A little girl called Salma

This is Salma. A little girl I met yesterday on a sidewalk of the street of Matola.
Whilst everyone is walking, dancing and speaking this little girl and I get to share a moment that I will definitely never forget about my time here in Africa.
Salma looks at me in a way that only makes want to swallow my thoughts.
I smile and say :"Hola" to try and break the ice, but Salma doesn't smile back and only keeps on looking.
"How old are you?". I ask in Portuguese, trying to find another way to get her talk. She shows me her palm, with all fingers sticking out and when I say "five", she nods.
Her little hand is still up in the air and so I give her a gentle high five to make a connection. She keeps looking at me in doubt, probably wondering whether she should trust me or not. A couple of minutes later, whilst our palms are still playing, she points at my camera bag and says : "photo".
Feeling quite surprised I ask : "Do you want to take a picture?". I follow with my hands so that she can understand me. "No" she says : "Photo" still keeping serious.
"Do you want me to take a picture of you?" I ask her.
"Si" she nods.
I am puzzled but don't dare to question anything so I simply unzip the bag and grab the camera.
"Do you want to take a picture?" I ask her again just to double check in case I have misunderstood.
"No", she says : "Photo".
Her expression hasn't changed, not even a little.
I must admit, I am quite shocked by her confidence but incredibly drawn by her attitude at such a young age.
So I simply do as I am told. I hold my camera and look through the lens. As I am about to take the picture I understand what's happening. Salma is telling me her story.
Hers and not only hers.
The story about girls whose mothers are victims of physical and psychological violence.
The story about girls whose education is interrupted due to poverty, early and forced marriage, domestic chores and teenage pregnancies.
The story about girls whose parents are affected by HIV or AIDS.
The story about girls who cannot be little girls and instead of wearing a light, careless and naive smile have a well lived look on their faces. Just like Salma.
As soon as I take the camera away to look at her again, I feel  that something has changed. She is now looking at me in a different way. She is in fact getting a little bit closer and showing interest in the picture I took. Salma seems to like it. She is still not smiling but at least opening up a bit.
And that's when I realized how distorted some stories of Africa are and how wrong it is to blind some realities we live in just to empty the sense of guilt.
There are some kids in this world, kids like Salma who at such a young age already know the value of a silence more than a smile.
Ellie
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