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A big surprise!

Keith did not go down to the woods that day, but he was still in for a big surprise.

Berry, one of our colleagues here at the seminary, was leaving for a new post in South Africa. We had to have a farewe

ll staff meeting. Francis suggested this should involve lunch somewhere. 'Somewhere' was a little restaurant a few kilometres out of the city. It’s a pleasant spot with a pool and a decent line in food.

The plan was that all the staff would travel out together from the seminary in the Ancient of Days (the Scotts’ X-Trail), meet up with Berry, who lives about 60km away in another city, plan the coming semester and have lunch. The planning was supposed to be done before the lunch took effect and send us all to sleep in the warm African sun.

It turned out that Lyn woke up feeling somewhat unwell. She pleaded for me to go alone and leave the Ancient of Days with her. Surprisingly Francis seemed unworried. Steven (our other colleague) would drive me, he would travel separately because he needed to go somewhere after lunch. "It will be a men's day out” he said.

And indeed, it was, although probably a bit more innocent than you might think. We planned, ate a suitably large lunch and lounged around, gossiping as only male clergy can manage. Did you know that the collective word for a group of clergy of any denomination is _'a gossip'._ No? Good, I just made that one up.

As the day wore on, I was worried about getting home, but there seemed no rush amongst the others. I messaged Lyn. “Take your time, I am fine” was the response. Steven elected to take me out to visit his farm, another few kilometers along the main road. We wandered over his land, admiring his collection of maize, sweet potato and other vegetables. We worried about the weather, it’s been an excessively dry January and smallholders like Steven, or subsistence farmers like many of his neighbours, were beginning to be seriously worried.

Having exhausted the possibilities of eight hectares of land we turned back for Kitwe. Steven announced that he needed to pick up a relative on the way home, which meant another diversion. I was getting worried about Lyn. Another text, another reassuring response. At least she was still alive, answering the phone and not lying in some malaria-induced delirium.

Now something you need to know about Zambians is that they are addicted to the mobile phone. It’s serious, and the modern smart phone is the addiction of choice. Everyone has one, ancient broken screen, limping battery or new, flash and expensive. And wherever people gather there are people staring at phones. Kitwe is worse than Dublin or Belfast for this phenomenon. So I was not in the least surprised that Steven took a few calls here and there through the day, or that there was a brief call from Francis just as we picked up Steven’s relative. I was totally unsuspecting and innocent.

Finally, we arrived home. I rushed in, checked with Lyn and headed down towards a necessary bathroom call when a familiar voice came out of a hidden and dark corner of the house “Dad, can I have the Wifi password?”... It was Hannah, our daughter.

I eventually managed to recover from the near collapse. She and Lyn had plotted a 'surprise to me' trip. For the record, Lyn really had been feeling unwell, but despite this, she managed the airport drive, 60 odd kilometres each way. Everyone else, it seems, was in on the plot towards the end, including Francis and Steven who had been engaged to delay me by any and every means possible until Hannah got in to the house.

A few days after arriving back in London, Hannah graduated with an MSc. from Kings College. Big brother Adam managed to get couple of days off from his new job in a bank call centre in Liverpool to carry the family flag for her. For the most part, we don’t do family very well. Our two adults (they are long past the children stage) are part of a very small family circle scattered over at least three continents. It was a joy to share a few precious days with Hannah, and a reminder that what we do have as a family is precious and worth the nourishing.

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