Pictures from Senegal

Wednesday, December 15

Diva Cup

Stop. Before we go any further, I need to make the following announcement: this blog is about menstrual cycles. If you’re a guy perhaps it’d be better for you not to read this. I’m serious. This means you, Dad.

Ok, now that that’s out of the way… it has come to my attention that people I don’t actually know read my blog because of its informative properties. Therefore, I’ve chosen to share (in the most professional way I can hope for?) my knowledge on being a women in either the Peace Corps West Africa and dealing with my monthly gift.

The Peace Corps handbook tells a future volunteer to pack everything they could want for the next two years and specifically lists feminine hygiene products as a part of that pack. They say this because more often than not there is no place to buy what you’re looking for. Either it doesn’t exist, or you’d have to travel way too far to either find it, or easily return, on a monthly endeavor. If you’re a mildly OCD type like me, you’d be facing an excel “packing” spreadsheet attempting to calculate an average tampon usage per month multiplied by estimated duration in Africa, with buffers for any changes inevitably incurred by unforeseeable strain on the body (because let’s face it, adjusting to PC life is NOT easy). I didn’t like statistics class in college and therefore couldn’t find an acceptable calculation that didn’t involve an entire suitcase full of tampons.

So I opted for the alternative, Diva Cup, for the sole advantage of saving packing space. The diva cup is a closed-ended funnel shaped piece of molded plastic designed to rest inside a vagina and collect waste matter. Periodically the cup is extracted, emptied and reinserted. At the end of a menstrual cycle the cup is cleaned, sterilized, and stored until next month. This one product can be used for the entire duration of my Peace Corps service and takes up less room in my suitcase than a bottle of Tums.

I found one of the only stores in my state to sell the device on its shelves and dragged a trusted friend with me. The economic crisis being in full swing, and everyone looking to save a few bucks, I talked my friend into buying one too. I didn’t have an opportunity to try the method out before heading to Africa but she did and, quite frankly, her results were inconclusive and a bit daunting.

Naturally this meant that along with all the other things I had on my mind, I got slammed with starting my period my very first night in Africa. Hurray! So I got out my cup, read the directions another seven times and spent a good half hour making sure I’d positioned it right. And I did all of this without dropping it down the new squat toilet I was adjusting to; bonus points! Thank god the Peace Corps took mercy on us in that first week by providing a running tap next to the hole in the ground as well as some toilet paper. I probably would’ve cried if they hadn’t been there.

The application of this product is something I’ve never had experience with… going inside. With the tampon’s easy applicator and removal string, who had the need? But honestly, the whole experience was similar to giving up toilet paper. The first time you do it a panic attack nearly cripples you with nightmares of germs and disease and you spend no less than ten minutes washing your hands. The next time you bring it down to a mere 5 minutes. Eventually, you relax. You haven’t gotten sick and, after all, that’s what soap was invented for.

As the months continue to rack up, I’ve become more and more appreciative of my Diva Cup. The benefits are more than the initial savings in suitcase room. Because it’s made of plastic, it can be worn for longer than 8 hours if necessary without fear of toxic shock syndrome. Additionally, there is no fear of leak (after you’ve gotten the hang of insertion, that is) and therefore no fear of embarrassing stains or inability to wash them out when I do my laundry by hand. If that weren’t enough, there are frequently times when water isn’t always available to wash either the cup or hands so this option allows me to wait until I’ve returned to the privacy of my own home, or at the very least a trusted locale. 

Now let’s talk about trash. There are no landfills, no recycling centers, and no compost facilities to make things better. What we do have is a lot of delusions about how the trash isn’t affecting our environment. The outside perimeter of the city is covered in it. Either you carry it there yourself, or if you’re lucky (like me) someone goes around the neighborhood collecting it for you… and then dumps it out there. My family creates about one small desk size waste basket of non-biodegradable trash per week. That’s pretty impressive considering there are 8 of them. I make about one basket all by myself, and I’m constantly looking for a way to stop making more (damn drink mix packets!). Anyway, there’s a lot of waste product involved with the whole tampon issue and I’m seriously thankful that I’m not contributing all that to the town’s trash field. Kids and animals alike both play there, and the thought of them discovering (and playing with) my waste makes me cringe with embarrassment.

What do the Senegalese women do, you ask? Well, my understanding is that they employ the tactic of cotton fabrics stuffed in underwear which is then washed and reused. The whole process is well hidden as I’ve never seen anything resembling this hung out on the laundry line to dry. Feminine hygiene products are available for sale at western stores, but they are very expensive, and as I’ve mentioned before generally don’t appeal to the publicity that accompanies the trash removal aspect of society.

So now that I’ve convinced you to purchase your own Diva Cup (whether you’re joining PC or looking for a cost/ environmental savings at home) I’d like to touch on my one and only mishap with the cup. As I’ve mentioned before, at the end of the week, I clean and sterilize the cup before storing it away until the next month. In Mboro this means I borrow my family’s gas tank to boil it in water for about five minutes then soak it in a bleach water solution for another five minutes. Attempting to avoid the cup’s discovery by one of six of my brothers, I wait until the house is empty. As I’m always attempting to accomplish more than one task at a time this means I once found myself sufficiently distracted to the point of forgetting about the cup while it boiled on the gas. I remembered it again shortly after the water had completely boiled away and the plastic started to melt and smoke up the kitchen. Oops.

In utter panic I contacted my sister and explained that she needed to purchase me a new cup and mail it out within the next 24 hours so that by some miracle it would arrive before the next month. It got here 7 days later in one of those small flat yellow envelopes; alhumdililahi (frequently used Arabic saying for ‘thanks be to god’). Since that incident, I’ve altered my sanitization procedure so that I now remove the boiling water from the gas before put the cup in, followed by bleach. And I’ve also got a renewed sense of comfort knowing that my sister’s on call for African emergencies.

1 comment:

  1. This is the second post I've read from aspiring/PCVs. I started using one earlier this year and I am still getting used to it. I find it very useful, convenient and economical. It's great for women to be aware of the alternatives.