Mum s home!

(No.7, Vol.3, Aug 2013 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

50-year-old Truong Van Anh, a lecturer at Saigon University in Ho Chi Minh City recounts memories of his mother, now 77,
during the years 1972-1990, when he was a school boy.

Mum’s home!’ someone says, and it makes the whole family get up and rush to the river bank, where my mum unloads burden sixty or seventy kilos of fish, shrimps and crabs.
Everyone is happy. One child spreads out the covers of bags of urea fertilizer on the ground, another carries baskets, another pours out the fish, and all of us sort them together.
Garbage and shells are removed, several kinds of crabs are put into a basket, and larger fish are set apart to be sold or dried. Fish for salting or meals and are washed, as well as crabs. I leave mum and sisters struggling to get the fish to the yard for drying. Later, they will be sold around the neighbourhood and put into jars to be marinated. My brothers and I bring the bunch of sorted crabs and shellfish to boil, and we gather to enjoy this delicious food. At times, eating the fantastic food, we forget to save portions for mum and sisters who are working hard at their posts.

Cartoon: Duc Lai

Mum’s home! We, nine in all with six boys and three girls, spring up from our places indoors and out and dart out to meet mum. This time, her burden is light because the two large baskets have no salted fish, dry fish or fish sauce. Instead, even more attractive items await; sometimes its fruit, sometimes fermented pasta, flavourful rice-flour pudding, sometimes sticky rice cakes and sugared popcorn. Paying no attention to the sweat beads on mum’s face, we naively take her gifts, the result of a full load that has been transported and sold from early morning to late afternoon.
We lived in Tien Giang in the Mekong Delta then. My father was a farmer. Our farm and garden could not feed the large family, so mum had to earn more money by buying fish to make salted fish for sale. Mum earned more than the rest of us and she earned enough to afford school for all of her nine children.
Mum wakes up at four early in the morning, when the whole family is asleep. Quietly preparing the string-basket burden, and walking more than ten kilometres to Vam Lang, she will purchase the first batch of fish caught off the coast. To save money, mum goes on foot. Several batches of fish that she buys weigh nearly a hundred kilos. On the way home, due to the heavy burden, mum goes by tri-cycle to the cape of Go Mot. However, from the vehicle stop to home, mum has to carry a heavy load, pressing her thin shoulders down as she walks nearly three-kilometres. Without shouting, mum can attract the residents simply with the sound of her passing. The neighbours call to her to buy her fish.
Frequently it rains, so mum has to trudge through muddy roads with her sandals off. When she gets home at noon, she is exhausted and hungry. Much later in life, mum reveals that she never eats on the road-to save money.
Along the way mum always pays attention in order to find little gifts for her children at home. Passing a guava orchard, mum buys some; going by a mango orchard, she buys some; passing the fermented pasta store, she buys some. Thinking about the children awaiting gifts at home and more money to pay for children’s school fees, mum finds more strength for her journey. At home, sitting down and swallowing a portion of dry and cold rice, mum is happy to see the excited faces of the children sharing the gifts which she has collected.
Now it is cherry season. The fruit is very cheap in Go Cong. However, mum knows that in Dong Hoa, Can Gio District, across the sea, the cherry does not exist. Desiring to earn a little extra money, she ferries a load of cherries across the sea to sell to the people there. Sometimes, in the middle of the sea, strong winds blow and huge waves beat, the boat falls up and down violently, and mum prays for peaceful waves and calm seas in order to be able to feed her children at home. I notice that each time she gets home from Dong Hoa, mum offers the god of the earth a handful of bananas. As children, we know nothing of this.
We grow up and go to school on the little money we have, money imbued with the smell of fish sauce and sweat of my mum. Some of us are leaders, some are business owners, and I am a lecturer at a university in Ho Chi Minh City. It can be said that most of us are successful, carried to success on my mother’s bony shoulders.

By Truong Van Anh
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