Saturday, August 13, 2011

Basket Case

A woman pauses with her Le thung ( basket and pole)
By: Kathleen Broadhurst

Today was a scorcher, the type of day you do anything you can to find a piece of shade. Looking for some cool we headed out of the Old Quarter to the Museum of Ethnography.

One temporary exhibit in particular caught my eye, it was about the life of a pole-and basket (Le thung)recycling women. These women, and they are all women, carry two baskets balanced on a long pole over their shoulder.

The recyclers, as the museum called them spend 10 hour days buying and selling scraps of metal, pieces of plastic and other rubbish that they either buy from others or collect off of the streets.

The life of these women is hard, working long hours in the heat they return home to a dorm that houses on average, 13 other recyclers. The space where they sleep, eat, wash and cook is about 30 square meters. That’s less than 3 square meters per person. In other words, not a lot of room.

Often these women have no medical access and little free time. The reward, for all their hard work is between 2-5 million dong (100-250$) a month. This money they then use to supplement their families income. The exhibit lets you pick up a pole and try it on. It heavier than it looks. That’s only with recycling in it, not metal scraps.

There are others on the street too, not just those who recycle, but women ( and some men too) selling fruit and other wares.  I can only imagine how heavy two baskets of bananas are. I left with a whole new appreciation for the women who I dodge on the street.

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