Fishermen dream of living on dry land

September 30, 2023 - 10:30
At the foot of the old Yên Xuân Bridge in Xuân Lam commune, Hưng Yên District, there are about a dozen of old and worn out boats that fishermen call home.
Floating boats, the homes of fishermen living on Lam River, Nghệ An Province. — Photos

NGHỆ AN — A tiny plot of dry land to call their own and a small house people can call home. These little luxuries are all the people living on boats really want.

Along the Lam River in the central province of Nghệ An, you’ll find the coastline dotted with float houses where residents fish off the side to make ends meet.

At the foot of the old Yên Xuân Bridge in Xuân Lam Commune, Hưng Yên District, there are about a dozen of old and worn out boats that fishermen call home, Tiền Phong (Vanguard) newspaper reported.

"My parents were born in Đức Thọ District, Hà Tĩnh Province. They came to Nghệ An to make a living by fishing, and that's where I was born," said Phạm Ngọc Hoài, a fisherman living on a floating boat along Lam River.

The 48-year-old added: "I've also been attached to this river since I was a child. Fishermen like us don't have a spot of land to build a small house. My fate is settled, but the future for my children is uncertain."

On the tiny boat, there is nothing of value. Their possessions consist only of clothes hanging haphazardly on the boat and pots and pans scattered across the deck.

For many years, all the daily activities of his family took place on this cramped vessel.

Hoài has three children. His eldest daughter got married, escaping life on the river.

The second child is in the sixth grade and the youngest is in third grade.

Every day, the two siblings walk together to school after being brought to the shore .

The books they use are old and borrowed from friends. They don't even have a desk. They usually lie down on the boat's floor to do their homework.

"On rainy days, both my children and their books get wet when I bring them to the shore to go to school. It is also more difficult for them to study because the boat is too cramped to place a desk for them,” Hoài said.

"We have to save electricity because we can only use battery power on the boat. On rainy days, the whole family has to go to bed early, and the kids can't study.

"Children in this fishing village often conclude their educational journey after completing the 6th or 7th grade, making way for their younger sisters/brothers to study. Knowing how to read, write, and do basic calculations is enough."

Continuing his father's job, Hoài still relies on fishing in the river to make a living. However, his family life remains very challenging.

He said: "I have a congenital respiratory disease so I can hardly breathe whenever the weather changes. I work hard from morning to night but only earn a few million đồng each month.

"Both my father and I have always dreamed of having a small spot of land to live on the shore, but perhaps that dream is very difficult to come true."

Next to Hoài's "house" is a small boat with a tin roof, temporarily covered by some cracked wooden planks.

That is the floating home of Hoài's younger brother, Phạm Ngọc Hiệp.

At 38 years old, Hiệp is the father of five children.

His wife, 37, is currently pregnant with their sixth child.

"Without a spot of land to live onshore, life is more difficult when fish and shrimp are depleted,” Hiệp said.

“Transporting sand on the river is now done with large motorised boats equipped with winches and excavators. On lucky days, I can earn VNĐ100,000-200,000, but sometimes I don’t earn any money for two to three days.

"On rainy and stormy days, fishermen, from the elderly to young children, are all on the cramped boat. If it's not safe, they have to quickly move to the shore and ask for temporary accommodation in local residents' houses. It's become a familiar hardship."

A fisherman on Lam River.

Nguyễn Văn Quang, 65, can’t remember how many years he has been fishing.

He only knows that he has lived with his family on these boats since he was born. Even when he got married and had children, the boat remained both their home and their livelihood.

"It's so sad when only fishermen living in floating boats are our neighbours to share our joys and sorrows. We long for a spot of land to live on shore, escaping the life on boats," Quang said.

Quang's wife suffers from joint pain and hardly moves around. A few years ago, he went ashore to collect old iron sheets to build a make-shift shelter on the riverbank. It became their home with seven people living in just 10sq.m of space.

During the rainy season, this house would be submerged in the water, and all Quang's family members have to do is to climb onto the boat.

Quang and his wife have only one daughter, who married a fisherman. Without a home, their daughter's family lives on Quang's boat.

"In this floating village, it's very difficult to judge who is poorer than the other because everyone is the same, living on the river, their hunger and fullness also depend on the river," Quang said.

While the fishermen are dreaming of having a spot of land to live on, not far away, a resettlement area that was completed two years ago remains abandoned.

This resettlement area was approved by the Nghệ An Province People's Committee in 2011 to relocate 100 households living in disaster-prone areas and landslides outside the Lam River embankment in Xuân Lam Commune.

Although it was an urgent project, due to a lack of funds, it was only completed in 2021 and handed over to the local authorities.

However, since then, the resettlement area has remained vacant, with no households moving in.

Nguyễn Văn Phận, chairman of the People's Committee of Xuân Lam Commune, said: "The fishing village has 13 households with about 100 people, and life is very difficult. They have a strong desire to be allocated land to live on the shore."

"It would be great if they could be resettled in this abandoned area, but the local government do not have the authority to make that decision. We need approval from the provincial agencies." — VNS