There’s an elevator at Falls Park but Salee Allawe is determined to take the stairs from Main Street down to the bridge over the Reedy River.
“I want to do it,” the plucky 10-year-old Iraqi girl announces.
And so she does, carefully placing her right prosthetic leg on a step and then her left, using bubble gum pink forearm crutches for support.
The stroll across the bridge is the farthest Salee has walked since getting new legs at Shriners Hospital for Children this summer.
It’s a sultry September afternoon, and at the bottom of the steps, Salee pauses, mops the bangs off her forehead with the back of her hand and heaves a sigh. This is hard work. But in a moment, she’s off again.
Soon, Salee and her father, Hussein, will return to Iraq, where she lost both legs in a missile strike, according to the groups who brought her to Greenville for medical care. And along with her new legs, she says she’ll have many wonderful memories of her time in South Carolina to take home.
She’s been to Gatti-Town, Cleveland Park, Discovery Island Water Park, the Greenville Zoo.
“Everything was fun. I like it all,” she says via interpreter Ghada Saif, unable to settle on a favorite.
At the Upper South Carolina State Fair, Salee was thrilled by all the rides.
“Pappa went on the roller coaster, and it went up and down, and he got dizzy and sick after one ride,” she says with a giggle. “I went on most of the rides, and I didn’t get dizzy or sick.”
After she was hurt, Salee remembers, she couldn’t eat or sleep or do anything. Things are much better now. She relishes pizza, which she tasted for the first time here, has made many new friends, and sleeps just fine.
A bit shy and self-conscious over all the attention lavished on her when she first arrived, Salee has grown comfortable with her celebrity. As well-wishers who’ve been following her story stop by with words of encouragement on the bridge, she responds with an easy “Thank you.”
Here and there, Salee drops an English word or phrase she’s picked up during her three months in Greenville. And she understands even more, according to Ann Cothran, a founder of the Upstate Coalition of Compassion, which raised money to bring Salee here.
As she navigates the steps back up from the bridge, Salee says she’s walked far enough for one day. And a cup of vanilla ice cream sure sounds good.
Salee has filled three photo albums from her stay in Greenville, Saif says, and her father has collected every newspaper article about her. In more ways than one, it’s been the visit of a lifetime for a little girl who, until a few months ago, had never been outside war-torn Bagdhad.
“I like the people here. They were nice to me,” Salee says when asked about the best part of her stay. “I liked everything about South Carolina.”