Isabelle has suffered malnutrition seven times in her six young years.
Unable to walk, she is sitting alone by the side of the road as we arrive. Her grandparents greet us and explain that Isabelle’s mother is gravely ill with malaria and they are caring for her now. They are frightfully poor and live in a small remote village far from any medical assistance, so no-one really knows what is wrong with Isabelle. Dressed in a little white ragged dress, she makes her way over to where we are standing by shuffling along the ground on her bottom. She doesn’t speak.
The tennis ball we had for her hardly seems appropriate and there is a feeling of great awkwardness amongst the crew. It can’t be cruel to give a ball to a little girl who has nothing, but it sure as hell feels like it.
On the other hand our time in Malawi has taught us that happiness can be pretty unconditional and, in comparison, we seem socially programmed to be super-sensitive and more uncomfortable for others and their issues than they are themselves. Quandary.
We gave Isabelle her ball. If the other kids play with it at least it is hers and let’s face it she doesn’t have much more than the dress she is wearing. She clasped the ball to her chest with delight and without hesitation let it roll out in front of her. The smiling expression on her grandfather’s face was reassurance. She began throwing the ball a little further away and shuffling after it with excitement and determination.
She was happy… as well as completely adorable.