“Ruth, what is the Luo word for vagina?” I asked Kendi’s nanny yesterday.
She was outside cleaning the windows and stopped to look at me with a look of horror and great embarrassment.
“Eish, I can’t say that word” she made a sound of shock and started laughing.
“The biological term, I mean. I don’t need any offensive word” I pressed. I was slightly taken aback.
“Kitt, I cannot say that word, its so bad”
“The word is bad?”, now I was confused.
“Why?!” I was sad but not very surprised.
“The only place I have ever heard that word said, is as an insult, by drunks on the side of the road. I cannot repeat it. I can write it down for you if you want” she offered.
She never did write it down for me.
“Anyway Ruth, I need you to refer to Kendi’s sexual organs as what they are. We can say ‘vulva’ donge (right)?” I explained. This is where I was going with this conversation all along anyway.
“OK, I usually refer to it as ‘dudu’ when I need her to turn around when I’m giving her a bath”, she explained with a laugh.
“Yes, well, it’s not an insect (‘dudu’ is the Swahili word for insect). It’s a body part. Just like this is her arm (I pointed at mine), this is her vulva (I pointed at mine)”
She laughed and looked like she wanted to commit suicide!
“Here’s the thing, I want her to know what her body parts are by their proper names. That way, she can report if someone touches her and it is very clear what part of her body they touched. If she comes to us and says, ‘so and so touched my vulva’, there is no ambiguity in that, anyone listening knows where so and so touched. So and so cannot say they touched her stomach when she says ‘down there’ or an actual insect when she says ‘dudu’, etc, etc.”
I continued. “Unfortunately, little girls are taught to be embarrassed of their sexual organs, like its something they should be ashamed of, something awful that has to remain hidden. Most people want to die when they see a little girl touching her vulva. But a little boy, oh well, that’s just what little boys do. It’s awful and the smart slap that little girls receive as someone whispers, ‘don’t touch there (again no name is given)’, is usually very confusing to them.”
“OK, yeah, vulva it is” she replied with a nod. She got it, I think. I pray.