Pham Van Khoi lies back on his wooden chair, dropping his skinny arms to touch the floor as he gazes at the front door without really looking at anything.
“He’s dead. They said robbers shot him.”
The 74-year-old kept crying and holding his chest as he started talking about his son, who went to the southern African country two years ago to work illegally.
The death of the man has not only broken his father and wife, but also shattered part of the Angola dream in his poor community in the central province of Nghe An, Lao Dong newspaper said in a report.
Khoi said he could not even cry when he got the call about his son, Pham Van Tuan, earlier this month.
A group of robbers shot him while he was on his way to work, he was told.
Tuan’s wife Pham Thi Loan received a similar call while working at a factory in Ho Chi Minh City.
She could not say anything either. She just put her tools down and went straight home. All she could tell her child was, “You don’t have your father anymore.”
Loan said her husband had borrowed VND130 million (US$6,000) to pay a broker to go to Angola after seeing some neighbors return with huge sums of money to buy houses and cars.
“We promised to each other that we would work hard and save money to buy some land at home to build our own house,” she told Lao Dong.
The couple was living with Tuan’s elder brother.
The broker got him a tourist visa and then he stayed to work secretly.
Loan said, sobbing: “He called home very often. He said it was dangerous there since malaria was common. He never mentioned robbers and so we encouraged him to stay and work more.”
For more than two years he never returned home. But he did not find a good job and had not managed to repay the debt yet.
Other Vietnamese in Angola donated money to pay the $13,000 needed to send his body home last Sunday. Local authorities provided no support since he was there illegally.
The family is still waiting for the body to organize a funeral.
Vietnamese labor suppliers got a permit to send workers to Angola in early 2014, but tens of thousands of Vietnamese had been for long traveling to the country with short-term, unofficial contracts.
People in central Vietnam started going to Angola to escape poverty several years ago after a construction businessman in Nghe An went there and sent home several thousand dollars in a couple months.
His sons followed him first and then more people, mostly to work in construction.
In the beginning, people asked their neighbors at home to come over.
Then there were brokers who charged big money by painting a glittering picture about the place.
More than 100 people from a single commune in Thua Thien-Hue Province left for Angola between 2012 and 2013.
But many have realized that there is no glitter, only gun shots, robbery, diseases, and police.
Many have come home with physical scars.
Several others died without any support there.
Ton That Dai, who has just returned home in Thua Thien-Hue, said his three years in Angola were “haunting” from the very first day.
His compatriots from home greeted him at the airport, took him straight to a house under construction and told him not to go out to avoid the police.
“They told me I could be deported immediately. I was very worried because I paid $6,000 to go there.”
He said constant gun shots around the house that day scared him even more.
“I counted 70 shots the first night; it was horrific.”
He set his cell phone ring tone to sound like bullet shots, “so I could become familiar with it and be able to sleep.”
Once they become accustomed to the sound of gun shots, Vietnamese workers have to learn to deal with robbers, all armed with guns.
Each of them has been robbed several times, and they have learned not to fight back.
Nguyen Van Hoa, Dai’s neighbor, said one night three robbers came to their bedside at a construction site, but they pretended to be fast asleep.
Since they had no money, the robbers took their gas cooker.
The workers put most of their money in banks or bury it at the construction site so that even if they are robbed they won’t lose everything.
Hoa said if robbers attacked them in the daytime, they would raise their hands and surrender.
One of them was stabbed in the face after he refused to give money to the robbers.
Each worker also has to learn to be their own doctor because going to hospitals meant the risk of exposure and deportation.