On an afternoon early in March, Mrs. Tam was with her husband on their boat at sea working. The wind was strong. As the small boat moved forwards unsteadily, she stood at the prow, preparing the fishing equipment and giving hand signals to help her husband avoid high waves.
Deep love for the sea
Tam is in her fifties, with a sun-burnt face. She has been working with her husband on the sea for more than ten years. At the age of nine, she started to go offshore with her father to earn their living. While growing up, she married Hoang. Unable to afford a big boat, they bought a small one, and they make their living on the sea by catching fish with nets.
They used to catch fish near the shore, but the sea life in that area has been remarkably reduced recently. She became as skillful as men in using the fishing net. On the sea, she throws and draws up the net while her husband steers the boat. Despite the strong waves throwing water straight into her face, she stands, with hands skillfully controlling the net. She said, “People traditionally say that only men can work on the sea. But now it is normal for women to do that as well. They do not get seasick, and they cooperate well with their husbands. It is economic, too. They may get used to the job. The good cooperation between the couples helps them earn a living and support their children’s study. I have fallen in love with the sea, and cannot quit these journeys. It is interesting to be on the sea with my husband.”
At 4 am the next morning, they went back onto the water to pull the net back to their boat. At the post, the engine was stopped, and the boat was anchored in the continuous pushes of waves. Two 500-meter-long nets were gradually pulled onto their boat. Mrs. Tam suddenly cried out happily, “Darling, we got a big grouper.” They tried to pull the net up as quickly as possible, delighted with the fish weighing up to 14 kilograms in weight, which Tam held tight to her body.
Then the net got stuck in the coral reef, and they both pulled it vigorously to release it. Fish, shellfish, cuttlefish, and octopus were found in their net. Tam said cheerfully, “We are lucky today. This stuff is worth about two million dong. But there are also days when we get nothing from the sea.”
Her husband, Hoang said “I feel pity seeing my wife work so hard on the sea. But it is a wonderful moment when we get a good catch of fish together. Having my wife with me, seeing her mending and pulling the net, I feel so happy and take the challenges of the job more easily.”
It was hot in March. At Ly Son harbor, many members of the fairer sex are going fishing, which is one of the hardest jobs around. Mrs. Bui Thi Ngoc was from Gia Lai and used to know nothing about fishing at sea. Fate made her marry a fisherman, and she became a fisherwoman five years ago.
“At first I was terribly seasick. I didn’t think I could ever become a fisherwoman. But then I couldn’t stand letting my husband work hard alone. I trained myself to endure sea waves. Now I enjoy the happiness of working on the sea with my husband,” said Ngoc.
Her day starts at 4:30 am when she goes offshore to pull the net in with her husband. Then she goes to the market to sell what they have caught. After taking care of her business at the market, Ngoc rows her coracle out to open water to bring lunch to her husband. Then in the afternoon she helps her husband mend the net for the night catch.
Mrs. Pham Thi Thuy Quynh humorously sang as she was mending the net, “The boat is my home, the sea and islands my hometown, and my house a hotel. It’s funny, but it’s true.”
She compares her house to a hotel because she seldom stays at home. “During high fishing season, I may stay on the sea for the whole month. Going home, preparing money and food for my children’s study, then going back to the sea. That’s my routine in fishing seasons. It’s hard, isn’t it? But we have to strive. Many other women are doing the same thing, too,” said Quynh.
Her husband, Le Van Thanh, looked at his wife, smiled and said, “I’m happier to go to work on the sea with my wife than with a male friend. But I feel so sorry when she has to struggle with sickness and high waves. It is difficult for men to stand the waves and surges, let alone women. I am happy and proud to have such a hard-working, loving wife.”
Sea waves continuously strike the shore, as they have for ages. Brave fisherwomen are still riding on the waves to share hard work with their husbands as they have been for years. The salty strenuousness of the job can never overtake these fisherwomen’s bravery and resolution.