Written for Third Presbyterian Church November Spire. I hope to write more about my September Ecuador trip soon.
The uterus is a second heart. ~ Andrea Espinoza
Eighteen of us, Days for Girls regional representatives and collection point leaders, gathered in a suite at Hacienda Jimenita to literally sit at the feet of an amazing woman, Andrea Espinoza, the leader of Days for Girls Ecuador. In the coming weeks, we would learn so much from her about how menstrual health is understood in Ecuador.
She opened her first talk with, “the uterus is a second heart. It holds emotions. Menstrual pain is related to emotional pain. Meditating, breathing, and taking care of your emotions are important. The uterus can also hold your partner’s pain, so be careful with that too”. She continued to connect menstruation to taking care of yourself (body and soul) and the earth. “Menstruation is love. Menstruation is a woman’s magic; she can offer it back to the earth for the plants.” She describes a practice of free bleeding into the earth that was ancient and is being revived by a young generation. A long traditional skirt is worn to free bleed. Women enter a movable tent (so the menstruation can be spread around an area) to bleed, sometimes they do this as a group. Together in the tent, they write, paint, make music, and talk to solve problems. It is creative, regenerative, healing time. Her talk shifted to reasons Ecuadorian women prefer reusable pads, and I now have a deeper appreciation for the way Ecuadorians care for their earth mother, Pacha Mama. There is a sacredness to their ecology.
Andrea notes that the disposable pads in Ecuador are made cheaply, with lots more chemicals than in the US disposable pads. The disposable pads smell bad, especially when the blood is on them (on, not in, because they don’t absorb well either). These pads can cause skin irritation too. Being able to see the blood on washable pads or in other reusable options, allows women to notice changes in their blood (which could be important for overall health). It also allows them to collect the blood for other uses, such as healing acne, or in artwork.
We completed several distributions in Ecuador totaling over 650 kits. Along with the distributions that were scheduled we also gave kits to hotel staff and other women who were part of cultural exchange excursions in the Amazon. Andrea’s warm smile and confidence put those listening to her words at ease. At each place we visited, Andrea was greeted warmly by the leaders. It was clear that she had connected with them professionally and personally. The kits were well received because she had done the groundwork to make these connections and explain exactly what they would be receiving.
Andrea told us that most of the indigenous women already used a washable solution. They would cut up old men’s shirts and use those as menstrual rags. It was not ideal as there wasn’t a waterproof barrier. They saw the DfG pads as an upscale version of their own solution and were thrilled to have them. Many people asked for Andrea’s contact information so they could order more for family or pass her information along to others not able to attend the distribution. During the presentations, Andrea asked indigenous leaders to hold up her posters or translate key phrases into Kichwa, their language that they are working to preserve. Most distributions include a moment for questions. We noticed that in one place no one asked any. Andrea explained that the local leader had done lots of work to make sure her people understood what was going to happen before we arrived and was able to translate nearly all the presentation into Kichwa, so her people got the information they needed. Local leaders make all the difference.
Why did we take eighteen white women? So that we could go back to our corners of the world and bear witness to what we saw and experienced. The people of Ecuador are proud of their home, traditions, and language. They care deeply about plants, animals, and the earth. They are generous, warm, intelligent, and passionate. I’m sure they have a second heart.