As the clock ticks away its last minutes of an old year, 'the orange shade team' is still preparing for their work on the sidewalk, behind the customs building in Ho Chi Minh City, contrasting with an ocean of people excited to see fireworks outside the fence.
“I watch it every year, it’s getting boring already," jokingly said 46-year-old Nguyen Thi Thanh Van, a sanitation worker in District 1.
After 28 years of working, there has not been a year she missed the fireworks.
“How fast time flies," Van said.
"It has been 28 years already.
"My mother is a retired sanitation worker.
"I started this job on my 18th birthday, February 18, 1992."
Lonely New Year’s Eve
The sidewalk of the pedestrian street behind the customs building has become familiar to sanitation workers.
As the first beam of fireworks flasing in the sky, Van took a glance as a reflex and walked back to her old motorbike on the sidewalk.
Her teammates include both elderly people and 26- to 27-year-old men, with five to six years experience in “watching annual fireworks."
|Nguyen Thi Thanh Van has 28 years of experience in cleaning the street in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Duyen Phan / Tuoi Tre|
They prepare for the working shift, which lasts until 3:00 am and involves clearing an enormous “mountain” of trash on Nguyen Hue Pedestrian Street, a common sight after every big event.
On special occasions such as New Year and Lunar New Year, all sanitation workers of this area have to work harder and come home later.
As for today, they have been here since 3:00 pm and will work until 3:00 to 4:00 am.
When the last magnificent fireworks have stopped, the cleaning team start their job hurriedly.
During the first couple of hours, they were swamped by the flow of people coming to see the fireworks and had to stop their work.
When the ocean of people started to disperse, Dao, 41, Truc, 26, and Tai, 56, quickly brought their brooms and pushed their carts out.
Garbage formed a layer on the street and piled up under every tree on the walking street.
“Garbage must be several times that on normal days and we have to wait until 1:00 am, when the street is quite empty for the cleaning to be easier," Van said.
"Wherever there’s an empty place, we will try to clean it first or otherwise we won’t finish until dawn."
After almost 30 minutes of waiting for the fireworks to end, she said that for so many years, she has not been home to celebrate with her family during the last moments of the year, ever since her boys were little until now, the elder one 25 and the little 17.
The only New Year's Eve memory with her son was when he took his group of friends out on the walking street to watch the fireworks display and stood in front of her, which took her by surprise.
Lives behind the sweeping brooms
After hearing the story of Tran Thi Minh Hanh, a 45-year-old resident in Hoc Mon District, also a sanitation worker, nobody could imagine how she conquered the tragedy of her life.
She has been a hard-working sanitation worker for the last 24 years. “As long as my son is still alive, I’ll try to work and take care of him," said Hanh.
The boy she mentioned is her 17-year-old son, who can only crawl and has to be fed, get changed and bathed due to cerebral palsy.
The woman takes care of her father-in-law as well, who suffered a stroke three years ago.
“There are three times in a day for feeding and changing diapers. First at 1:00 pm and before I go to work at 3:00 pm, I change them again. When I come home in the evening, I feed him and change the diaper one more time. Finally I’ll have dinner, take a shower and rest,” Hanh told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.
Your correspondents came to her house at mid-day, 40-45 minutes away by motorbike from her working place in Tan Phu District.
The house was clean and organized with the son living upstairs and the father-in-law below.
She said this house was purchased when her parents sold the old one and gave each of their children some money. It is the only property that belongs to her family.
She took your correspondents upstairs to meet her 17-year-old son.
He could not speak so she took out the toys and played with him as if she were taking care of a toddler, but her smile remained beautiful like any other mother.
It was only until we heard the story from her neighbor, Sau, that we could picture the bitter moments of her life.
“Some late nights she didn’t even dare to come home as the house was far and deep inside this place. Sometimes, after she arrived home, changed diapers, fed her son and took care of her father-in-law, she got so depressed that she just lay down on the ground and cried her heart out,” Sau said.
Hanh’s New Year wish is to work more and earn more, so that she can save money for her son, as she is not sure how many years she can have with him and she is the only person he can depend on.
Being a sanitation worker is hard full-time work with no day-off, but people like Hanh are still optimistic about how lucky they are to have a job to raise their families.
After eight months working in District 1’s public cleaning service, Nguyen Ngoc Danh, a 43-year-old resident from District 10, dreams of getting a formal contract from her company like everybody else.
Following many years of working different jobs, from a motorbike taxi driver to a bricklayer in, Danh said being a sanitation worker is stable and the salary can provide enough for the whole family.
|Tran Thi Minh Hanh, a 45-year-old resident in Hoc Mon District, Ho Chi Minh City, and her 17-year-old son, who suffers cerebral palsy. Photo: Vu Thuy / Tuoi Tre|
His wife, their two children, his mother-in-law, uncle, his sister-in-law and her son, they all live under the roof of a tiny under-10-square-meter house.
“This is my mother-in-law’s house. My wife lost her hand at six, after a train ran over and crushed it while she was picking used bottles to sell for a living. She tried to find a job but no one wanted to hire her so she just stays home and takes care of the kids," Danh said.
In his family, he is the breadwinner, who provides for his children’s secondary education and the next in line is his mother-in-law, who takes on any seasonal job whenever someone needs to clean their house or wash dishes.
No matter what the weather or the day is, he works regularly from 3:00 to 4:00 pm until 1:00 to 2:00 am and barely sees his children.
“I’ve had a rough life so I only want a stable job, no matter how hard it is to provide for them. Me and my wife will try our best for their brighter future," Danh said.
For the children’s better future
In contrast to the narrow and dark house, due to the old furniture, the brightest spot might be the elementary school graduation pictures of Nha and Dung, his son and daughter, hung on the wall’s corner.
These final holidays of the year, from Christmas to Lunar New Year, there has not been a day for him to spend at home with his children.
His dedication to work is for the children’s better future.