Papa Hannah

We have been doing a lot of surgeries on burn contractures since the beginning of the field service.  For those that don’t know, when someone experiences a bad burn, they tend to hold the affected limb in the most comfortable position and not move it since it hurts so badly.  Unfortunately, this means that scars form and often function of the limb is lost.  Fingers are fused together.  Elbows are unable to be straightened.  Arms are stuck down at the sides, unable to be raised.

Burns are all-too-common in Africa.  People use open flames to cook and to illuminate their homes because they do not have access to reliable electricity, then accidents happen.  It’s really a terrible problem.

Each day, I make my rounds through the wards, making sure there are no anesthetic issues that need to be addressed.  These can be painful surgeries, so much of my time is spent making sure pain is well-controlled.  Fortunately, we have been able to do many nerve blocks to keep a lot of these people numb while they recover.

While I initially made my visits to the wards for medical purposes, I quickly found myself wanting to go back simply to shake hands and spend time with the patients.  It’s hard to explain, but the Beninois are such warm people.  Every time I come to see them, I am greeted with such heart-felt smiles and enthusiasm.  Except for the bandages, you’d never know these people are recovering from surgery.

The whole Barki clan has experienced the same sort of love when we visit the wards together as a family.  In fact, Jamie, BJ, Maya, and Hannah are so much more popular than I am with the patients.  Every time I step into the wards, multiple patients and their family members will ask me the whereabouts of my family.  And they don’t just ask about one.

“Where is Hannah?”

“Hannah is at school.”

“Where is Maya?”

“Maya is at school.”

“Where is BJ?”

“BJ is at school.”

“Where is Mama Hannah?”

“Mama Hannah is working.”

Which brings me to my next point.  In the hospital, the patients know I’m a doctor.  They know I’m an anesthesiologist, but to them I’m not Dr. Barki, or even Dr. Brian.  To them, I’m “Papa Hannah.”

I love that that’s how I’m identified.  I love that my patients know my family, and my family knows my patients.

A couple examples of the love of the Beninois:

The mother of an 8-year-old boy who had his hand and arm burned said to me, “Papa Hannah, I prayed for you and your wife.”  I told her thank you and that we know we couldn’t do this without God’s help.  She went on to say, “My son’s surgery is over, and you do not need to come see us, but you and your family still spend time with us and make us feel special.  Thank you.”  I was so moved by her love and gratitude.  She knew she did not have anything material to offer us, but she knew she could pray for us.

A few weeks later, a group of burn patients were being discharged to our Hope Center.  This is where they go when they aren’t quite ready to go home, but they still need to be close to the ship for physical therapy appointments, dressing changes, etc.  They asked me, “How can we come back to the ship to visit you?”  I thought surely they would be sick of the ship after being in a hospital bed for over a month.  I told them that we would come visit them at the Hope Center.  So this Sunday, we went to the Hope Center for church, and we were greeted with some of the biggest smiles and hugs!

Below are pictures of some of the new friends we have made.  To strangers, they probably just look like pictures of patients, but to us they are friends, brothers and sisters even.  Each one of them is special and has a unique story.  In these pictures you will find:  amazing drumming skills, jigsaw puzzle lovers, a thumb war champion, soccer fans, rowdy boys, intelligent students eager to learn English, lovers of card tricks, UNO masters, and even a little guy that I think has a crush on Hannah.  Every time I see him, he says, “Ou est Hannah?  Hannah ici!” (pointing right in front of him).  Translation:  “Where is Hannah?  I want Hannah right here!”

Thanks to all of you back home who continue to lift us up in prayer and partner with us financially.  You make it possible for us to be here, to share the transformative love of Christ, but also to experience His love through both you and His children in Benin.  We are grateful.

With Love,

Papa Hannah




Hannah got a full cast on her leg.  and didn’t even break a bone! (I had to insert that right away for the grandparents).  The kindergarten class went to the rehab tent for a field trip.  The new  physical therapists and daycrew needed to practice putting on casts, and the kindergarten girls got to learn one small part of what our patients go through.  They did exercises with crutches and then had to be brave enough to let them saw off the cast.  The team leader did a great job explaining about the saw and letting them touch it to see that it would not cut them.  One of the crew from Benin stood by Hannah and put her at ease.  Such a great experience!