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Stories of Zambia: “So There I Was” – The Lost Key & Saint Michael (2009)

It was a rather big spider as spiders go. We of course were at a standoff. I wanted to get on with my life and it was hungry.

The thing about the bamboo spider is that it does not look fast. That surprise usually comes a few moments later. I had been told about them.  The flat spiders on the wall are our friends, we do not touch them. (I can still hear the lesson: Repeat after me, we do not touch them.) David was doing his best to instruct the new recruits so that our survival rate could be increased from 14 minutes after arrival to 12 years. 

So I was looking at the spider as I raised my foot and quickly stepped on it – mistake, big mistake.  Missionaries only make that mistake once – they’re either dead or have packed their bags. I couldn’t pack my bags because the suitcase was already being eaten by the white ants – no kidding. The two paramount chiefs on either side of the Zambezi River - rivals -  could not see the spider but heard my yell.

The beast (the spider) had side stepped my foot and was proceeding to get revenge on it - my foot. I in the meantime was climbing the nearest object – the chair or worse Father Charles standing next to me. Charlie weighed 440 lbs. with only one foot on the scale. I found a rather long broom stick and started identifying with Saint Paul who killed "the" snake.

Now being a Franciscan, people will remind me of the animals our founder loved – true, and the wolf that was tamed by Saint Francis, yes of course - but for myself as a Catholic, thus one who loves reading the Scriptures, I suddenly felt called to identify with Saint Paul in Acts (the snake into the fire) – after all it is inspired. Fortified with proper exegesis - I swatted it (the spider – not Father Charles.)  

Please note that they have huge fangs (the spider) – but that’s another story – please remind me latter to tell you about the noise in the dark. But I digress. I had been living 18 miles away at another mission called Zambezi Mission and one of the jobs was to bring the mail out to Chinyingi Mission for the good Sisters working at the “Hospital” - by definition: a building with beds with patients who hope that doctors do exist. However – I lost the key to the mail box.   Unless you lived in a third world country – you just don’t have any idea what this means. So let me educate you. In a first world country you can buy anything you want. In a second world country, you have things but you don’t have the money. In a third world country you don’t have money but who cares because there is nothing to buy.   So when I lost the key – THERE ARE NO REPLACEMENTS – (flash back of David to the new recruits: please repeat – no replacements this side of the equator. Shall I spell equator for you - no, no need to do that, thank you teacher. It will never happen, we will never lose anything.)  Well it did happen – and I was on everyone’s short list for revenge.

I had actually thought of faking my own death but with my luck they would put me in the canoe and send me over Livingston falls as it's done in the movies. I had to think of something else.   So I was at Chinyingi having polite tea with the sisters. They had conveniently placed the EMPTY MAIL BAG in my view – I knew the topic would come up. Sister to the newly condemned - me: “So Father are you enjoying YOUR mail.”  Reply: “No sister, I am identifying with the down and oppressed and decided not to read my mail as a token of support for you.” She was stone faced and gazing at me – this is going to be tough.  Sister to the newly condemned, “That’s understandable Father - it’s only been 14 days and 3 hours since your – I noticed her self-control – memory loss. She turned to the other sister and said – Sister, next time, stir in some brain supplement formula - with his tea – it might help”.   

At that moment pure terror swept over me. She was going to put “Marmite” into my tea. Last month the Australian sister had offered me some of it on a cracker – I’d rather have eaten a ten day old rhino burger in the hot sun. (Remind me later to tell you about the old man and the lion.)   She continued. Father – have you prayed to Saint Anthony to find the keys? I ignored her. “Father?” It was a dilemma. If I answered in a way that recognized the keys were lost – I would be admitting imperfection. As a newly ordained from Immaculate Conception Seminary – that would not do – I could be disowned or worse – forced to attend the deanery meetings. On the other hand - if I admit it – I could possibly avoid the Marmite. I replied. “No sister, I don’t pray to Saint Anthony – he has never helped me – I always go to Michael”. Utter disaster.

Now I had the whole convent attacking me. The window to the right of me had been barred. I had thought of the side door but the spitting cobra could still be there. (Remind me to tell you about Brother and the Mamba.) Out of desperation and offering an excusing prayer to Saint Michael I said, “Alright.  Sisters, I am finishing my tea. I am going to get up and walk to the friary. It takes 5 minutes to get there. IF, (I repeated it again,) if any credit will be given to Saint Anthony, the lost keys must be in MY HAND before I open the front door to the friary or else credit goes to Saint Michael. I stood up and swallowed the last bit of tea. I passed the table and put the dirty cup into the kitchen sink. Turning to go I noticed a small can to the right side of the sink by the window. Leaning over I looked in side – there were the keys.

“SISTERS”, I said, “I’ve found the keys.” The two rival paramount chiefs heard the shouts of joy and the “I told you so-s.”   

Paul wrote, “pray for me that the door may be opened.” On the journey we need the prayers of each other. I can hear David, “Forget about it - Yo, I’m talken to you – we need each other – we don’t do it alone.  Ya, and remember - God gave you knees so use them – do some prayen for others for a change."   

PS my family has sworn to disown me unless I start using spell check – “to conceal your ignorance as long as possible.”  Of course they knew I had gone to Marquette and it was quite understandable – “should have sent him to Dickenson.” 

PPS David is Luvale - but I thought you’d listen better if he sounded like he was from "da Bronx" New York.   

The Lord give you his peace. 

Father Patrick of the Immaculata FLHF