And Yet She Smiles

Some people have penetrating smiles that consist not just of a plethora of pearly whites but of a brightness in their eyes. Olivia, a 10-year old girl who recently came to Deanville, has one. Though her face glows with apparent joy, it belies the difficulties of her short life story. Her mother died of yellow fever when Olivia was young. As she grew up, her father made her sell small things in the market to make money for the family instead of attending school. Her grandmother, Quita, did not like this and took the child to care for her so she could get an education. Because of this, Olivia’s father and the rest of the family no longer interact with her. Grandma struggles alone to keep her in school, fed each day, and clothed along with three other young grandchildren.

And yet she smiles.

Each day Olivia cleans, guts, and deftly segments a fish, tossing the entrails to the wandering chickens. After a quick rinse, she dumps the pieces into a pot with vegetables she has peeled and chopped. She builds a fire by placing sticks in a star pattern between three pot-holding rocks heavily charred from daily use. A hot coal is carried from a neighbor’s fire on a scrap piece of corrugated metal roofing and is dropped onto tinder of dried hairy remnants from palm nuts that were recently pressed into oil. A flame quickly emerges as if there were a control knob turned to “light”. She boils and seasons the soup then moves on to cooking the prerequisite rice. Meanwhile her slightly older brother plays, her younger sister sits on a bench suffering from malaria due to lack of money for medication, her baby brother cries in fear of “White man Jon” sitting with this family, and grandma Quita tries to shoo all the chickens out of the house except the two holed up in the corner of a room laying eggs on the dirt floor.

And yet she smiles.

One thought on “And Yet She Smiles

  1. Olivia,
    You are radiant and an exemplar of resilience.
    Can’t wait to talk with you tomorrow.
    Mrs. Arnold
    Lenox School
    New York
    Jon your passion and warm spirit has filled me beyond measure. Can I help Olivia financially in any way?


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