There were things my mother never taught me, and the vagina was one of them. Growing up, I had little or no awareness about it, where exactly it was “down there,” and why I even had it.
The first time I ever heard about the vagina, I was in college. A female teacher had come into our all-girls class to tell us about the menstrual cycle, the female organ, and that pregnancy can happen. The lecture was not communicated in the clearest of terms but the message was that we should never let boys close to our organs.
I grew up in a society where, as a female, I was never taught to talk about what lay between my legs. Talking about it was tabooed; my mother or anyone else never talked to me about it, and the little I knew, I read from books that I put away at the sounds of footsteps for fear of being caught flipping through pages of breasts and penises and vaginas.
Because I had no one to talk to about my vagina, a boy had written to me when I was fifteen telling me about it, telling me the pain that came with it, how much better it was to be penetrated at an early age so as to ease child labor in the future. I read his notes, cried and lived. He threatened to rape me, and all I did again was cry and ask the darkness in my head why I had a vagina, why I was a woman.
Once, my mother had woken me in the middle of the night to talk about virginity, but she kept referring to the vagina as “there.” As she spoke, her voice shook, her voice danced for words to send the message, and I finally concluded that she either did not have enough courage or that she didn’t want to call the vagina by its name lest I think it normal and begin to say it.
It is true that no woman gets through life without stories to tell, and the story of my vagina is one that I can only tell through ink because my vagina was a part of me that I lived in the dark with. I never talked about it with anyone, not even with my reflections in the mirror or with the tranquil in the room when I was alone. I had a hard time calling my vagina by its name except in my thoughts.
At seventeen, the words “sanitary pad,” “shaving” and “menstruation” scared me. They were too huge to escape my lips, and my society made it more difficult for me to ask questions about them. My family never had the time to talk about the vagina and the things it does; they were always busy talking about dreams. My friends never had the time, too, and my teachers at school thought they had taught us all we needed to know. But the questions I had about my private part, the organ “down there,” remained. Questions like if I was supposed to let the thick hair growing “there” to continue growing because small boils developed on the skin the few times I shaved them.
I wanted to ask why I got stained each time “Aunty Flo” visited even with the sanitary pads. I wanted to ask where exactly my piss and my period came out from. But I was too afraid to ask. No one was talking about those things, and I couldn’t look at my vagina in the mirror while I peed or while my period flowed because I constantly feared that someone would walk in through the door to see me staring at my vagina and say, “Amara, you’re a corrupt child,” and later report to my mother who would hit me and ask what kind of woman I was growing into.
Once, “Aunty Flo” didn’t visit when it was time and I grew scared, because I had touched a seven-year-old boy’s penis and believed that pregnancy had happened.
Who could I talk to about my fears? Nobody. And so I stayed in the dark with my stomach-churning fear and “Aunty Flo” visited the next month.
I am twenty-one and I cannot talk about my vagina boldly and in a loud voice like I talk about my dreams because I still live in that same society, one that will condemn me if I did. One that plays down the kind of joy that comes with having a vagina, one that fails to admit the beauty and strength of the vagina. The society I live in pretends about this beautiful organ, about the beautiful feelings it evokes, the pride it comes with: having the power to hold a penis, a thousand sperm, and allowing the passage of a baby.
They do not know of its strength and they also do not know that, one day, my vagina will become a source of happiness to me.
Amarachi Mbagwu Chilaka is a prolific young writer who started writing in 2014 after she lost her passion for singing to fear and discouragement. She has since written many unpublished articles, short stories and poems and a number of songs. She’s a co-founder of the Bleeding Pen Literary Society (BPLS). She resides in Owerri, Nigeria.