This is Ms Ca. Born sometime in the 1930s (she can’t remember the exact year), I met her sitting in the shade of a cashew tree, sheltering from the midday sun. She was taking a rest, having carried a 25 kilogram woven bamboo basket on her back, loaded with freshly picked leaves, from the forest.
Despite her weathered appearance – the crease lines on her face indicating a lifetime spent squinting in the southern sun – her voice was mellow and smooth, and her manner easy and polite. Ms Ca (a name I’d never heard before), has lived in this dry, sparsely populated and, to my eyes, very beautiful, part of Binh Thuan Province all her life. Her home lay at the foot of an arid hillside in the distance.
Each of her parents came from a different one of Vietnam’s ethnic minority groups, neither of which I recognized. The leaves she was carrying are used for pig and goat feed, of which a small herd of the latter sat with her under the tree.
Tied around her waist was a small, plastic bottle of clear, rice liquor, which she washed back before walking barefoot to bathe in the river. After returning refreshed, Ms Ca continued on her way, with her basket of leaves on her back and goats following behind.