"Lucky' women

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Everyday without fail, 37-year-old Doan Thi Huong gets out of her house at around 3 a.m. and begins her day with a long walk.

The resident of Trieu Thuan Commune in the north-central province of Quang Tri walks to Dong Ha Town, about 20 kilometers away, pushing 100 kilograms of rice.

Huong cannot afford a motorbike or tricycle. So she makes do with a bicycle. And to make her job easier, she removes the chain so that the wheels turn more easily.

As she pushes the bike through the cold, dark hours of dawn, Huong wears a face mask, a pair of gloves and some thick garments. That's all she needs for protection from the elements, she says.

Huong does not do this job alone. Several dozen villagers, mostly women, are also engaged in the same profession. They usually travel in groups of three to five people. After they start out, they rarely stop to take a break or have something to eat. At around 10 a.m. when all the rice is sold, they put the chains back on their bicycles and ride home. 

It is a tough job, but the women consider themselves lucky.

"Before, we used to carry the rice on shoulder poles, so we are lucky to be using bicycles now," says 46-year-old Le Xuan Phuong, one of six peers in Huong's group.

Most of the women grew up on farms with little education. They got married at a very young age, and turned to this job because farming wasn't enough to support their families.

In fact, it is one of the main sources of income for her three children. Her husband does not have a regular job. Huong has been buying and selling rice since she was 17.

The most she ever earns in a day is VND100,000 (US$4.78). The sum has not sufficed to improved her family's living standards.

"Their job is so hard. They push bicycles in cold weather but don't earn much," said Uyen, who runs a rice shop in Dong Ha.

"But," said Huong, "what can I do to bring up my children, if I don't do that job? I am lucky that I'm still able to push the bicycle and help make ends meet."

Le Thi Quyen, 28, one of Huong's peers, repeats the lucky theme. "I don't complain [about the hardship]. All I hope is that my children can get proper education so they won't have to follow their mother's job of pushing rice bicycles."

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