Son Ngoc Hai, a 60-year-old fisherman from Soc Trang Province in southern Vietnam, has made a living for the past 30 years reeling in fish.
But what makes Hai different from the average fisherman? He’s blind!
Many of Hai’s days begin with his wife walking him over to a small irrigation canal about half a kilometer from their home.
She then helps him prepare his gear before he sets off to catch what he can.
Hai first started to lose his vision when he became ill at 30 years old. Later his eyes became infected from spraying pesticides and again became more damaged when he was hit by rice while working in local paddies as a hired worker.
As his vision dwindled and his wife aged, they realized they were no longer able to work as hired workers and began to make a living catching fish.
Currently, Hai fishes about 10 days per month, typically when the tides are at their lowest. For the rest of the month, the tides are too high to catch anything.
Much of Hai’s fishing is done by hand, reaching through the mud to catch small fish and snails.
He’s usually out on the water for three to four hours and brings in about a kilogram of fish, many of which he sells to neighbors for VND5,000-10,000 (US$0.2-0.4) each.
|Hai and his wife care deeply for each other. Photo: Yen Trinh / Tuoi Tre|
According to neighbors, Hai is the best fisherman in the area.
On days when his wife is busy, he waits for a neighbor to walk him over to the canal. He can usually find the way himself, but occasionally gets lost.
It is very rare that Hai lets his disability get in his way.
“He is very resourceful. He can repair damaged furniture. He can also prepare food and kindle fires to cook dishes,” his wife, Thach Thi Tha said, adding that the two rarely argue, and even make jokes about his blindness.
“I once told him I probably wouldn’t meet him in our ‘next life,’ but he responded ‘Are you crazy? I will not be blind in the next incarnation. My eyes will be bright and I will take care of you!’,” she said.
Tha is thankful for the love that Hai not only shows to her, but also to her family.
When her father was diagnosed with severe pneumonia, Hai looked after him as if he was his own biological father.
“At the time, I was ill and could not do anything. He boiled warm water to wipe my father’s body and fed him spoonfuls of porridge every day.
“He gave all of our meat to my father [so he could heal]. My father passed away three years ago, but he often says that, if my father was still alive, he would be happy when living with him in our house.”
He also works hard to give great care to his 54-year-old paralytic younger-brother-in-law.
Of course, Hai also cares deeply for his own biological family. Whenever he has money, he takes a motorbike taxi to visit his parents, bringing with him meat and fish.
|The couple misses their daughter who lives far away. Photo: Yen Trinh / Tuoi Tre|
Despite his family’s poverty, Hai pushed his daughter to complete high school and go to university, though his daughter eventually left school to get a job to support her family.
“I still dream that one day my eyes will see light again so that there will be less pressure on my family,” he said.
He also dreams of earning enough money to dredge a stagnant canal behind his house, pay debts, and care for his wife and brother-in-law.
To thank those who have helped him and his family, Hai often treats their sprained twists or gives them a massage and acupressure.
“I used to study oriental medicine in Ho Chi Minh City, so I want to do something to help my neighbors. I do it for free,” Hai said.
Hua Van Khuong, chairman of the Red Cross Society in Ke Sach District, Soc Trang Province, where Hai and his wife live, said Hai’s family was among the most disadvantaged in the district.
Hai is a good-natured man who daily takes care of his family. The district supports his family with rice and necessities worth about VND400,000 ($16.4) per month, Khuong added.