Smiling white woman with black hair next to a teen girl and young boy, with greenery behind them

Beyond Challenges to a Better Life

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By Jona Ndoj

Alketa Ndoj’s story

I was born in a little village called Lura hidden between the mountains in Albania. I grew up in an old house with my parents and two brothers. Life up in the mountains was dreary since it was deserted from other parts of Albania and not many people lived there. The sky-high mountains and miles of bright green grassy land may have been beautiful, but there wasn’t much to do other than farm. I would occasionally play “house” with my cousins or help out with housework to stay occupied.

Luckily, when I was 10 my family decided to leave the mountain land of Lura and move the city. They wanted to move to provide a better life for my siblings and I, but also for themselves. I didn’t know how to feel about the move. I was going to miss my hometown and moving to a new place made me nervous but also excited. 

When arriving in Laç, I saw how different it was from my hometown. There were many  buildings, people walking on the streets, and actual streets. I felt nervous just being in this new environment. How was I, a village girl, going to adapt to the city? That was something I had to  figure out on my own.

My family and I lived in a small, three bedroom apartment on the third floor, but it was better than our old home that was falling apart.

As time went by, I was able to  adjust to the city life and make many friends. I would occasionally spend time with my friends  and visit places around the city, or help my mom with housework and watch my brother.

My life in the city was better in that I met more people and got to visit many new places that I never imagined I would have been able to visit [sic!]. Just being able to look outside the balcony and see all the neighbors engaging, laughing, and eating together made me happy and feel like I was  at home.

But Laç wasn’t always that great. There was a time when a political battle was going on and people were rebelling, but in a gruesome way. People were stealing weapons and shooting down others on the street, and due to that my family and I wouldn’t go out. We would have to stay inside for days until these shootings ended and I wasn’t able to go to school.

This was a very scary time for me because I didn’t want anybody in my family getting hurt. Knowing that many people died during this rebellion was upsetting. 

Just as I was getting used to living in the city, I then got married at the age of 19 and had to move in with my husband and his family, because that’s what women have to do in Albanian culture.

It was devastating having to leave my family and move to a new home. My husband and his family lived in a small, three-bedroom house. My husband had many siblings, and we were all living in a small house. With this new living arrangement I was given many responsibilities. As the new bride I had to cook for the whole family and clean the whole house, which was very tiring.

During this time I was unhappy since I wasn’t able to see my family as much. Soon after I had my daughter, and I was so happy to have her. She brought me so much joy through one of my darkest times. I hoped that one day I would be able to provide my daughter a better life. 

A few years later, I had applied for a visa so my family and I could move to a better place. I was overjoyed to find out that I got it, since it meant I would be able to provide a better life for my family and I in America, but at the same time it was saddening to know that I would be leaving my parents, brothers, and other close family behind. It was hard to leave my family behind since I wouldn’t be able to see them every day.

It was crazy to know my husband and I, along with my daughter, would be going to America with nothing. Luckily one of my uncles was living in Michigan and was able to help us.

When it came to the day to leave, I cried. Emotions were flowing out as I was leaving my home and saying goodbye to my family that who also had tears in their eyes. We got to the airport and I was scared that something would go wrong since this was my first ever flight, but nothing ended up happening and we landed in Michigan safely.

I felt anxious getting out of the airport and seeing a whole new setting. Everything was bigger and cleaner.

My uncle had picked us up and we lived with him for two months until my husband and I had enough money to move out and live in a small apartment. The apartment wasn’t in the best condition since the outside looked like a dungeon and the hallways always smelled like smoke.

While my family and I lived there, I picked up two jobs  and worked day and night. The working situation stressed me out. I was always tired, and my body was in so much pain, but I had to keep working so my family and I could move to a  better environment. 

Eventually, I got a job with better pay and work hours. I was able to move my family to a safer environment.

Seeing how far I have come made me so happy that I had accomplished so much for myself, but also for my children. Knowing that they will live a better life with opportunities makes me feel at ease. I love that I have come a long way to see my children accomplish things in their life that I wasn’t able to accomplish.

Now that I live in America, I still go back every once and a while to visit my home and family back in Albania. Every time I visit, I am able to see the beautiful sky-high mountains, green fields, and the city that’s filled with laughter and the joy of people getting along in the streets.

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