We are driving through the rugged mountain roads in the most remote part of Vietnam – Ha Giang province in the very North next to the border with China.
Ha Giang is also one of the least populated and poorest regions in Vietnam. Most of the people living there are from ethnic minorities.
It’s the most beautiful place I have been to.
High mountain peaks rise into the blue, like the humps of a strange green camel. Steep and raggy slopes on every side. The road dances between the hills and each new view behind a road corner make me want to jump from the motorbike and hug the everything-ness.
A hazy, vague observation is mingling in my head with the awe. On those mountain slopes, there are people. Women, working. While wondering what could possibly grow there, and how do they work on it my eyes are caught by young women walking on the curvy roads. Where are they going to? They seem to have no vehicle. Their means of travelling between villages, and from the village to the fields are their feet.
Later we pass by many more women, some of them alone, others with kids by their side and some with small babies on their back.
They sell on the market, they sell by the road. Bamboo shots, soy, fruits. They are sometimes bent beneath big baskets on the back. They walk for long distances.
They have the kids with them.They work in the rice fields. And they cook. They grow their food.
I can’t help asking myself “Where are the men?”. They are apparently not working in the fields, neither are they cooking and taking care of the kids at home. What else could be done in that remoteness, where there are only small villages with no more than a tea shop. And that is the answer – the tea shop.
Even the smallest village would have one of them. Small cups of strong tea, men sitting around the table. Sometimes drinking rice alcohol. Smoking, chatting. Sometimes playing games. Me and Anton, we just observe and think – well those are some clever guys. They have it all figured out.
When the sun is too strong, they prefer to sit in the shadow with a cigarette. When the cold wind (it can get cold in Vietnam) bites the skin – they relax with a cup of tea. The women do all the work!
That’s a good life.
I thought it might be something which we will see in the whole country. However when we settled in Hoi An, central Vietnam, we noticed that things are slightly different there. Everyone was out and about doing their job (still, many many women were carrying building materials, working alone in the rice fields and the tea shop culture is as strong as in the north).
Of course, this is only the way I saw it, which is very often not the clear reflection of reality. I guess that is just the way things work there. In this area, the female part of the population seems to simply be doing everything to keep life going. And it works. Women are cool, that is.
Cover photo made by a wonderful friend Natalia Urbanska.