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Ho Chi Minh City septuagenarian vendor fends for leper husband, 5 children for 16 years

Tuesday, January 21, 2020, 16:31 GMT+7
Ho Chi Minh City septuagenarian vendor fends for leper husband, 5 children for 16 years
Nguyen Thi Huynh feeds her husband, who is bed-ridden due to leprosy. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

Despite her spinal damage from a traffic accident seven years ago, an elderly woman in Ho Chi Minh City still manages to take care of five children and her husband, who suffers from leprosy, a job she has braved with joy for 16 years.

Nguyen Thi Huynh dwells in a tiny tenement flat in District 5, Ho Chi Minh City.

The septuagenarian has kept her chin up with a single vendor cart from which she earns her family’s income.

A dedicated wife and mother

Every night, as the clock strikes 11:00 pm, Huynh heads for a local open market for ingredients.

She sells Vietnamese sticky rice with pork loaf slices, a popular breakfast option for the locals.

As she gets home at midnight, the crooked woman quickly steams the right amount of sticky rice and prepares appropriate portions of pork loaf and ketchup.

Her cart has to be up and running very early in the morning to catch the early-bird customers.

Nguyen Thi Huynh begins her daily duties from 11:00 pm until predawn hours of the next morning. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

Nguyen Thi Huynh begins her daily duties from 11:00 pm until predawn hours of the next morning. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

Despite her physical condition, she still sends out a sense of swiftness in the way she runs her cart.

Once the cart has sold out, she returns home and takes a few hours’ rest before getting back to work, for she is the sole breadwinner of the family.

“I have all kinds of options for you. You can get a VND5,000 serving, a VND10,000, or a VND15,000 one,” she explained the three choices of sizes, costing US$0.22-0.65 per palm-sized carton box.

According to Lang Nguyet, an undergraduate at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Medicine and Pharmacy, the sticky rice that Huynh makes is really tasty.

“It’s also affordable for students like me, so I’ve often told my friends to drop by her cart," Nguyen said. "It’s a way to support her family too.”

Nguyen Thi Huynh pushes her sticky rice vendor cart on a street in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

Nguyen Thi Huynh pushes her sticky rice vendor cart on a street in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

Her flat is located in Block C of the Hung Vuong apartment building in District 5.

This shabby home feels almost empty because her children are not around.

Every day after her morning shift, the loving wife comes home to her bed-ridden husband, preparing for him a simple yet affectionate Vietnamese lunch with two steamed eggs and some rice served with vegetable soup.

“He was an English teacher, but after he was struck down with paralysis it was difficult for me to raise our children,” she said, pointing to an old photograph of her husband teaching an English class.

“I thought that it would be a good idea to take a friendly loan from my relatives for a vendor cart. And it’s been with me ever since.”

Nguyen Thi Huynh parks her sticky rice vendor cart at the corner of Nguyen Trai and Tan Da Streets in District 5, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

Nguyen Thi Huynh parks her sticky rice vendor cart at the corner of Nguyen Trai and Tan Da Streets in District 5, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

Now that her five children have flown the nest, the old lady simply hopes that they will soon settle down with their own happy families.

“I’ll stop selling sticky rice when I die,” she said.

“For this Tet holiday, I will work until Lunar New Year’s Eve. I hope my hubby will stay healthy so we can enjoy another Tet season together.”

Nguyen Thi Huynh prepares sticky rice for a customer. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

Nguyen Thi Huynh prepares sticky rice for a customer. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

According to a local official, Huynh’s husband Nguyen Dac Minh, 76, suffers from a serious form of Hansen’s disease, also known as leprosy, a long-term infection that can affect the patient's nerves, skin, eyes, and nose.

The poor man and his wife have three sons and two daughters, all of whom have finished their high school education.

Local authorities pay them visits and provide them with financial aid every year on public holidays and special occasions, the official said.

Huynh is also the caretaker of a granddaughter, Vo Kieu Ngan, who recently entered primary school.

The local Women's Union has granted Ngan the Nguyen Thi Minh Khai scholarship, a financial aid scheme aimed at helping poor children with a strong sense of hard work and high performance.

Nguyen Thi Huynh is left with a crooked posture due to a spine damage from a traffic accident. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

Nguyen Thi Huynh is left with a crooked posture due to spine damage from a traffic accident. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

Nguyen Thi Huynh lives in an old tenement with her husband because her children work far from home. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

Nguyen Thi Huynh lives in an old tenement flat with her husband because her children work far from home. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

As the wrinkled hands hold each other, she hopes her husband will be in good health so they can enjoy another Tet holiday together. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

As the wrinkled hands hold each other, she hopes her husband will be in good health so they can enjoy another Tet holiday together. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

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