This Magical Ship Life

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!  Read ahead to catch up on what we’ve been up to and also an important update on our future plans.

It has been a truly joyful time onboard.  Scheduled surgeries have stopped until the new year, which has enabled us to catch our breath and be able to spend some good family time together as we celebrate the gift of our Savior.  Each year, we make a BIG deal about Christmas on the ship.  There are numerous activities for the family to take part in.  It’s really been a lot of fun.

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A Saturday getaway

December is also a natural time for people to end their commitments with Mercy Ships.  As such, we have had to continue to say goodbye to more friends on the ship.  Some have been here a few weeks, while others have been here for several years.  I’m not sure we’ll ever get used to this part of ship life.  Still, what a privilege to work with such exceptional people from all across the world!

Jamie and I were also able to spend a night off ship at a local hotel to celebrate our 14th anniversary.  I’m so blessed to be married to this woman!

On a completely unrelated note, I have taken up a new hobby to connect with the patients. I’ve found that they really enjoy magic tricks, so I’ve learned a few.  It’s so funny to see their reactions!  I know magicians don’t usually reveal their secrets, but after one of the patients accused me of being a voodoo priest, I’ve made it a point to show them how I do the tricks.

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Now for the big news..after much thought, discussion, and prayer, we have decided to extend with Mercy Ships for another year.  This means we will be with Mercy Ships until at least June 2018.  While we miss family, friends, and home tremendously, we sincerely feel that God still has work for us to do here.

What a tremendous opportunity this has been for us to play a part in the transformation of so many lives.  Thank you for your continued prayers, financial support, care packages, and loving messages/emails.  You are making this possible and sustaining us on this adventure!

And finally, a reminder of the ultimate Christmas gift!

It’s hard

 

This is a season of goodbyes.  This morning, in the academy, we said goodbye to a sweet teacher, Miss Shea.  She was Maya’s teacher last year, and helped Maya grow in confidence and grace.  Maya was her only student last year and Miss Shea poured so much into her.  I had a lump in my throat as we watched pictures of her time on the ship.  The principal, David, talked about how sayind goodbye to people we love breaks our heart, and drew a cracked heart on the board.  He also drew an egg and asked the students, “how do you get the good stuff out of the egg?”  They said to crack it open.  He went on to describe that when our heart is broken from saying goodbye, it  also allows the joy to flow out as we remember how much that person means to us.  We have also said goodbye to many of our patients recently and it has been difficult. I wish you all could meet these people and know how great they are.  It’s hard to walk down the halls, when people you got to know are gone.  It’s hard to get our kids motivated to go back to the hospital to visit patients, when their friends are gone.  Please pray for us as we continue to say goodbye and as we open our hearts again to new patients, friends, and teachers.

Nurses

 

While Hannah made a lot of progress in going down to the hospital last year, she is learning it all over again this year.  She can be quite shy and slow to warm up.  I love to watch her progress as she gains confidence and gets more comfortable each time we visit the hospital.  She was quite unsure a couple weeks ago and tilted her chin down, looking out the tops of her eyeballs, with the tip of her finger in her mouth.  She stood still a few minutes watching a nurse and patient play a game from a distance.  Then, this sweet nurse, quietly asked Hannah if she would like to sit in her lap while they played the game.  Hannah immediately said yes, and her smile came out little by little as she felt welcomed, but not pressured.  The nurse didn’t do some elaborate, funny talk or game where everyone watched and laughed (which often works too)….She just accepted Hannah as she was and quietly let her know it was ok to take it slow.  I so appreciated this and learned quite a bit from it.  Sometimes my kids need a little pushing to do something they feel uncomfortable with, and sometimes they need the freedom to just stand there and take very small steps in their own time.  Both are progress, which I’m learning to celebrate.  “Progress over perfection” is one of my focus points this year.  I pray God will give me the wisdom to know when to push and when to step back.  I’m thankful for the chance to watch our nurses figure out the balance of pushing our patients while still letting them know its ok if the patient is not ready to smile or engage, they’re still loved.  I also pray that all our nurses, both the crazy, outgoing ones, and the quiet, soft spoken ones will get a glimps of how God uses them in this place, in people’s hearts, whether they get credit or attention for it or not.

A part of my job is to take each patient’s photo before they are discharged from the hospital.  It is supossed to be a quick task, but ensures each patient gets a photo to take home with them.  It actualy has ended up taking most of my day, because each patient wants a photo with each nurse that has cared for them and has come to be their friend.  They want to remember them forever.  They are the ones that fill in the long, long hours while the patients and caregivers are stuck in the hospital.  They try to make stubborn teenagers wear their boots, encourage kids to not scratch their skin grafts, make them take medicine, ask how many times they have pooped, and then tend to all the medical stuff that keeps them alive and healthy that I know nothing about.  They have to deal with exhausted caregivers that just want to go home.  Our nurses make it a fun place for the patients. Some are quiet, and feel like they may go unnoticed.  But, the patient remembers his/her nurse and how she cared for him patiently and kindly.  A patient will often request a photo with a nurse that isn’t working that day, because they have bonded with someone specific.   We have lots of nurses for this place to run, and it’s easy for them to feel like “just another nurse.”  But, to the patients, they are a special friend that made this tough road of surgery and recovery fun and pleasant, and showed them the love of Jesus each step of the way.  I am so thankful for our nurses and their huge hearts and persistence in the exhausting and gross times.  I hope they know they are noticed and remembered.

 

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

 

Casting!

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!

Stilts, everything on stilts

We were able to visit a village here in Benin.  The “Stilt Village.”  The village is called “Ganvie” and everything is built in the water, on stilts.  Our guide, Laurent, told us there are around 30,000 people who live here.  It was fascinating!  The village was created in the 1700’s for the people to avoid warriors who were capturing slaves.

Surgeries have started

Surgeries started Monday.  Kids and adults had plastic surgeries for burns and general surgeries.  There is a true excitement in the air, because people have worked really hard for a while to get ready for this day.  Please pray over our patients, and everyone around them.

(that was last week, and I forgot to actually post)

This week, we are one week into surgeries!  We have met awesome patients and crew.  People are tired, so please pray for energy and healing.  That we will all know when we need to keep going and when we need to rest.

Some of the current surgeries being done are cleft lip/palate surgeries.  Many organizations that do these surgeries use taglines along the lines of “giving children smiles.”  It is true that these surgeries are necessary and allow the kids to eat, talk and stay healthy.  However, the picture of Israel below shows that the clefts definitely don’t keep a child from smiling!  The people we have met from Benin have been sweet, strong and colorful!.  I’m thankful to be here!  (photo credit Comms team)