Woooooofff. I had just walked at least 500 steps up a mountain with my overstuffed bags and set them down with pleasure. The hostel hostess quickly brought us water, and we sat there, drinking it down and drinking in the view that stretched out before us: rolling, tree covered hillsides as far at the eye could see. The city of Santa Marta sprawled out in the distance, now over an hour away.
I started to take note of my immediate surroundings, and noticed that there were many women in the entry room, and more continued to huff and puff their way up into view as they climbed the steps. As conversation began to unfold, I came to understand that they were all gathering here in the woodsy setting of the hostel to have a “women’s meeting” and that I was more than welcome to join. I always love meeting strong women who are active in the community so I was elated at the offer. I set up my hammock, took a quick shower, and joined the women for their early evening gathering.
There were many red sheets strung up between the trees, creating a sort of red tent, and women were entering one at a time. Outside the tent, one woman was wafting the smoke of a bundle of burning rosemary around each woman who was awaiting entry, and once she had been “cleansed” the tent would open, and a woman dressed in all red placed a red flower “bindi” on the forehead of the woman entering, welcoming her to the tent.
The whole procession reminded me of the best parts of India, with the smoky scents hanging in the air, and the bindis. As I waited outside the tent, the women were so kind, saying they were happy I had come, and I was happy to be there. I had no idea what I was in for.
I was welcomed in to the tent, the same way as the others, and I took a seat on the red carpet that covered the earth. There were some other foreigners from the hostel, or transplants to the town of Minca, and we chatted amongst ourselves as we awaited the beginning of the meeting. Spread before us were a variety of delicious treats, and finger-painting like pictures hung above an area with a book, a flower, and a glass of water. Incense was lit and its aroma drifted around us all.
Eventually the last person entered the tent, and the woman in red began to address us all. Everything was in Spanish, as I imagined it would be, and she started explaining to us about the “Tienda Roja” book, which was the basis for this meeting- a meeting intended for women to honor themselves and learn to love their menstrual cycle.
The leader of the meeting started by telling us a bit of the history of where the idea for the “Carpa Roja” group came from. Historically in some cultures when women were menstruating, they would put up a red tent, and the women would go inside, separate themselves from the world and reflect during that seven day cycle. She went on to describe how each week of our cycle was like a season: spring, summer, fall or winter, and how we should pay attention to the feelings we have during these seasons. She even encouraged that perhaps we make art during our menstrual cycle, and then she gestured up to the “finger paintings” that were hanging in the tent and told us she had made them using her own beautiful blood. I tried to keep an open mind.
I had heard there would be meditation during the meeting which is part of what drew me in, and there was, but it wasn’t at all as I was expecting. During this meditation we closed out eyes and were told to go back in time, to the day we first received our periods. We were to talk to our past selves and process the thoughts and emotions that arose. Afterwards we were asked to share how we felt about all this.
At one point, a woman came in to the circle, late and with her young son. When it came time to sit in a circle, hand to uterus with the person next to you, the little boy asked, “What’s a uterus? I can’t feel mine. Where should I put my hands?” This provided some comic relief, and the leader told him to put his hands to his heart.
During another portion of the meeting all women stood, and a red string was passed from person to person, connecting us all. We then went around and in turn we said who we were. For example, I am Holly, daughter of Lori, grand daughter of Edith, and mother of all my dreams and projects. For each of these things we wrapped the string around our wrists, paying homage to all the uteri before us, and all the uteri that would follow.
As a closing project, we were given a piece of paper with a chrysalis on one half, where we were supposed to write things we wanted to overcome, and on the other half we were supposed to draw a butterfly, signifying what we would become. Then we left the tent, stood around a bonfire, tore the paper in two and burned the pieces, saying what we wanted to overcome and what we want to become.
We closed this multiple hour meeting with songs around a fire. This was possibly the most enjoyable part for me, except I was so hungry I could barely concentrate, and the leader kept wanting to sing another and another and another song. After some truly lovely songs about being a beautiful woman who is one with the earth we went back to the tent where we all passed around the treats and reflected upon this unique Carpa Roja group and what we got out of the meeting. It was a long meeting, much longer than I was anticipating, and the whole experience was definitely a surprise to me. I don’t think I was the only one who went in to the meeting blind, I think some others had no idea they were about to join a 3.5 hour long “period party”, but it was an experience to remember, to say the least.
Apparently this is a global group, with meetings in multiple countries, so if you’re actually interested in getting involved, seek it out. In English the book is called The Red Tent and the groups are called The Red Carpet.