by Minh Nhat
|Sixty-something Samaritans: Come rain or shine, Dai (left) and Ca (right) are on the lookout for approaching trains. — VNS Photos Minh Nhat
|Reading between the lines: From dawn till dusk, brothers Ca and Dai ensure motorists and pedestrians cross the railway tracks safely.
It is 6am and it is starting to get crowded on the narrow track crossing the railway by the Nam O Bridge in the central province of Da Nang's Lien Chieu District. Upon hearing the train-whistle from afar, an old man wearing a hat and facemask lowers a bamboo barrier to prevent the passers-by from crossing the tracks.
After the train passes, he turns back to sit on the chair in front of a kiosk while his eyes continue to watch the railway. At 12pm, another man takes up his place and continues ensuring the trains run by safely.
Sixty-nine-year-old Nguyen Van Ca and 68-year-old Nguyen Van Dai are brothers. They both live in small houses in Lien Chieu District. For more than a year, Ca and Dai have been working as railway watchmen to ensure the safety of local people whenever they cross the tracks.
Everyday, hundreds of people cross back and forth over the small path over the railway in Hoa Hiep Nam Precinct. However, because it is located near National Highway 1A, passers-by cannot clearly hear the train-whistle due to traffic noise. As a result, there have been many accidents at this intersection.
One afternoon three years ago, Ca's neighbour took her two children to school on her motorbike. Not hearing the train-whistle from afar, she decided to run the vehicle over the tracks. However, when the front wheel of the motorbike reached the line, they saw the train hurtling at them. Fortunately, the mother and two children jumped off in the nick of time while the motorbike was dragged along by the train, completely destroyed.
A few months later, a student of Da Nang University unfortunately died when crossing this path and was hit by a train. Two other locals have also been killed when crossing these dangerous lines. "Four people have tragically died and many others have been injured here," Dai estimates.
To ensure the safety of passers-by, Lien Chieu District People's Committee decided to hire watchmen on this path with an initial salary of VND1 million (US$50) per month in April 2008. Since then the brothers have taken over these responsibilities.
"Despite the small grant, we have a great responsibility for taking care of people's lives. We always try to do our best to prevent accidents," Ca confides.
Everyday, both men work work from 5am until 7pm. "Railway watchmen normally change shifts at 5pm, but we work until 7pm because we often wait for the people returning from work," Dai says.
An observation post has been built at the barrier for these two old watchmen to shelter themselves from the sun and the rain, but they are always seen sitting outside while their eyes constantly observe the tracks.
Ca explains: "Trains run back and forth and there are a lot of passers-by. Not having any device to signal the coming of the trains, we have to sit outside to wait for them. It is less tiring on sunny days but during the rainy season, it is very wet and cold."
Dieu, a vendor near the path, says: "Dai and Ca are very committed to their job. Everyday, they are at the barrier post from dawn till dusk. Since they've taken on this job, we have felt much more secure."
To spare time for a break and housework, Ca and Dai have to split the shift: one is on duty for ten mornings and the other ten afternoons. During Tet (Lunar New Year holiday), while most families are busy preparing for the holiday and visiting their relatives, they continue guarding the railway. To them, only on the first day of Tet can they fully enjoy the holiday as there are few trains running on that day.
Nguyen Thi Thuy, Dai's wife, says: "He sometimes gets ill, but he has never left his post. He says he tries to work even on rainy days to take care of local people's lives."
Ca and Dai have had many jobs before, from fishermen, woodcutters to bricklayers. But their families are still among the poorest in the area. At 12pm, after handing over the job to his younger brother, Ca hastily carries home the food that he has asked his neighbours to buy in the mornings to prepare for lunch. His wife, Tran Thi Hoa, has been paralysed for three years so Ca has to do all the housework. Ca has five children, three of whom are married and two others who are unemployed and live with him.
The couple relies on the small salary that Ca gets as a railway watcher. "That amount is still enough for us to cover our everyday needs. At times, our neighbours give us some medicine or milk, which makes us very happy. I know that I'm still healthy enough to work for several years," Ca confides.
Dai's plight is no better than Ca's. His two sons are married and earn their living by running small businesses, which offers them just a small monthly income. Despite having lost an arm in the war, he still works hard. "Years ago, I even went to the forest to cut wood and to the sea to catch fish, but because of old age, I'm unable to do so anymore. I do not know how long I can help the passers-by feel secure whenever crossing the railway," Dai says absorbed in thought.
Not long ago, a woodcutter was struck and killed by the train around 8pm, after Dai and Ca were off duty. However, his death has preoccupied their minds ever since. "After that unfortunate death, we tell ourselves to start working earlier than 5am, and stay later than usual to ensure the safety of the people," Dat says. — VNS