Despite constraints from their disability, visually-impaired masseurs, masseuses and lottery ticket vendors in Ho Chi Minh City, who have been struggling since the novel coronavirus first hit Vietnam in January last year, are making the most of their energy to make ends meet and fend for their families.
Le Ngoc Luom, a resident of District 1, spends his days feeling his way around the streets he knows like the back of his hand, constantly listening for anyone who might want to buy the lottery tickets he sells to survive.
He taps his cane so he can estimate where he is within a few steps at any time during his route.
Sometimes his rhythm gets interrupted by a parked motorbike or other obstacles, or worse, he may even trip up on trash careless people dump on the streets.
Just like many others with visual impairments, the 49-year-old man used to work as a masseur at a massage parlor, until Vietnam was first hit by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in January last year before battling the second and third waves in July last year and January this year.
When the country entered intermittent periods of social distancing to slow the spread of the virus, Luom and many found themselves out of work as non-essential businesses including massage services had to close.
Though he has peddled lottery tickets for the past 18 years in his spare hours to supplement incomes, the sale has become his daytime job and his family's main source of income over the past several months.
With the COVID-19 pandemic dealing a heavy blow to the local non-essential industries and the customer base at the massage parlor he works for having shrunk considerably and even dropped to zero on bad days since April last year, Luom has found himself facing a crisis.
His current daily routine includes making his way to the lottery stand where he gets 100 tickets, then he sets up strategic places to sell tickets to passers-by before waiting for customers, if any, at the massage parlor at around 9:00 am.
After Luom's parents died when he was less than one month old, he was brought up by his adoptive parents.
His life became even tougher when a serious childhood illness caused him to lose sight in both eyes at the age of three.
While many might have given up on themselves, the boy chose not to surrender to his disability and instead tried to pick up different trades to fend for himself.
The young man finally learned how to give massages at a parlor before he began to make money to support his wife and daughter.
Luom's life journey is by no means rosy, but he admitted the pandemic has posed him and his family unprecedented challenges.
"We really don't know what to expect. We kept closing and opening our shop on an intermittent, unpredictable basis," Luom shared, adding customers are far and few between even on days the shop is open.
Previously, the man was able to earn around VND100,000-120,000 (US$4.3- 5.2) each day from giving three to four massage sessions.
When the epidemic hit and local residents hunkered down to wait it out, customers began to plummet.
There are days when Luom goes home empty-handed, prompting him to switch to full-time lottery ticket sales as an alternative to bring in some cash and pay household bills.
To make matters worse, the blind man often falls victim to thieves who snatch away his hard-earned money and even all his tickets.
"My wife and I still owe the lottery stand nearly one million dong [$43] as we were scammed or unable to sell the tickets before the results were announced," Luom sadly shared, adding cheap instant noodles are usually their dinner staple.
Things became even tougher when their 19-year-old daughter was made redundant after the new outbreaks hit.
|Despite heavy losses from the COVID-19 pandemic, Ho Huy Binh and his wife, who work as a masseur and masseuse in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, stay optimistic about their job prospects. Photo: Dieu Qui / Tuoi Tre|
In their 10-square-meter tenanted room in the Ma Lang residential area, the family has lived mostly on rice and vegetable soup, with little meat or fish, trying to cut down on spending wherever they could.
Ho Huy Binh, who hails from the north-central province of Ha Tinh, and his wife have also had to tighten their belt due to COVID-19-related hardships.
The epidemic poses tremendous challenges for able-bodied workers, let alone the 46-year-old visually-impaired man, who has been struggling to make ends meet since early adulthood.
Binh was born healthy.
Life was looking rosy for the young man, then a college senior, who dreamt of a bright future with a decent job as an automobile engineer.
However, fate took a turn in late July 2002, when a road accident killed Binh's father, who was sitting behind him on a motorbike and left Binh blind, completely changing his life and dreams.
Losing his eyesight in the prime of his life, the young man felt suicidal.
After a period of helplessness and despair, with the support of his mother, Binh began picking himself up again and training as a masseur at a parlor in the southern metropolis' District 3.
Two years ago, he met his future wife, 47-year-old Trinh Thi Giam, who also comes from a humble background.
With money tight and their savings not lasting very long, the couple's life was turned upside down amid the epidemic's fallout.
"I've worked as a masseur for the past 10 years, but I've never experienced something like this," Binh admitted.
"There are days when no single customer passes through our door."
They earn a mere VND70,000-80,000 ($3-3.5) on good days, and cannot afford monthly rent and bills totaling around VND4 million ($173).
Light at the end of the tunnel
Although their life is still full of difficulties ahead, Binh and his wife stay upbeat that they will be able to weather the storm.
"We're still lucky to receive support from philanthropists," said Giam, Binh's wife.
"Just eat less. There are many out there even struggling more than we do," she told her husband.
As for Luom, the loss of his eyesight and poverty have never stopped him from leading a full life.
"Though we usually don't have meat or fish, I love meal times the most, when our family sit down together and chatter happily," Luom said with a smile.
"We should know how to dig joys out of sorrows."
Along with 34 other locations in 10 districts and Thu Duc City, the Ma Lang residential area in District 1, where Luom's tenanted room is located, was placed on lockdown in early February to prevent the infections there from spreading further into the community.
The lockdown dealt another blow to Luom and his family, as they could not peddle lottery tickets.
Nearly 1,500 visually impaired people affected by COVID-19
According to Nguyen Dinh Kien, chairman of the Ho Chi Minh City Blind Association, the organization has a current membership of 1,441.
Most of the members, who earn their living as masseurs, masseuses, and lottery ticket vendors, have experienced many COVID-19-related hardships and reduced incomes.
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