I have always known that there are people in the world who really suffer. We all have. We all watch the Wateraid adverts, the Comic Relief fund pleas. We all know how much people struggle around the world.
But for the last few days, I have walked by women carrying heavy loads of baskets, balanced on one shoulder by a stick. I have seen them sitting at stalls from 4am until 5pm, sometimes later, selling their wares in desperation, in the hope that if they work hard enough, they can send their children to school. Or at least keep them alive.
Đàn ông xây nhà, đàn bà xày tô ám:
A man builds his house, a woman, her family
I have spoken to many young Vietnamese women, often students, eager to practice their English with a tourist – they believe it is their only chance of a future. They always grab that token Westerner photo. Because, when you ask them, you find out that they have never left Vietnam. Many have never ventured out of their home towns. I spoke to a lady at a travel agency who had never left Hanoi. I said she was lucky to work in a travel agency, she could book herself a holiday. She replied ‘no you are lucky’ with so much sincerity that I told her I’d squeeze her into my luggage and take her with me. I am so lucky.
It all hit home for me at the Vietnamese Women’s Museum. Women will leave their families in the village to work all day in the centre, in Hanoi, staying in one room apartments with 10 other women. They will go home maybe fortnightly and will take $20 with them for their children. Some of them earn more than their husbands, who are often pig farmers and earn around $60 a year.
During the Nam war, these women carried injured men from the front line, performed intricate surgeries on the wounded in dark tunnels, shared meagre rations with the wounded, worked the land to keep the country fed and even fought their own battles with the enemy.
And even though these women earn just as much (if not more) bread than their husbands, even though they pull their weight on the farm or in the rice paddies, these women still are often paid for with dowries. They are kept at home for a year to look after the child and are regarded as less important than their superior spouses.
And yet, when you look at all the facts, what on earth can’t these women do? They work and lift and look after the children all in one go. When they are not at work, they are eating or sleeping. They are the heroes of their families and their societies. And the most incredible thing is to see them smile as they go.
Don’t get me wrong, men work as hard and suffer here too. But I felt the need to celebrate the women of Vietnam, who do not have a clue that they are superheroes.