​Poor elderly Vietnamese makes brooms for a living with perseverance, kindness

​Poor elderly Vietnamese makes brooms for a living with perseverance, kindness

Nguyen Van Cao uses a knife to take a stick from a coconut leaf in Hong Ngu District, Dong Thap Province, southern Vietnam. Photo: Tuoi Tre

An elderly man in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta region has made coconut brooms to earn a living for many decades, leading a kind, simple and silent life.

Nguyen Van Cao, 66, is easily recognizable to villagers in his hometown by his bent back and awkward gait, like that of a person staggering home drunk, as he is walking around the village asking for coconut leaves to make brooms.

As a resident in Hong Ngu, a rural district of Dong Thap Province, he has earned a living by himself from a tender age.

His parents died in his early childhood, and he lived and worked with his uncle, who taught him how to make coconut brooms – cleaning tools commonly found in southwestern Vietnamese household use, formed by flexible sticks running along the middle of coconut leaves.

He usually sits for many hours straight removing parts of the leaves to obtain the sticks, which are then smoothed, beside an old-fashioned radio playing traditional musicals indigenous to southern Vietnam.

On a daily basis, he would bring his brooms, which currently fetch VND20,000 (under US$1) apiece, to a local market, but now dwindling sales of this type of product have forced him to travel farther.

He shrugs away ill words implying that he has mental illness, uttered by those unable to understand him due to his difficulties in pronunciation.

Tran Thi Nga, his uncle’s wife, said he has lived next to her family for a very long time in a small house that has a sleeping mattress and a mosquito net sewn with patches.

Cao willingly gives more than half of his money from the broom sale to her so that she can buy food, although he has worked harder since his uncle died.

Tran Thanh Tien, Cao’s long-standing friend, recalled that many occasions in the past he was walking to school while Cao was pushing a cart carrying coconut leaves with force.

Tien said he learned from Cao the courage to face life adversity.

Cao’s yearning is simple: having thriving sales of brooms and enough food to eat.

“Buy a broom here. It’s very durable,” he said when asked whether he needed any assistance from others.

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