When traveling timing is always an issue, usually I am traversing time zones. But the other major factor to account for is the cultural time difference. Without trying to sound as though I am categorising the entire continent of Africa as one country, it is important to account for ‘African time.’ In my experiences this is similar to ‘Island time’ in the Caribbean. Both are a variable amount of time added onto a said time in either location. I’m sure it drives the Swiss mad, but as a person who’s tardiness is engrained in her as much as a sole is to a shoe it is refreshing to be somewhere for once where I am early. And in Eswatini, the ‘Africa time’ difference was 45 minutes to enjoy my coffee and for once not stress about every minute of daylight I was losing due to ‘Africa time.’
I am in Eswatini, up until last year called by its colonial name Swaziland, for a total of 48 hours filming my latest documentary ‘Womenstruate.’ Of that time, I have one full day (midnight to midnight) to complete Day 4 of the documentary and have yet to meet my contributors. The clock is ticking and I am unusually calm of which so can only attribute to the fact that very same morning, I myself got my period.
Calmness over cramps
My documentary is looking at how women of different decades and experiences view their menstrual cycles across the cycle of life. I have irregular periods- I never know when to expect them and I can never expect the same experience twice. For me, birth control does not regulate them either. But this day, this cycle, for once I was prepared. I’ve written before what it’s like for me to get my period while working in a refugee camp in Bangladesh.
I am aware I can leave the camp.
I can get supplies.
But I can still be stressed, uncomfortable and unprepared.
The production process for this documentary is to complete filming in 4-7 days, the same time of a woman’s average menstrual cycle. Packing for a shoot for 4-7 days I try and keep it light to avoid arguments at the airline counters. In this instance though, I was forward thinking enough to bring menstrual supplies (a menstrual cup and re-washable underwear) and was actually a bit excited to be experiencing the very topic I was talking with women about. It made the ‘Africa time’ pass easily.
It was around noon before I actually got the cameras rolling, normally I could be stressing that half the day (and daylight) was wasted. Today I was unusually serene and excited to see what the second half of the day would bring.
No daylight wasted.
I must confess, some of my serenity may be due in part to also being prepared for shorter winter daylight hours and sacrificing some creature comforts to instead bring a battery powered light panel. I didn’t fear losing the light as I normally do, and have learned I can easily manage a week by rotating through 2 changes of clothes.
No, I did not sacrifice my coffee for the light panel.
The Swazi setting sun provided a light that could make even something as difficult to film as menstruation seem magical. Maybe it is.
#MagicalMenstruation is not a thing (or a hashtag)
And I guess that is something I am also trying to prove in this documentary, how women can manage their menstruation and all that can be accomplished in 4-7 days at the same time. It’s not necessarily a ‘magical process’ but it is at times unbelievable how a film can be made, girls can peruse an education, live with disease or through a natural disaster. That’s something worth celebrating.
Lauren Anders Brown is a self-shooting documentary director, who doesn't always discuss menstruation but is trying to normalise it in her new documentary 'Womenstruate.' Follow her on twitter and instagram: @LABCollaborate.