I came back from midterm break with (according to I believe it was Andy, who took the time to count them) “no less than thirty” mosquito bites covering my legs and feet. Nathaniel was outraged by the lack of quality of the hotel I stayed in while in Abidjan, and declared that Ivory Coast is not a nice place. Most of the other students blamed my nights sleeping in a tent on the beach. I’m not entirely sure where I got the majority of them, but oh well. By now they’ve mostly faded, but they were prominent the first few days I came back to Ghana.
“The mosquitoes must really love me,” I said.
Ohemaa raised her hand and waved it in the air. I could tell she was bursting to tell me something.
“Miss Kate! I know why the mosquitoes like biting you so much!” she said. “It’s because when they see your skin color, they think your legs must be ice cream!”
Oh, my dearest darling Ohemaa! She says the most adorable things.
“Miss Kate,” she said when she came to my desk during snack break one day, “Do you know what... go away, Paa Kwesi, I’m trying to ask Miss Kate something and I don’t want you to hear!” Ohemaa shooed Paa Kwesi away, and shyly whispered into my ear, “Do you know what minstration is?”
“You mean like administration?” I asked.
“No! Minstration! Don’t you know what that is?” she demanded.
“I don’t think so. Where did you learn it?”
“Elsie taught me. She said it’s when...” and she just giggled, too embarrassed to tell me.
Elsie happened to be walking by at that moment. “Minstration,” she said. “You know, when you minstrate.”
I started laughing. “You mean menstruation?”
“Yes!” said Ohemaa in the tone of voice that I use whenever a Ghanaian “corrects” my American pronunciation.
“Yes, I know what that is,” I said.
“Miss Kate... have you ever minstrated?” Ohemaa asked, and held her breath, as though waiting for me to reveal a deep secret I’ve never shared with anyone else until now.
Her seriousness made it difficult to keep from laughing, so I just smiled and nodded. Ohemaa’s eyes widened and her jaw dropped. “You have? Really?!” she exclaimed. “Yes, I have,” I answered, barely succeeding in keeping my voice steady.
“What are you talking about?” asked Paa Kwesi, who had been listening in.
“It’s a secret, only for girls!” Ohemaa said proudly, as though simply being aware that this particular mystery of femininity existed somehow initiated her into womanhood. A few of the other girls came in, whispering, “Minstration!” and doing a little dance, as the boys all stared at them, slightly puzzled.