An Adulteress’ Tale:
A Visit With The Village Prostitute
Despite being warned by the whole village not to visit the home of the local prostitute, one erstwhile journalist does – and gets more than she bargained for: The woman’s life story.
Society says she is an adulteress. But Mary Kanista, a woman living in a northern Sri Lankan village, does not bear a grudge about this.
I was visiting this village, which must remain unnamed, to research a story on female-led households, the homes of women had lost their husbands during Sri Lanka’s civil war. There were 300 families living in the village and around 30 female-led households among them. I spoke with many. And almost everyone I met told me not to go and visit the house belonging to Mary Kanista. I was both surprised and curious. Why? I would ask. Because she is an adulteress, they told me.
So of course, I made plans to visit Mary Kanista.
Two of my daughters act as though I am a stranger to them.
“I am used to it,” Mary Kanista tells me when I ask her about this label. And then she gave me permission to tell her story, in the hopes that it might increase empathy and understanding for women like her in other villages like this one.
“I used to be really good at sports when I was at school and everybody knew me for this,” she begins her tale. “My father died when I was young, killed in a bombing. My mother had a hard time bringing us up. Until my brothers grew up and went out fishing, everybody looked at our family as the poorest of the poor. Still, I always loved sports. I used to win a lot and whenever I came home with a trophy, my mother would tell me off, saying that as a girl, I shouldn’t be so keen on athletics.”
“Then I fell in love with a man who came to work in our village. My husband was a very good person. He cared for me and our children selflessly. He was also a disciplined man. When a widow returned to our village and remarried, he was reproachful. I do wander what he would think of me now,” she said, her eyes filling with tears.
“My husband was killed in the shelling during the last war. When I found out, I cried, I had no idea how I was going to bring up seven children! I was four months pregnant at the time. Nobody came to help us with things like that back in those days.”
“After the war we were locked up in a refugee camp. My eldest son studied for his school leaving exams and after school he sold peanuts. We got some money from this, but that was all the funding we got. When we came to this village my son gave up school and started fishing. I thought that maybe he would look after the whole family. But instead he got married. And as soon as he had his own family, he stopped caring for us. What he earns is barely enough for his family.”
“I used to sell string hoppers [a form of Sri Lankan street food, made from batter] for a while. I did this after the children had left for school so they wouldn’t know how bad things were.”
“After he got married, my eldest son stopped talking to us. I was so upset. All of my other children are girls and the youngest is just seven. I knew I had to do something for my children. I didn’t know what to do. But my house had no man anymore. And soon a lot of men were coming here, knowing that the house was not protected by a man. First I resisted their advances. I wanted to preserve my self-respect. But I couldn’t continue like that for long, in these hard times.”
“I can earn between LKR500 and LKR1,000 [around EUR6] a day by selling my body. That’s the most I can get. That’s how much I am scorned for. Sometimes they even use my body on credit. But I am used to it now. Even if I wanted to change now, for the sake of my children, society wouldn’t let me.”
“Now I’ve done something that is unacceptable in society. Everyone in this village has distanced themselves from me, they call me an adulteress. Even my children look down on me. Two of my daughters got married and even they now see me as an adulteress. If they see me on the road, they act as though I am a stranger to them.”
“I know why people treated me like this. I know what I am doing is wrong. My only reason for living now is my other four children, who I must continue to support.”