Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Still She Smiles


We first saw her at Burger King. She was sitting alone at a table in the family section, with no family in sight. We sat down at the table right next to her. We smiled at each other and she chomped a tiny mouthful of her giant Whopper sandwich which was almost too big for her to hold, much less bite. We watched her as she nonchalantly sat there, flirting with us with her twinkling chocolate brown eyes. But no family member ever came to be with her or to fetch her. And she didn't appear scared or concerned at all. She actually seemed quite confident and at ease. When the service manager from behind the counter brought our order to the table, he walked by the little girl and said something kind to her in Arabic which made her smile yet again. As he put our food down on the table, he told us that she was his most loyal and regular customer. She always comes to the restaurant. She comes to eat there every single day, he told us. Another random customer will usually buy her a sandwich, and then the manager himself throws in the fries and a drink for her.


Her name is Sahba, which in Arabic means "friend." She is six years old and cute as a button. Sahba is a refugee from Afghanistan. Like most six-year-olds, she has an eager and ready smile, missing a tooth or two. But unlike most other kids her age, she works every day to help support her family. Next to her on the table were four cartons of mint gum. Each carton has twenty packs of gum in it. She sells a carton for 10 riyals ($2.50 US). She told my husband that she works until about midnight and then she walks for an hour or so to meet up with her parents to go home. Did you get that? AT MIDNIGHT SHE STOPS SELLING GUM AND WALKS BY HERSELF FOR AN HOUR TO GO HOME, AND SHE IS ONLY SIX YEARS OLD. She does this every day. The district she told us she lives in is several miles away from the Burger King we were at, in this busy city of about four million people. There is no school for this little girl. There is no playtime. There may be no dolls or other toys waiting for her at her "home." Selling gum is her life for now. Yet she smiles.

Sahba finished her burger and my husband called her over to our table. He teased her, jokingly bargaining with her over the price of a carton of her gum. And she gave it right back to him, with a smile. She seemingly has the savvy of an experienced business woman. She had more maturity than any six-year-old I have ever seen. At her tender age, she already possessed street smarts. Sahba happily obliged when I asked to take her picture and posed for me, flashing her heart-melting smile. She was so pleased when I showed her the images of her sweet little face on the screen of the camera. Another big smile. She wore an open abaya over an ill-fitting shiny purple dress. I noticed that one of her cheeks had a little cut on it and her arms had several little cuts as well. She picked up the remaining three cartons of gum, said goodbye to us, and walked out the restaurant door into the night.

My son Adam and I looked at each other. Clearly Sahba had touched our hearts. At the same time we both blurted out, “I wish we could take her home with us!” But she is not a stray cat or an abandoned puppy. She is not an orphan. She is a little six year old girl who helps to support her displaced family. We couldn’t stop talking or thinking about her as we finished our meal. Several minutes later the restaurant door opened, and there she was again. She approached our table and boldly used one of the oldest pick-up lines in the book on my infatuated husband. In Arabic she asked, “Would you like to buy me a drink?” Hubby smiled at her and I noticed that his eyes even teared up a little bit. He got up and gently put his hand on the back of her shoulder to guide her as they walked up to the counter together where he bought her a drink. It was undeniable that she was a favorite of the grinning Burger King employees, who all seemed to stop what they were doing to look over fondly at the sight of precious little Sahba, beaming as though they were all her doting uncles. Hubby asked the little child if she wanted some dessert too, but she politely declined. His reward was her pretty little gapped tooth smile.

And then she was gone again. We got into our car and as we were driving away, we saw her on the sidewalk at the edge of the busy plaza holding her cartons of gum, looking for a sale. I wondered how she managed to keep smiling and spreading her sunshine every day like she did, and I knew then that I wouldn't ever be able to forget about this charming little girl. I realized that she still had three more hours left to work, when most kids her age were already tucked into bed for the night. And to think, she’s just six years old… and still she smiles.

81 comments:

  1. Very touching, Susie.
    Ya Sahba, may you keep smiling.

    Nice to see The Mr. too.
    Yours is truly a big adventure.

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  2. How very touching... my eyes watered while reading this. She is beautiful and deserves a childhood.

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  3. Wow, that was a very poignant anecdote...brought tears to my eyes, too!

    And the Elton background music (Your Song) was such an appropriate soundtrack...!

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  4. Aww, Susie - I feel like crying. I am so touched by your story and also the little girl's innocent smile.

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  5. What a wonderful little girl as the mum of a 6 year old, I just cant imagine her on the street alone.
    She has the sweetest smile.

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  6. That is a powerful story. What a beautiful smile. Angels are everywhere. We have only to look.

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  7. touching... Im teary eyed too. May Allah reward her for her efforts, and all those who come into contact and help her that little bit

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  8. Very touching Susie! Sadly I have met many Sahba's in my life, doing whatever they can to help their families. Once we were driving by a cotton field and I saw many children ages 5 and up working next to their parents, some of them barefooted because they can't afford shoes and it was a chilly day late in the autumn.

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  9. What a sad and yet uplifting story. I hope the trials and tribulations of life don't destroy her hope and sunny disposition. Allah protect her.

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  10. Oh Susie... yup, tears in my eyes. I sure hope she stays safe, the poor baby.

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  11. This was a very touching article. She is a very cute little girl. There are many things that we take for granted. May Allah protect her and keep her safe.

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  12. this post was a real eye-opener. to think of a little girl walking alone at the hour of the night to meet up with her family after peddling her gum.

    have a good week.
    erin

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  13. Wow, what an incredible story. May God bless her & her family.

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  14. This child, as difficult as her life is, is triply blessed: by having a family, by her disposition, and by the Burger King staff and customers, including your family!

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  15. I'm new to your blog andj ust love reading it! What a sweet lil girl Sahba is, just breaks my heart that this happens everyday. I pray Allah gives her much success and happiness always.

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  16. May Allah bless her and provide ease and comfort for both her and her family.

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  17. OmG :-S

    Miskeena!!

    I really hope she is gonna be alright, cuz selling gum on the streets is not where a six-year old should be -- actually no child should be doing this.

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  18. Sweet angel, I am here holding back tears. I hope she does not get hurt. There are so many sick people in the world. I wish someone could adopt her, this way it could help out her family since they have one less mouth to feed. Painful as the solution seems it will keep her off the streets.

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  19. This took me back to the Mexican border crossing at Douglas, AZ, with all those Indio women, babies strapped to them, selling whatever they can to survive and all those children who push chicle and cleaned windshields to support their families. Too bad they are not met with such kindness.

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  20. A very touching, beautifully told story, which I'd like to link my readers to. Thanks.

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  21. I live in Paraguay and this morning we happened to have some balloons in the car which we gave to the children selling gum on the corner. They came to life and started running around, then followed our car yelling "gracias" when the light turned green. Its amazing what these children live through.

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  22. Wow...the story is so touching...Sahba is such a strong child :)

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  23. May you always have the inner joy to keep smiling, little Sahba.

    However bad her life in Saudi Arabia is, it's probably better than the life she had in Afghanistan.

    God bless the little children.

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  24. Susie ,could we set up an account to pay for her school and help her family?do you think they would accept the help?

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  25. A touching story, she is so sweet.
    It is amazing to see how the 'other half of the worlds people' live. And very sad too, they have so little yet are so content. Bless her.

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  26. And I thought I had it hard. What a sweet touching story!! I think that her attitude shows how much she accepts her situation and is happy in spite of it.
    Also enjoyed being able to hear your music. I have detected it before, but it was so soft and hard to hear.

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  27. Heart-rending!
    I agree with always, cab't we do something? I'd happily give money! This can't go right for ever, some pervert will spot her walking home late at night and rape and maybe kill her! Leave her in the desert and nobody will know what happened to her!
    We could launch an appeal, and a monthly subscription or something!
    I can't think of this story without wanting to do something!

    Always has the right idea, something that will help her entire family. As things are it can't be a huge amount which is needed, if the selling of gum is already such a big help!

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  28. Wow, what a sweet and precious little girl. Thanks for sharing this touching story.

    On another note, I have finished my review of "Susie's Big Adventure" and I'm pleased to inform you that your blog has been added to Blogging Women.

    Thanks for sharing your blog with me and now the readers of our women's blog directory.

    Continued success!

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  29. This precious child of God and her innocence lost. Tears falling down my cheeks, as I re-read this entry. Oh Susie, this is heart wrenching! Where are her dolly's? No excitement for her first day of school. No friends over to play, but she loves her family and sells gum to earn money till late in the night. This should be no child’s life. I sit thinking about the lavishness I provide to my children and I just feel numb. In the states, a child's memorial was held Tuesday for Caylee Marie Anthony in Florida. She was murdered and only her little bones found double wrapped in trash liner. Stolen innocence once again. We are of the living, wither Muslim, Christian, Jew how can society let this child down?

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  30. Hi Susie,
    My daughter is turning six in a couple weeks. I am going to tell her story and keep reminding her whenever she complains about cleaning up her room full of toys. So heartbreaking this story and so amazing that this precious child can be happy like this every day. I suspect she doesn't know life any other way. Thanks for sharing...
    Julie

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  31. You know, I used to be a small part of a program in Afghanistan, where these kids were brought back into the country. Back in 2004, the Saudi cops used to toss them in jail and deport them to Afghanistan. My organization received and housed them in Kabul while the parents were found, and they were returned to their family. But we were worried that some of the families would send them straight back since they needed the income. The program ended for us in 2005...not sure what is happening now, unfortunately. We only saw the part of the pictures after they re-entered Afghanistan, so it's fascinating to see it from this angle.

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  32. Many little children sell gum like this little girl in Mexico, even today! I grew up seeing this all the time when my family would go across the line to Agua Prieta, Mexico. It's sad to see that's it's still going on. She's a beautiful little girl. May God keep her in his protective hands and may He watch over her family too. Annie Johnson

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  33. It is not amazing.Like her u will found in every corner of the world.But who do u blame for her miseries isn't it America who has played and is playing with her country Afganistan otherwise her country has got such resources by virtue of which half of world may become their slave.

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  34. Well, Afghanistan was in a difficult economic situation long before the Americans arrived...you can blame many things on the U.S., but this is not one of them. There has been war there since the 1970s.

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  35. This is very touching. Thanks for sharing.

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  36. A lovely post - warm and full of love. And yet how sad it is for her and all the others like her who have to forgo their right to childhood due to poverty.

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  37. Thank you Susie. It's important to share Sahba's story. Quite a reality check for the rest of us.

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  38. @ mueen:

    I am sorry mueen, but you've got your facts all wrong. If you ever want to point fingers, point them at the fellow Afghan and Pakistani extremists, who under the banner of Islam are propagating cruelty and murder. If there was no Taliban and all the crazy lunatics who want advance their political and/or religious ideologies by force, and killing the innocent, do you think US needs to risk hundreds of thousands of soldier's lives for nothing? I'm sad, very sad that there are millions of children around the world right this very moment struggling to survive, to eat, to breath. Each and every time there is only one reason for these children's misfortune, dirty politics of few that are power hungry and greedy. Check your facts before you point fingers...

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  39. very very heart touching!

    sob sob :(

    she is the child of god - through her plight, people would be taught what is life?

    sister, can I know, how such children can be given the facilities as is available to our own children?

    at this moment i pray with the almighty to bless the child, thy name sabah

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  40. Very touching story indeed and I also have tears in my eyes ... But the worst thing is to know that there are millions of little girls like her in all the poor regions of the world and we are unfortunately not able to help them :-(

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  41. I worry about the little girl's future. I wonder what she'll be doing at age 15 to support her family.

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  42. You have a most interesting blog here. Thank you for sharing your life with the world.

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  43. A very touching story and I have tears in my eyes.She is a cute little girl!

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  44. Touching story of a beautiful girl!

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  45. ya allah...God bless her and her family. when i would frequent egypt with my husband, i would always have a lump in my throat watching the small children out late selling whatever...gum, tissue, flowers...

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  46. As heartbreaking as this story appears to be, she is treated better in SA than she would be here in Egypt. They would never allow her to sell her gum in a mall or food court here, and unless some kind stranger bought her food, she would never be given anything at all for free. As many things as I dont like about SA, this is not one of them. Alhamdulilah there is some compassion there.

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  47. May God bless her. Every child has a right to live their childhood in peace and happiness.
    God bless you and your family for opening your hearts to her.

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  48. Susie, I met you through Carol and Cheela. I love your posts. When reading about dear Sahba, I was so enthralled at how realistic you are and spiritual at once. She does have a family, who she must feel love to be so loving to everyone. Our best bet for rescue is exactly what your family has done. Love her, pray for her, and be thankful for all the Graces she has recieved and will recieve. I'm in education and there are so many times that I want to rescue children but from what? Sahba has her beatiful soul and a loving God that will provide. I would love to meet you someday. I believe you have a beautiful soul as well.

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  49. Oh Susie...what a story!!! I pray that Sahba's guardian angel watches over her every single minute.... no, I can not imagine a 6 year old out on the streets like this.... I can not. Bless you and your family for bringing a safe, happy moment to her life!

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  50. Susie,

    Thank you for posting this story. I've met with a few kids similar to Sahba's story. There are hundreds of Afghan kids in Makkah that walk around and sell tissues to passerby's. I'm glad you showed her some attention and recognized her :)

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  51. That was a poignant and touching story. Wow, what a remarkable little girl she is!! Keep on smiling Sabha, and you Susie, keep telling those wonderful every-day life stories!

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  52. This off the topic..but you have stated more than once that your are not a moslem ..I'm just wondering how you are allowed to go within the perimeter of the two holy mosqoues in Meka and Medina since its strictly off limit to non-moslems...

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  53. Bless her and all those who help.

    What a touching post, Susie.

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  54. Before I left the states, my husband instructed me to go to a mosque and get an official certificate stating that I am Muslim because it would make things easier for me here, and it has.
    I am learning about Islam, but cannot bring myself to embrace it yet, as there are many things I do not understand, believe or fully accept. I have not yet been to Makkah nor have I ever claimed that I have. When I went to Madinah, no one questioned my faith. However if they had, my Iqama says that I am Muslim.
    So on paper, I am Muslim, but in my heart, I am not. I have great respect for the religion, so please refrain from attacking me or judging me because of the situation I am in. Leave the judging to God.
    I hope that answers your question, ANONYMOUS.

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  55. To Aafke and Always - I really appreciate your idea about helping this little girl and her family. It is difficult for me to get around here, but the next time I am in that area of town, I will try to seek her out. I'll keep you posted. Thanks so much for your concern.

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  56. Your best post yet. The story is heart wrenching and filled with what makes a story engaging; questions.

    Some of the Best writing I have ever seen in a short story.

    Kudos to you Susie.

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  57. Susie: I have had such trouble posting comments. I tried on the last post about the dinner party. Loved that post. You have to let us know how the party worked out. What they ate? Did you have fun? I love the pretty picture of you with your hair & earrings. You should use this for you blog page as the "Susie without the veil" picture. There's a wonderful book about about the women & Islam by Geraldine Brooks, SEVEN PARTS OF DESIRE. She discusses the origins of the veil, how it started with the prophet & his wives, & what the KORAN really says about this. Anyhow . . . this is all in Arabic & subject to interpretation. & who interprets these words? You betcha! Men. & I love the story about the little girl. Very cool that somebody wants to start collecting donations. You could start a whole human interest blog about this little girl . . . maybe the whole family could get into a better place as a result? Your big adventure has just touched so many lives. Mine included. Thank you. Ilse.

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  58. How beautiful. The story almost breaks my heart, but that little girl has pluck that is not heart-breaking at all.

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  59. very emotional post...one never hears about the poverty there!!

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  60. Very touching post indeed! I am glad you all could give her some moments of happiness and togetherness. :)

    Congratulations on the POTD award from David.

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  61. I came over here from David's Authorblog and would like to congratulate you on winning his Post of the Day award!

    I wished there were a foundation or organization that would help girls like her to get an education. I find it amazing that in a rich country like SA, refugees can't send their minors to school as they do here.

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  62. She's a modern day Little Match Girl and I'm afraid I would have felt the same way...I would have wanted to take her home with me, comfort her, feed her everyday spoil her...who knows what change I might effect on this tiny little traveler. But if she were not there, in the Burger King, being herself, who knows whose life she would not touch and change forever. Lovely post, lovely child...thank you so much for sharing it. Congratulations on Post of the Day.
    Sandi

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  63. Congrats on post of the Day from David M.

    This was a very touching story. Just when we think our lives are tough...

    Craig

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  64. I have to say, while reading this post, I completely stopped eating the chocolate I was devouring, in awe of a little girl I have never met, do not know and yet who has touched my own heart like she has so many.

    Came via David, what I stroke of luck I did.

    CJ xx

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  65. Amazing post ... I think I will remember her for a long time to come...

    Thanks for visiting my blog and commenting on that heinous creature I call Bridezilla ...

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  66. A touching story indeed. There are too many like her around. Let us just hope that they will all make it.

    PS Thank you for the comment and congratulations yourself!!

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  67. Hi, Susie. Thanks for visiting my blog today. Yours is so interesting! I'll have to spend some more time over here. This story was amazing. Thanks for sharing!

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  68. That's so sad, yet inspiring! Makes you look at yourself :(

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  69. Hi Susie,

    What a touching story... Thank you for sharing it.

    This was the first time i visited your blog, and i must say its brilliant..

    Congratulations on Post of the Day!!

    :)

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  70. What a beautiful story! So well-written, and touching. Thanks for sharing this!

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  71. it is truly heart touchin....may she liv happily forever and i luved the way yu narrated it.

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  72. This was so sad. So many dangers in the world, I could never let my baby out like that. That was sweet of your dh, shes a famous doll now mashAllah..

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  73. Oh my goodness, what a story, it made me smile, it made me sad, she is wise beyond her years. Do you mind if I put a link from my blog to yours to share this story?

    Deb

    my e-mail is debsladybugtexas@aol.com

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  74. Oh my goodness, what an eye opener,a teary one at that. I will alway remember this sweet little girl and wonder what will happen to her. May God bless her and put a hedge of protection around her little body.
    Judanna

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  75. Susie - What a touching post. I'm so glad I came across your blog and will surely be visiting on a regular basis!

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  76. oh lord now i wanna buy all that gum! what a sweetheart :)

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  77. Many apologies for being late to the party, but why didn't you and your family buy the gum?

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  78. To Anonymous - We DID buy a carton of her gum...

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  79. Hello, Susie. I haven't visited in a while, but I checked your recent post, scrolled down a bit, and came up with the link to this post about this sweet little girl. What an angel. Have you seen her again? I hope she stays safe.

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