Lugging ice blocks the main source of income in 'village of widows’

By Nguyen Ngoan    January 28, 2020 | 07:47 pm PT
Lugging ice blocks the main source of income in 'village of widows’
Nguyen Thi Cuc carries ice blocks and does other menial jobs to support her family. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Ngoan.
In a small fishing village in central Thanh Hoa Province, locally known as the 'village of widows', women earn a living by lugging ice blocks.

Unlike other Vietnamese, women in Ngu Loc Commune, Hau Loc District, are not happy when Tet (Lunar New Year) comes since there are no jobs available as they struggle to feed their mothers and children.

Nguyen Thi Bac, 57, feels weak each time she bends to pick up an ice block weighing 30-45 kg. She uses one hand to hold the ice in place on her shoulder and the other to hold a rope leading to a boat.

Bac has been doing this work for nearly 10 years. She carries ice blocks, food and other necessities from land to fishing boats, and when they return she carries their fish to shore.

Twenty five years ago a tropical depression claimed the lives of nearly 200 fishermen in her village when they were out at sea, leaving behind hundreds of women who have been forced to become the main breadwinner of their families.

Carrying the huge ice blocks requires great strength, but the majority of the women doing it are well above 40 years of age. They were unable to move out and find jobs in other places since they had small children and mothers to take care of. Most did not own any lands either, and so earned a living by doing jobs like this or catching shrimp and clam.

Hoang Thi Xuan, 42, of Hai Loc Commune, said she also makes a living by carrying ice blocks when boats come to shore at 7-8 a.m. every day.

To avoid slipping, the women wear sandals. Since they are constantly walking in saltwater, their feet are blistered.

They all wear raincoats to protect them from the water, some made from gunny sacks and some even from old nylon bags to save money.

Some fall sick from carrying the ice under the scorching sun in summer and skin rashes from the cold weather in winter.

"My shoulder is cold, but I have to do this job to support my family," Xuan said.

Women in Ngu Loc Commune, Hau Loc District, Thanh Hoa Province, carry huge ice blocks to boat. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Ngoan.

Women in Ngu Loc Commune, Hau Loc District, Thanh Hoa Province, carry huge ice blocks to boat. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Ngoan.

There is no fixed time for fishing boats to leave since it depended on many factors like the weather and ocean tides, she said.

A vessel on a week-long fishing trip needs 1-1.5 tons of ice to preserve the catch. For each block they carry from shore to boat, a worker is paid VND 5,000 ($0.22). During peak fishing seasons, when there are many boats, a worker like Xuan carries 40-60 blocks and earns VND200,000-300,000 ($8.64-12.96) a day.

Some do not dare to take days off even when their bodies ache or heads hurt. In any case, they are used to the constant hurt. A worker takes time off if she is too tired or ill, but not for long since she needs to earn money.

"Carrying ice blocks is a low-wage job and besides there is not always work," Vuong Thi Tuyet, 50, of Hai Loc, who has been doing this work for five years, said. "There are days when we have endless work and days when we have nothing to do since fishing boats return empty. It is also normal for us to stay at home with no work to do when seasons change because of stormy weather."

"After my husband died I have done many jobs to enable my three children to go to school. But carrying ice blocks is the main job."

But making money is tough for people like Tuyet, Xuan and Bac before Tet since fishermen stop going out to sea and will not resume until the 10th of the new lunar year (February 3).

Families in the village of widows cannot dream of a big Tet; they just hope to give their children three meals a day.

Nguyen Thi Cuc, 42, said: "It is frustrating for me to think about Tet and I focus more on how to make ends meet from day to day."

go to top