She’s a tiny little thing, with a shock of disheveled black hair and huge eyes that seem to drink in everything around her. She journeys to Eagle’s Nest every day at lunch with her aunt (only a few years older than she is), where she will be fed a hot meal. More often than not, you’ll see her take a portion of her food and put it in a plastic bag or a cap to take home to other family members. Her aunt will then let her eat any scraps left from her plate.
Irma and her aunt, eating lunch at the Manna program at Eagle's Nest.
Her name is Irma. And she makes my heart smile.
Irma and her family live below Eagle’s Nest in a small mud and clay home. I’ve watched her walk home, through the fields of onions and potatoes, along well-worn dirt paths leading to gravel roads which lead up to Eagle’s Nest or down to Solola. She seems so small compared to the world around her, so easy to ignore.
Irma in 2010.
I first met her last summer, as she sat at one of the little tables with her brightly colored plastic plate in front of her. We stared at each other, and I made funny faces to get her to smile. She didn’t say much, but she loved seeing her face in the viewfinder of a camera. Each day, we would smile and take pictures as she ate lunch.
Her face was one of the first things I looked for on Monday when I walked to the cabana where the Manna kids were being fed (Manna is a wonderful free lunch program at Eagle’s Nest for children in the community who are needy). She was there – at the same little table with the same brightly colored plate. Her aunt sat next to her. I showed her the picture I carry with me, of her smiling.
“Hi there Irma – I know who you are.”
She smiled, and I made funny faces. And we took another picture or two.
Yesterday after lunch, the Manna kids got to swim. Irma was too small for any of the swimsuits provided to the kids, so she sat quietly in the shade and watched. I sat next to her for a while. She pointed to my camera and said in almost a whisper, “Photo.” And for the first time, she posed for me – without her aunt, without the security of the table and the plates and the food.
I showed her the picture, and she smiled brightly. She then jumped up and joined a few children who were playing, making sure I was still there watching. For the first time, I heard her laugh.
I sit now, listening to birdsong and looking at an awe-inspiring view of flowers, water, and volcanos. And yet, it pales in comparison to the beauty found in a tiny little girl living in a poor village.
Where little is much and the least is greatest, Irma is a princess.