Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Total Experience Eclipse

God’s blessings shined on us today as there was not a cloud in the sky this morning. The partial eclipse began around 8 am and was only viewable with the special dark glasses which turned the sun into a dark orange orb on a black background that was gradually eaten away. It progressively got cooler in the sun and a little darker until right on time at 9:15 am the total eclipse started and we could look at the sun without our special glasses and see the corona. (I wonder how much brain and computer power it took to calculate the exact time of the eclipse for every point in the path from Brazil to Mongolia?) We could see one star but it was still light enough to walk around. It was like dusk – not midnight. Then after 3 minutes it was as if someone flipped on a light switch as about 1% of the sun peeked out from behind the moon and you needed your special glasses again to look at the sun. The whole process made our planet’s place in the solar system very tangible.

The Togolese national government declared a half day holiday today and everything was closed up tight this morning. The roads normally teeming with people were empty. No school and no work. Everyone was at home with their family behind closed doors as the media had educated folks to use the special glasses or stay inside and not look at the sun. Everyone we talked to yesterday to was too afraid to trust the glasses and they were staying inside. About half an hour after the total eclipse the neighborhood boys showed up to use our glasses. It was a very quiet morning near our house except for the roosters and guinea hens crowing again after the eclipse. For us, it was most likely a special once in a lifetime experience.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

March 29, 9:15 a.m. END OF THE WORLD

Wednesday, March 29, at 9:15 a.m., Togo will experience what some say is one of the most awe inspiring spectacles in all of nature: A TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE. Atakpamé, our home town, is just about exactly in line for some of the best viewing of this event in the world. Good timing for us to be here!

In simple scientific terms a solar eclipse can be explained as: “An eclipse of the Sun can only occur at New Moon when the Moon passes between Earth and Sun. If the Moon’s shadow happens to fall upon Earth’s surface at that time, we see some portion of the Sun’s disk covered or “eclipsed” by the Moon.

More esthetically speaking, this total solar eclipse (which will only last a few minutes) can be described as: ”The sky takes on an eerie twilight as the Sun’s bright face is replaced by the black disk of the Moon. Surrounding the Moon is a beautiful gossamer halo. This is the Sun’s spectacular solar corona, a super heated plasma two million degrees in temperature. The corona can only be seen during the few brief minutes of totality. To witness such an event is a singularly memorable experience which cannot be conveyed adequately through words or photographs.” (That’s why we’re writing before the event…)

But to those Africans not “in the know,” the temporary morning darkness may cause panic. We’ve been told some people will think it is the end of the world, that what is happening is a war between the sun and the moon, and if either one should lose, obviously it’s not good. To combat the “war,” there will be noise-making: drumming and banging of basins throughout the town, pleading for the orbs to stop fighting. Schools will be closed for the day to minimize fears.

Lucky for us, Peace Corps Togo has supplied all the volunteers with special eclipse shades for viewing the eclipse without causing any permanent eye damage. Radio and TV broadcasts have started publicizing the event with cautions about eye damage. Locals have started talking about it rather excitedly, and pharmacies are now selling eclipse shades for about 60 cents, a big expense for an item used only once, and about the cost of one day of food for many people here.

How will we celebrate this event? We are planning a small party, serving a light brunch afterwards with the obvious menu choice: Eggs Sunny-Side Up.

If you feel like you are missing out on this grand event, you can look forward to the next two total solar eclipses visible from the US which will occur on August 21, 2017 and April 8, 2024.

If you are interested in finding out more, check out NASA’s technical web site:

or for the layperson:

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Thin Mints $30/box

This message is for all the Girl Scouts out there, and for any of you who think their cookies are too pricey:

Support your Girl Scouts and BUY those cookies. And think of what it would be like if they weren’t available at all. Girl Scout Cookies are not sold here in Togo, and Peace Corps Volunteers really miss them. They miss them so much they are willing to buy a box for $30.00, and on volunteer “salaries,” that is a big chunk of change. But that calls for further explanation…

Last week, Togo volunteers gathered together for an annual conference. The schedule included an auction one night with items donated by volunteers and staff.

The auction helped raise funds for girls’ educational scholarships, part of the Girls Education and Empowerment Program. Girl Scout Cookies were one of the hottest items, although Oreos and M & Ms were very close seconds. A dinner date in the capital with a hunky U.S. Embassy Marine guard went pretty high, too. There was also a silent auction with sought after items like US brands of deodorant and other cosmetics (some partially used), good batteries like EverReady (we think they were unused), DVDs and CDs (maybe in good condition), volunteer art J, etc.). All in all, the auction will help provide over 30 girls with one year of education in secondary school. Not bad, especially considering it came from volunteers’ pockets!

Don’t pass up the opportunity to buy from those cute scouts and please, munch one for us! (We were not lucky enough to win a bid for the cookies, but we’ll make up for it when we return to the US)

p.s. Good luck with your sales, Marlene!