By Vũ Thu Hà and Paul Kennedy
Hidden away in a tiny backstreet of Hà Nội is a community like no other.
From the outside looking in, the alley off Lê Thanh Nghị Street doesn’t look that much out of the ordinary. But on closer inspection of those living there, the clues start to piece together.
Most, if not all of the residents, are wearing lanyards with identifications bearing the name of a nearby hospital.
And those with their sleeves rolled up reveal the telltale scars caused by treatment for kidney dialysis.
Residents in this community don’t live here because they want to, but because they have to. Many come from afar, but have given up their homes in favour of their health, opting to be closer to the hospitals where three times a week or more, each will undergo dialysis.
“My two kidneys totally failed,” said 36-year-old Vương Thị Hoàng Anh from Hải Dương Province.
“I go to hospital for treatment every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It has almost become a habit. I must go on schedule even if I don’t want to otherwise I will feel very tired.”
Mai Anh Tuấn has been living there for 24 years, also for kidney treatment, and is considered head of the community.
“There are a total of about 130 patients in this community. Ninety percent come from poor households and all have lost at least 80 per cent of their health,” said 45-year-old Tuấn.
Nguyễn Thị Thu has been a dialysis patient for 12 years. This year, it will be her first Tết far away from home. — VNS Photos Hồ Hoàng
Being away from home, family and close friends is tough at the best of times, but as the country prepares to welcome the Lunar New Year, the most important holiday of the year, being far apart from those dear to you can be torturous.
This year, about 100 people will stay here throughout the holidays, the highest number so far, Tuấn said.
“It’s very sad but I have to accept it,” said Nguyễn Thị Thu, 58, who for the past 11 years has been making the 64-kilometre journey from her home in Hưng Yên Province to the capital for dialysis.
Last year, after her health deteriorated, she decided the best option was to say goodbye to her family and move closer to Bạnh Mai hospital where she is receiving treatment.
She added: “Now just going from here to there makes me tired so I can’t go back home for Tết. We will just celebrate Tết with whatever is being brought by the community.”
And thanks to a young group of friends, this year Tết has an extra special meaning.
This week the residents gathered and were as excited as schoolchildren. One by one their names were called out and each person was presented with an envelope containing traditional ‘lucky money’.
A group of youngster present traditional lucky money to the patients in the community.
Volunteer Nguyễn Huy Thân said Tết was the perfect time for him and his friends to offer a helping hand to those less fortunate.
He said: “It is year-end so we ask each other to share a part of what we get after a working year with people here to somehow ease their burdens.
“Our gifts may help them afford some branches of cherry blossoms and kumquat trees for Tết and bring warmth to them.
“While many people want to come home, it is very difficult for many dialysis patients and they really need encouragement.”
And encouragement is exactly what they got.
Tuấn added: “Actually, Tết holidays here are not much different from normal days. On New Year’s Eve, all patients just gather, talk and share with each other to welcome the New Year.”
The New Year is also the best time to look forward to a better future. And for those living here, all seem to have a single wish.
“I want my health to stay the same, not worsening and that I don’t need any support from others,” Hoàng Anh said.
“I wish for all dialysis patients in this alley and dialysis patients all over to have a healthier New Year and more resilience to fight against the illness,” Tuấn said.
The residents of Lê Thanh Nghị Street, affectionately known as ‘Dialysis Alley’, may well be far away from home for the New Year celebrations.
But with their new found friends all sharing one thing in common, this tight-knit community is the best family they can hope for to usher in the New Year. — VNS