Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Starry Night

One of the things I have always loved about my farm is walking down the road on one of those crisp clear nights and looking up at the stars.  The corn is this black silence that blocks out the world like cathedral walls and the night sky spews the Milky Way overhead. 

Then I went to Togo.  Now the night sky here is boring.  Well, less interesting than it used to be.

The stars here seem bland.  More familiar, because I can pick out the constellations in their "normal" places, but bland.  Stars hang low in the rural west African sky.  Drops of liquid crystal on a black satin fabric.  Some glint yellow, others blue, or brown.  Some are big, bold. and bright.  The other stars around them seem to cower away.  Some twinkle.  Others glare.  The Milky Way is a phenomenon rather than a suggestion; a glowing swath arcing across the sky.  There is one star that always reminded me of D's eyes.  They have the same azure tint.  I was curious, so I looked it up in a star book one night.  It is Sirius.  It usually hangs just over the top of Mount Bassar.

The Togo night sky is entertaining to watch.  I used to sit out in a chair when I first got to Nampoch and stare up for hours.  This was before I got my nook.  Anyway, one night I saw this object sail across the sky from one horizon to the other.  Perfectly straight line.  I have no idea what it was.  Maybe a satellite or the International Space Station.  I looked for it for the next 2+ years, never found it again until maybe a month before I COSed.  Then I timed it and realized it always passed overhead about 19h45 every night.  That took a bit of the mystery out of it, but it was still fun to watch.

Then there were shooting stars.  One of the first ones I saw was in Kouka.  Well I was in Kouka.  I was buying dinner one evening before catching a zed home when something caught my eye.  My thought process went something like this "holy shit! fireworks! oooo - oh wait, this is Togo.  And that is a meteor." 

The second shooting star I saw was memorable because it was almost the harbinger of my death.  Kader and I were motoing to Kara one night on our way back from a meeting up north.  We were going up through the mountain pass between Niamtougou and Kante, up and around a curve.  I was star gazing and spacing out because my iPod had died.  I saw a massive shooting star and looked down to say something to Kader about it when he jerked the moto over to avoid another moto coming flying toward us around the curve.  In our lane.  With no headlight.  We were going maybe 40 kph at the time, the other guy was doing an easy 60.  Kader was furious.  I still have no idea how he managed to see the other moto on the dark road and swerve in time.  But he did. 

Sometimes here, when the moon is full I walk down the road and I can see my shadow on the road, or on the corn.  In Togo sometimes the moon was so bright you can walk without much need for a flashlight.  If you are really adventurous and think you can spot a viper in your path with your cat-like vision.  In Harmattan the moon looks dusty brown, or blood red.  Occasionally I would watch the moon rise over evening thunderstorms.  Watching lightening and thunderheads glowing like alien spaceships in the moonlight is really cool. 

One of the most surreal moments I had in Togo was in 2011.  I was at a funeral dance in Kpolabol.  We stayed late and the moon rose over the dancers.  Huge and full.  It shown through the branches of a skeletal tree as dust from the dance drifted over it like a dusty shroud.   Then kids got a kick out of watching me try to take a picture of it. 

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