We had the opportunity, the privilege and the delightful experience of leaving Main Stream USA and moving to Khartoum, Sudan without a clue as to what to expect. Well, my first husband, the oil husband expected a whole lot of moolah and that played out perfectly well. I on the other hand had no idea of what I was doing, couldn’t dream about what I might do.
Christmas and Chanukah cards display the night sky of winter in the Far East as a deep velvet navy blue. And this is indeed what the North Sudan sky looks like! However, in our part of the desert we had no palm trees, and no stars are visible through the thick dust in the air.
We experienced Haley’s Comet, viewing it through the telescope. It created excitement with our house employees – they gathered around and peeked through the lens, then looked with their naked eyes, and peeked again. They were amazed and none were disturbed. Afterward we served Hibiscus Tea, sandwiches, cookies all huge treats in the bankrupt and starving Sudan of the 1980s.
Then we heard on BBC that our part of the world would experience a full eclipse of the moon! This would take many hours longer than watching a comet, so we decided we’d have another Evening with Employees.
This time, though, in order to educate them, I put together some visual aids, never dreaming we would be scaring the Holy Peawadden out of them. (An old saying of my mom’s)
I gathered a large sturdy white paper plate for the moon, and a pie tin to create shadow of the sun, when Larry shined the flashlight in back of it. It worked beautifully. And they all thought it was a fun event and laughed as they reached for sandwiches and cookies
But when the eclipse began, the guards all became extremely agitated. These were people who slept between Earth and Sky, depending on their moon in the night. They wrung their hands, glancing quickly at the skies, and just as quickly turned away to mill around, pointing and shouting in Arabic, “Ma quaise! Ma quaise” (No Good!)
Hadgu, who spoke better Arabic, told us they were terrified the shadow was eating the moon; frightened it may never return again! The men rushed to the back yard, got their prayer rugs, and returned to kneel in prayer to Allah, not daring to look up at the sky
We turned off the flashlight, threw aside our props and settled down to go through several hours of eclipse.
We sat hours with them in their heads down position. And we called to them when the moon was whole again. The poor fellows relaxed then laughed hysterically in relief.
I was shamed in afterthought: they had no reason to be looking at the night time sky after a hard day’s work. In their life they would have been exhausted by just staying alive another day, and slept through it all, no doubt would have been better off sleeping. And they didn’t need any more teaching moments.
Melanie Wood 9/27/2015