Thursday, October 21, 2010

The sex life of the urban poor (2)

I DIDN’T expect lots of e-mail for a feature story I wrote 20 years ago and which I recycled and compressed for this column (last week and now) in the context of the ongoing recycled debate on reproductive health.

Those who want to read my entire magazine piece (“Just a few meters of loving space,” Sunday Inquirer Magazine, Nov. 26, 1990) from which this column piece was recycled could go to my blogsite. I will post it there. It’s also in my book “Journalist in Her Country” which is out of print. I went over the entire piece and realized it would need to be serialized in three columns. But as I said last week, two columns and no more. I also removed some graphic scenes. Deleted portions include sociological observations by professor Michael Tan (before he became an Inquirer columnist).
(Continued from last week)

Carlito Martes, 38, and wife Teresita, 37, have been married 18 years. They have six children, aged 18 to 2. Laking Maynila, the couple started married life with an elopement. They now live in the Leveriza slums. Carlito works as a mason, Teresita as a laundry woman. She is a member of Alay Kapwa, a community cooperative.
The family’s abode, 20 square meters, hardly gives anyone privacy. And with so many children around, the couple had to make a “papag” practically in mid-air, a “mezzanine” that functioned as their bed. For some reason, that “papag” had to be removed. “Walang papag, dieta,” quips Carlito, adding that sometimes they forget to have sex. “Nakakalimutan na rin.” Once a month is how regular it is and because there’s no more papag they have to have sex in a rush—“baka may magising.” When he’s had some drinks, then “doon ko lang ginagalaw.” Because there’s hardly enough space, fancy positions are out. “Pang-prostitute lang daw yun,” Teresita quotes Carlito.

“I used an IUD (intraurine device) for nine years,” Teresita reveals. But twice she had infections because of it. She resorted to the pill, but after experiencing dizzy spells she stopped taking it. After nine years she gave birth again—to twins.

“We’ve never had a time to go out and be by ourselves,” complains Teresita.

“Mabubuhay ka ba ng puro ganun,” Maria Cabello repeatedly points her finger downward, “kung ang tiyan ay kukulo-kulo?” Maria is a full-time housewife while her husband Diosdado is a photographer at the Manila Zoo. He charges P20 per shot, P10 of which goes to him, the other P10 to the laboratory men. The Cabellos, both in their late 30s, have four children aged 16 to 11. The couple did not finish high school.

The Cabello home is small, but it is neat and clean compared to their neighbors’. They have some space and a few trees around them. Maria and Diosdado also have a little private corner to themselves.

Because the couple could not afford more children, Maria took the pill, but after some time she developed cysts and bleeding. She switched to injections and bled every week. Vasectomy was out of the question as the Cabellos erroneously believe it is hazardous to health. The ever-sacrificing wife says, “Hindi na baleng ako ang magkadeperensiya, huwag lang ang mister ko.” The couple has, since then, being using the rhythm or the withdrawal method.

“Paghindi siya napagbigyan sa gabi, maniningil sa araw,” says Maria of her husband. “Pagkakataon naman, e,” Diosdado would insist especially when the children are not around. At night, the couple has to wait for the children to be fast asleep.

Sometimes, Maria says, their bodies are just too tired for anything. “Patay na ang katawan sa kakatrabaho.” But when Diosdado makes kalabit and Maria is not up to it, she psyches herself up so she can enjoy sex too. They are always ready for their private moments to be disturbed. “Lagi kang handa baka may magbukas ng ilaw. It really all depends on the mood. Thirty minutes is long enough.”

Over in Ermita where many squatters live, a pregnancy counseling center has been put up by pro-lifers who promote natural family planning (NFP). (The center gives counseling services to pregnant women with problems as well as to those who want to know more about birth control options, be they artificial or natural.)

May Belgica, NFP trainor, has invited two women from the Adriatico slums to share something about their sex life. The women, Fe A. and Vicenta B., are in their 30s. Fe is heavy with her third child while Vicenta has an only daughter who’s entering her teens. Fe and Vicenta are used to talking openly about their sex lives because they’ve had many discussions about sex, anatomy and family planning with many other women in their community. Vicenta is, in fact, an NFP counselor.

“Oh, they talk about their orgasms quite openly in group discussions,” says Sister Pilar Versoza, a Good Shepherd nun who also works at the center. “Some of them would even admit that they’ve never had one in all their many years of married life.” But thanks to women’s talakayan many women have become more familiar with their bodies and their needs….

In slum areas there is very little that people can hide from one another. The walls have ears, the walls have holes. (Incidentally, there was this billboard in Quiapo which advertised a movie “May Butas sa Dingding.”) Sometimes when there are community meetings during daytime and it takes long for some people to get out of their lean-tos, a leader would yell from the street, “Hoy, bunutin muna niyo yan!” A flustered couple would come out and find themselves being ribbed with, “Baun na baun ba?” followed by lusty laughter. Among the poor, sex, like hunger, is part of their common everyday lot.