Tani Nakabe: I Am Beautiful

01 June 2012

In the dockside Mercy Ships admissions tent, a young girl poked her head around different corners and people. Whenever someone looked up, they merely caught a quick glimpse before she was out of sight again. Her distant giggles filled the air as she sneaked her way around the crowd, always blending in with the other patients. Finally, she jumped out and laughed as her name was called, “Tani Nakabe.”

Tani is 11 years old and has come to the Africa Mercy to continue the repair on her severe facial burns. In 2010, she had a free surgery onboard the hospital ship to repair her upper lip and to begin the reconstruction process on her nose.

Tani’s burns date back to when she was only one year old. She was playing on the floor while her mother cooked dinner on an open fire inside the grass hut. When her mother left to fetch water, the unthinkable happened. The grass hut caught on fire, spreading ferociously as the dry grass fueled its fury. Little Tani was trapped in the house and surrounded by flames. Luckily, her father saw the fire and pulled her from the inferno. Tani’s head and body were still burning. A neighbor, trying to help, grabbed the nearest bottle of what appeared to be water and threw it over the child. Unfortunately, it was not water – it was palm wine alcohol. The burns seared her face, leaving Tani with no nose and a severely damaged right eye and upper lip.

Tani’s entire village remembered the tragedy of that day and never persecuted Tani for her appearance. She was able to attend school. In fact, she is at the top of her class. This acceptance, unusual in the superstitious West African culture, allowed Tani to grow up as a joyful child. Her infectious laughter melts the heart, and her smile brightens any room.

Despite her appearance, Tani is brave and bold. Many crew members remember her marching through the ship’s hallways in 2010 shouting, “I AM BEAUTIFUL!” in English. After receiving her first surgery, Tani’s demeanor never changed. Every day she went up to deck seven of the Africa Mercy and played with all the other children.

This year, Tani’s damaged right eye was removed and a skin graft was placed in its stead to help with her appearance. Dr. Gary Parker, Chief Medical Officer and surgeon, explains, “Her right eye was partially destroyed by the burn, but remnants of the eye remained. Her eye would weep continuously and had the appearance of an open wound that never healed.”

Tani’s appearance will improve, and the difficulty with her damaged eye will be gone. But her joyful, courageous personality will have the greatest impact as her voice rings out, declaring, “I AM

 Tani in 2010 before her first surgery.

 Tani's smile lights up the ward.
 Tani playing on deck 7 with another patient.
Tani says, "I am beautiful!"

Written by Nicole Pribbernow
Edited by Nancy Predaina
Photos by Debra Bell and JJ Tiziou

No comments :

Post a Comment

Proudly designed by | mlekoshi playground |