After two years of civil war in her birthplace, Sierra Leone, Kadiatu Jalloh emigrated with her family to Gambia. She worked there as a maid for a few years, saving enough money to move to New York City; it would be over 18 years before her children could join her.
On the advice of a friend from Gambia, she moved to Louisville in 1998, hoping for a lower cost-of-living and more opportunities for financial success. Kadiatu found work as a hotel housekeeper, then serving food at a diner, until a problem with INS led to her arrest and the seizure of her documents, including a Gambian passport which was not authentic.
“If you come to a country,” she explains, “you don’t know the process. There are a lot of things you cannot do for yourself.” Kadiatu eventually filed the necessary paperwork to stay in the United States, but while her status was in flux, she was unable to work, so she made ends meet by cooking at home and selling her dishes through word of mouth.
She now operates Maa Sha-Allah, a West African restaurant in Louisville’s Buechel neighborhood, where she sat down with WFPL’s Phillip M. Bailey to tell her story.