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Paw Say Boh, Karen

Updated: Jun 18

I was born in Noe Poe Kee, Burma. I have six siblings: three of which are girls and four boys. While in Noe Poe Kee, my mom was a Buddhist. When she got married to my dad, she got baptized and had us.. As we got older, we witnessed the fighting going between the soldiers in our home. We had to flee from where we were staying. The eldest kids had to carry our younger siblings and run through the hills and valleys. My younger siblings kept crying, and we were all scared. My younger sister Eh Moo kept crying. I had to carry her. She kept crying because she had an infection in her leg.


Image from Paw Say Boh.

The Karen people and the Burmese started to fight against each other. They used jet planes to shoot out bullets in the air. We would run to hide by the riverside. As the jet plane shoots out bullets, I was so scared. Since the jet plane was the powerful one, the Karen people surrendered and ran away. As I was hiding, I tried to run to the field, and I started crawling while the jet flew over me. My little siblings were all crying and shaking. I told them, "don't be afraid." I also told my little sister, “Eh Moo don't cry, if you keep crying, the plane will land on your head."


One day my mom asked us to go fishing in a big lake with many fishes. In December, after it rains, there's a lot of fish. One time I went fishing by myself in the big lake. I took my basket and fishing pole with me. I noticed a black thing come out on the road. It was the Burmese soldiers. And they shouted, "hey," and I ran away with my fishing pole. When I got to my house, my dad was eating rice, and he didn't know the soldiers were coming. When soldiers see any male around, they will take them to carry their guns and bullets. So I told my dad, "the soldiers are coming." My dad didn't even finish eating when he started to run. There are many vines in the front yard of my house. When he began to run, his neck got stuck to the vines, but he still kept running with the vines on his neck and made his way to the hiding place. The soldier asked, "who is running away?" They saw my dad. "Is it Kaw Thoo Lei that was running away?" And I answered, "no, they are running away because they are scared. When you guys come, you will take them and make them do work for you. So they are running away from you guys." The soldier told us if we know where Kaw Thoo Lei is then to say it or else they will beat us up.


Thinking of it, it's terrifying. The soldiers made their way under the house where there's a chicken that was making a sound. He grabbed it and choked the neck, and the chicken died. He put it in his bag, took it and left. They searched everything in the house, and afterward, my mom went to grab the chicken eggs. I felt bad for the eggs. They were starting to form into chicks, and the soldiers killed the mother. My mom boiled the eggs. I saw hairs coming out of an egg. I told her I couldn't eat it. But my mom took the hair out of the egg, deep-fried it and ate it.

After everything calmed down, my mom and I went to look for my dad. My aunt also came to look with us. We took our basket with us and pretended to look for food in the forest so that when the soldiers saw us, they would think that we were looking for food, not out looking for my dad or the other guys. As we made our way through, I saw my dad, and his neck was red because of the vines which left blisters on his neck.


As we got older, we (siblings and I) wanted to make money on our own, so we decided to take a sugarcane job--we got paid 15 Myanmar Kyat a day (less than a US dollar). We did go to school, but on Saturdays, we went to work in the sugarcane field. I saved about over 100 Kyats. When I was about 18, people said that they were going to visit Thailand and I told them I wanted to go too. I went with my friends. We had to climb mountains, and I was very scared when we had to sleep at someone else's place. In the area that we were sleeping, they’d kill people there. In the morning we kept going to the mountains. I lived with my older sister for about three years there in Thailand. My dad got sick and he asked me to come back and see him, so I went. I had to go through the mountains again. My friends were helpful to me when I was tired of walking. They were waiting for me, and they even carried my stuff for me to get home. Not long after that, my dad got better. I came to the refugee camp in Thailand. I was there for about 1 to 2 years. I married my husband when I was 21 years old. I had three kids, Kei Ree, Malory, and Paw Boe Lwe. One day the soldiers came to shoot at the camp that we lived in. Before they arrived, we heard a rumor that they were coming. My husband was like a security guard for the town. When the soldiers came, they told people to run away.


I was pregnant with Paw Htoo at eight months. It was hot in May, and being pregnant, I couldn’t take the heat. At about 10 pm, the soldiers came in and started shooting. They shouted, "If it's a Christian family home, burn it down." My husband helped me stay in a place where there's charcoal and ran off. My other three kids and I were with me. People didn't run away with me because my kids kept crying. They were afraid that they might get killed because the soldier would hear the kids cry. The soldiers had burned most of the house down except one. I went to sleep there with the kids. In the morning, my husband came back. My kids were crying because they were hungry. There was no more rice and pots or pans left, not even clothes. But the organization in Mae Sot came to our camp and brought food and distributed it to us. My husband's cousin came to us and gave us some clothes.


When my youngest daughter was five years old, we came to America on January 24, 2012, and we landed in Texas. We lived there for about three years and because we didn't have relatives there we decided to move to Southwest Minnesota, where my younger sister Eh Moo lives. I like living here because I'm close to my family. Many cultures are living here, but in Amarillo, Texas, it's even more diverse. Here it's diverse and a small town, but in Amarillo, it's a bigger city. But there's a problem for me living here in America, I don't know English. I was only in school until the second 2nd grade. The situation was not so good growing up so I didn't get to keep learning. But my kids have the chance to learn and know English, so they help us.


Hope for community and family:

My hope is for my kids to graduate school and help out in the community, and help with language service for those who need it like me. They can help others and be blessed. It's tough for those who don't know English. Education is important. The opportunity they have right now is better than what I had. COVID-19 changed a lot of things. But having faith in God is the most important thing right now. In Worthington, I hope that our community becomes unified and that people start to love each other.


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