Terror in a Cave
The cry would ring out in the darkness, the sound of a jaguar outside of their home, a cave in the wilderness on the outskirts of the city. A young girl and her mother cowered in fear, hoping the predator would move on from the mouth of the cave. This was the life of Christiana Mara Coelho, a young Brazilian girl who faced incredible odds, yet somehow managed to rise above it all.
Her story is shocking, amazing and inspiring.
Born in a Coal Mining Town
Christiana was born in Diamantina, a mining town located in Minas Gerais, Brazil. Two weeks after she was born, her mother fled with her in tow to live in a cave so they could be safe from her abusive brother. With her father not in the picture and no one to protect them, Christiana’s mother decided it was in their best interest to live off of the grid.
Living in the Wild
For the next five years, the mother and daughter would struggle to survive in the wilderness. Living away from civilization brought about its fair share of challenges. There were jaguars prowling the mountains and food was tough to come by. It was a very hard time for Christiana, but predatory cats were the least of her worries.
The Terror of Mother Nature
While Christiana and her mother did encounter jaguars often in the wilderness, there were other dangers as well. “Venomous snakes, spiders, and scorpions were common,” she said. “I would wake up in the night to swat away giant, poisonous centipedes crawling over my body.”
According to Christiana, their daily life was one of struggle and uncertainty. Food was scarce, and they were constantly having to hunt to for protein like rabbits and wild birds. “I gained confidence from hunting and scavenging and still recall my immense pride when I claimed my first bird, which we grilled over our tiny fire pit. It made a good meal with fruit, berries, and nuts.”
Unfortunately, living off of the land did not provide all of the essentials that Christiana and her mother needed to survive. Therefore, they would walk miles into town and sell dried flowers and leaves so they could buy staples such as rice. Recalling the long walks, Christian told The New York Times that on some days she would beg her mother to stay home, but it would usually fall on deaf ears.
Hard Years, Beautiful Life
Even though living in the wild came with a very distinct set of hardships, Christiana wouldn’t trade her childhood in the wilderness for a normal life. “We came close to starvation, but I often look on those years as my best years,” she revealed. “My mother always had time for me, and I got all her love. We chatted for hours, taking in the beauty of the wilderness, feet dangling over the mouth of the cave… the colors, sights and sounds were magical.”
The Stunning Land
And magical is an understatement. The land surrounding Diamantina is known for its quartz-filled mountains, blooming orchids and stunning forests that dot the river banks. For nature-lovers, the area is pure paradise despite the dangers associated with it.
Driven From Home
Eventually, Christiana and her mother were forced to abandon their cave and the wilderness they called home. Driven out by the wild animals, as well as the landowners, her mother knew it was time to move on and begin the next chapter in their lives.
New Life in the City
The duo moved to the city of Sao Paulo, which is located in southeastern Brazil. Considered to be one of the most heavily populated cities in the world, poverty is sky high in the city. Due to a lack of funds, Christiana and her mother would end up living in the slums and begging on the streets.
On Her Own
Left alone for most of the day, Christiana spent her time wandering the streets, avoiding the police and making new friends. She eventually grew close to another street child named Camile. They soon became best friends and spent every single day together. “We shared all the food we found equally between us. Camile had an amazing ability to tell stories… They took the pain away from living this reality. At least for a while.”
Then one night before Christiana’s seventh birthday, she was captured along with Camile by the military police. In the chaos of it all, Christiana managed to escape and quickly maneuvered her way back to rescue Camile. Sadly, as she approached where her friend was held captive she witnessed the little girl’s execution…shot in the head by the police. “I lost my friend, my sister, that night. I also understood how little our lives were worth.”
Street Children Executions
Sadly, street child killings are somewhat of a norm in Brazil. In 2015, the United Nations accused the country’s military police of conducting executions of children and that widespread impunity allowed it to happen. According to the U.N., the killings became more frequent as an effort to clear the streets before the 2016 Olympics.
Killing to Survive
After Camile’s murder, Christiana knew she would have to go to any length to survive. She ended up in a fight with a street boy over a piece of flatbread she’d found. Starving and not willing to give it up without a fight, the two children began to hit each other over the bread. The little boy managed to wrestle the bread away from Christiana, but she immediately picked up a broken bottle and stabbed him in the stomach with it.
Guilt Sets In
“At first I felt nothing,” Christiana admitted. “Then my hand got warm. Blood gushed from the wound. I took the bread from the boy as he screamed and doubled over in pain. After I’d run a fair way, I started eating. But then I started vomiting. The realization of what I’d done hit me… Later, I heard the other kids in the neighborhood talking about a boy who had been found dead in the alley.”
A Promise Made
It would be days later when Christiana’s mother found her sleeping beneath the stairs of an abandoned building. Christiana poured her heart out to her mother, revealing the horrific moment she took another child’s life. Instead of shame and blame, she told her to make her a promise. “Christiana, promise me something. Promise me that whatever happens in life, never stop walking.”
The Orphanage Life
Months later, Christiana would end up in an orphanage along with her new brother Patrique. While their mother visited every Sunday, eventually the orphanage denied visitation. A year later, both Christiana and Patrique were adopted by a couple from Sweden. She was renamed Christina Rickardsson and set off to begin a new life in another country.
A New Chapter
In an interview with the New York Times, Christina revealed that her life in Vindeln, Sweden was nothing like living in Brazil. It was impeccably clean and there were no signs of poverty. While there was an initial culture shock, Christina quickly adapted to Sweden. “I learned Swedish and forgot Portuguese in a matter of months. After years of fighting for survival, I had hope for a future.”
An Identity Crisis
Despite abandoning her roots and the life that came before, Christina was haunted by her past and would soon experience an identity crisis. She revealed that one day, she looked in the mirror and didn’t know who she was. She needed to accept both Swedish Christina and Brazilian Christiana. Therefore, she traveled to Brazil to reunite with mother, who she learned had struggled with schizophrenia for most of her life. It was an eye-opening revelation.
An Incredible Journey
Today, Christina feels like she is the best of both of her identities. She now runs an orphanage dedicated to street kids, offering hope of a better life. Christina also wrote a book about her experiences and credits her mother the successful woman she has transformed into today. “She gave me the courage and the strength to keep walking forward through my life.”
It’s amazing how if you don’t let your past define you, you can soar past all the odds. Christina is living proof that your circumstances are only temporary. A true from rags to riches story, indeed.