At 10-years-old, Nadia embarked on the most dangerous journey of her life, through the mountainous jungles of Burma, attempting to cross the border to safety in Thailand with her mother.
“I got sick at one point up in the mountains, I was afraid the group of strangers we were journeying with was going to leave me behind, because I couldn’t walk. I had a bad fever, it was probably malaria,” said Nadia.
[pullquote style=”left” quote=”dark”]I remember in my dream, three angels were floating. And the next morning I was healthy…[/pullquote]That night Nadia started praying.
“I remember in my dream, three angels were floating. And the next morning I was healthy, and could continue on through the mountains,” recalls Nadia.
With wild animals lurking through the jungle, and Burmese soldiers on the prowl for Karen people fleeing their homeland, Nadia and her mother took many precautions.
“We could only cook at the night so that the Burmese soldiers couldn’t see where we were at. There was a lot of hiding. My mom didn’t bring my brother, because she was afraid a Burmese solider would take him to be a porter to carry their gear,” said Nadia.
Nadia and her mother made it safely to Mei Lei refugee camp in Thailand, which became their home for the next 15 years. Her brother and father were able to join them one year later.
Nadia went to a school in the refugee camp run by a devoted Australian woman.
“We were taught some English, but my English had an Australian accent, so later when I arrived in Minnesota, I had to spell words out,” said Nadia.
[pullquote style=”right” quote=”dark”]I got banned from the library… I would go underneath the table with a flashlight and read[/pullquote]Nadia lived her teen years through her early 20s in the refugee camp in Thailand, spending most of her free time reading.
“The only books I would read were Perry Mason and Sherlock Holmes. I got banned from going into the school library because my grades were suffering; so I would go underneath the table with a flashlight and read,” said Nadia.
After Nadia finished primary school, she got pregnant and had a son. In 2004, Nadia, her mother and her 6-year-old son were given permission to move to the U.S. Her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer upon arriving in Minnesota, and had to have a mastectomy within their first two months living in Minnesota. It was a very difficult time for Nadia and her family.
“We stayed with my aunt in her basement for 2 months; the basement had no windows, and I felt like I was suffocating. When it rained outside, the water would rise in the basement, and our mattresses would be floating,” said Nadia.
[pullquote style=”left” quote=”dark”]When I came to the U.S., my priority was education…[/pullquote]Nadia knew that getting an education would be her ticket out of poverty.
“When I came to the U.S., my priority was education,” said Nadia.
Nadia signed her son up for school, and then she signed herself up for ESL classes, and later nursing classes at St. Paul College.
“I didn’t know how to ride a bus or how to drive. Initially, my aunt wouldn’t let me go to school, so I snuck out and figured out where the nearest bus stop was to get a ride to school,” said Nadia.
While going to school full-time, Nadia worked 3 part-time jobs, all while raising her son as a single mom.
Amazingly, just 3 years after arriving in Minnesota, Nadia bought a house in Maplewood. She currently works as a nurse and case manager for Karen patients with Health East. Her son is now at a university in Michigan.
Nadia likes to travel often to the North Shore and go camping in the Boundary Waters, she says it reminds her of the mountains and natural landscape of her homeland of Burma.
Nadia plans to write a book about her life story someday.