Clear-eyed man of the lowlands

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Tran Van Nhin and his youngest daughter, four-year-old Tran Kim Chi

Nhin, his wife and their ten children were always pejoratively called "jungle family" by local residents who couldn't understand their simpler, more peaceful way of life.

Wanting a less-complicated way of life, Nhin settled his family in a 2,000 square meter garden compound, made a "compound" only by light bamboo fencing in the middle of an orchard deep in the Mekong Delta.

It was here in Nhat A Hamlet, Chanh Hoi Commune, Mang Thit Town that Tran Van Nhin and Vo Thi Sau raised four sons and six daughters. Nhin, 54, often calls his children not by their real names, but by little nicknames he derives from the names of his favorite poets and artists.

According to his neighbors, Nhin had seveb of her ten children at home without the help of a hospital or "modern" doctors.

Le Thi Hoa, who once worked as a midwife for Nhin's family, said: "His family is so odd. Twice he just called me after his wife had already given birth, only to cut the placenta and clean things up. For the eight other times, he switched the midwife each time, inviting people from other hamlets to come, for fear that if people around know that his wife was giving birth so many times, the authorities would come to ask them stop having more children."

"Nhin relocated to Nhat A hamlet in 1984 when he and his wife had two children. The local authorities learned that his family was very poor so they paid a visit to convince the couple to stop at two children to save money, but after a short time, they had a third child and kept having kids until his wife died," said Huynh Van Mieu, a retired official at Chanh Hoi Commune.

Mieu said Nhin once worked as a guard for the Long Ho Town People's Committee in the province but the man was quite strange. He likes to be isolated and stay away from other people, said Mieu.

Huynh Van Thang, who lives next to Nhin's garden, said: "For nearly 30 years living here, I haven't since Nhin joined any parties with the neighbors. The area around his house is like an oasis, no one comes around, no lights in the evening and the host always hides away whenever someone comes."

Among the Nhin's ten children, only two go to school: Tran Van Thanh, his 27-year-old son and Tran Que Tran, his six-year-old daughter. Tran Van Sang, the oldest son, is now 33 and the youngest daughter is Tran Kim Chi, 4 years old. Three of Nhin's daughters are now married and have all settled down.

Asked why he did not let his children go to school, Nhin just smiled and said nothing.

Speaking of his wife, he pointed to the youngest daughter and said with tears: "Four years ago, my wife, 49 at that time, died in a motorbike accident when she was carrying Kim Chi in her body. People brought her to the hospital but could only save the baby."

Neighbors also said that when three of his oldest daughters have not gotten married, there were six huts built in the garden for his  sons and unmarried daughters to live in.

When his family was given a 32-square-meter charity house, he surrounded the house with a bamboo fence so no one could enter. The day his wife passed away, he hid for almost three days did not show up until the neighbors finished burying her.

Nhin sometimes faces abuse from passersby on the street who call him "jungle man."

Sang, his oldest son, said that for two years now, no one in his family has lived in the huts but instead stay together in the charity house. "Everyday, I try to do all the hard works that people around here do to make enough money to take care of my dad and all my little brothers and sisters," he said.

Duong Van Truyen, deputy head of the Chanh Hoi Commune's People Committee, said Nhin's family is classified as a poor household with many children, so they receive special care from the local authorities.

All members of his family now have health insurance cards and the authorities have tried a lot to make him let his children to go to school, but so far only two of his kids have actually consistently attended school, the others just came for a few months and then  quit, said Truyen.

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