"What it is" - Illustration by Diana Bwengye after the poem by Daphine Arinda

In “What it is”, Arinda returns to the theme of abuse and traces the cycles of violence, pain, and (internalised) patriarchy from formative experiences of girlhood to relate them to womanhood as Ugandan women may experience it now. Read the full introduction by Gloria Kiconco here.

What it is

To be a woman is to be a girl first,
own pink plastic watches that don’t tick,
time is a distant reality that you don’t get
Mommy will always be there
to let you taste her Kingfisher
and watch you dance after
her beautiful daughter
tipsy from a sip.

To be a girl
is to stand at the back of the line awkwardly tall
hunching your back
to hide breasts.
It’s blooming fast,
it’s bathing last,
because school bathrooms
offer no privacy
for a girl with a growing bush,
bleeding red
or elongated labia
that Mommy said you would need as a woman
but that mark you odd
amongst age mates.

To be a girl
is to dazzle all with your budding curves
except mommy won’t let you dance
before a crowd with eyes depraved.
you own a double slits blue skirt
that father can’t suffer you wearing to public events.

You learn that watches tick
when Mom is buried.
The hem of your skirt
is cut and knotted to hers
so she does not come back
to haunt you, with her laughter and her love.

You now teach yourself womanly things,
like bending over the toilet seat
to not catch UTIs

To be a woman
is to wear scarlet lips
nails polished like gems
eyes golden like emojis’
hair adorned with daisies and roses.
You wear little clothez
because good things should not be hidden.

Woman is swooned by sweet nothings,
soothed by strong arms,
promised heaven
and given earth.

Woman is mother of little girls.

Little girls at a school party
dancing in circles
whirling their skirts.
The music stops
and a little girl is sent home to her gloom

Little girl,
body striped with swellings
from the maid’s beatings
behind locked gates
she’s stroked by the Groom.
His stick
spills porridge
at its tip.
Little girl shrivels inward
like a poisoned fruit.

Woman is lost
when we cannot protect little girls
from the things that happen to little girls.

Daphine Arinda
Performing poet, writer and lawyer

Daphine Arinda is a Uganda performing poet, writer and lawyer, specialized in Research and Public Interest Litigation. As a lawyer, Daphine seeks to contribute to social justice in her country. As a performance poet, she aims at participating to authentic Uganda literature. She also worked for the East African Community Youth Ambassadors Platform.