back to the village. That was the only conversation I had the whole three years that was directly related to a woman’s menstrual cycle.
So now armed with that information, we will visit the question once again…what did I do in Papua New Guinea each and every month? Well for the first two years I used very expensive imported tampons from the US. In Ukarumpa, use and disposal was pretty much the same as in the US. But in the village I would stock-pile tampons since I didn’t want to risk running out. And I would carry them out to our trash hole to throw them away. This had to be done each day because if they were left in the bathroom trash overnight, there was a chance that they would attract unwanted creatures.
However, my third year I decided to take a chance and try out the Moon Cup. I had heard a lot about this little wonder of silicone but I had yet to buy my own. A few of my friends touted their praises and had sworn off all other methods completely. Basically it is a little cup that collects the menstrual fluid and then gets washed out and reused. Not only is it more environmentally friendly but it is also economical and healthier for your insides. After a transitional time, I began using the Moon Cup exclusively. And now even though I am back in the US, I have continued to use it. I would recommend that any women should at least try this product. Because we are all shaped differently there are different sizes and brands such as the Diva Cup. Anyone who only uses pads might have a harder time transitioning but if you are comfortable with tampons, just a little practice and you’re good to go. The websites where you can buy these also have great tips and other helpful related products and information. Go ahead, give it a try!