Little Amal, 12-foot-tall Syrian refugee puppet, visits Marfa on US tour

Little Amal, a 12-foot tall puppet inspired by the story of a 10-year-old Syrian refugee that has traveled across the world, made a stop in Marfa this week, where she met local children and went on a rainy walk guided by the stars. Photo by: Maisie Crow

MARFA — A 12-foot-tall puppet, inspired by the story of a 10-year-old Syrian refugee that has traveled across countries and met millions of people, was welcomed by the citizens of Marfa this week.

Little Amal, who was celebrating her birthday in Marfa, was created two years ago by The Walk Productions and Handspring Puppet Company, who put on the traveling theater event in order to promote awareness of the struggles of unaccompanied minors, child refugees and immigrants.

The larger than life puppet — which is manned by three puppeteers, one on stilts — was inspired by a real girl who was discovered alone in a refugee camp in France after fleeing the war in Syria.

“Amal that you see walking down the road is very much based on her and was inspired by her journey,” said Craig Leo, a puppeteer from South Africa with the Little Amal team.

Like the girl, who for a time stopped speaking due to traumatic experiences, Amal is silent, but not devoid of emotion, her expressive eyes and attentiveness to the environment around her bring her to life.

Amal’s visits typically revolve around a walk, symbolizing the process of migration. At Tuesday night’s event, Amal walked from the courthouse down Lincoln Street, stopping for performances by Molly Ferguson Rodriguez of Mariachi Santa Cruz and the Matachines Dancers of Presidio.

While the gathering was slightly hampered by the presence of rain, the way Amal reacted to the scene, splashing into puddles and dancing in the rain along with performers enriched her character for the audience. She stopped repeatedly to greet the crowd of children in her wake.

Leo explained that sometimes Amal events will center around the community welcoming her, while others focus more specifically on the harrowing aspects of migration, like a recent event in Philadelphia where Amal’s walk included repeatedly searching for a place to sleep on the street.

“There’s constant restlessness, not being able to find a place to settle, some of the events are much more kind of curated to tell her story,” said Leo.

Around 75 people followed Amal along her route down Marfa’s streets. The sky began to open up and Stephen Hummell of the Big Bend International Dark Sky Preserve led the procession on a journey through the galaxy.

It was the last Marfa Chamber of Commerce event organized by President Abby Boyd, who will soon step down from the role. She said the program’s focus on the stars, in addition to Amal, was meant to be a unifying theme.

“Every culture creates sorties about the stars to tell their important stories, and every culture used the stars to navigate,” said Boyd. “So we have a little girl from someplace that probably very few of us have been to, connecting with the people who live here. It gives us an opportunity for empathy.”

Amal’s U.S. Tour began in September, and will see her traveling along the border to California, then into Mexico, in the coming weeks. Before traveling to Marfa from San Antonio, the Little Amal team visited the Val Verde Humanitarian Border Coalition in Del Rio for an unofficial stop to welcome some asylum seekers traveling from Mexico. Leo said the ongoing war in Gaza, which began during their current tour through the U.S., has been weighing on their team, and “unfortunately,” makes Amal’s story “more prevalent now than ever.”

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