Full Lunar Eclipse, Seen in Cameroon, Africa at Ramadan May 1985

Below is {recorded livestream?} of tonight's Rare Hybrid Lunar Eclipse, which in 2014 we can watch live online.  No need to worry about clouds, or to go outside.  Social Media has it covered.

It would be my second.  I will always remember my first.  It was in Ngaoundal, Cameroon, Africa, sitting on a bench at night in a small unlit bar run by Suzanne Ateh, my "African mother".  I ate at her place every lunch, and spent many evenings drinking mimbo (beer), around a short table with backs to the wall, or sitting outside and looking out at the street.  It was a paved highway with no traffic.  Virtually none at all.

That night was the full moon of Ramadan, which started that year on May 4.  The eclipse was May 21.  Ngaoundal was probably 60-70 percent Muslim, and about 1/3 Baya, 1/3 Fulani, and 1/3 mix of other areas of Cameroon, brought there by a military training camp.  I lived near the military camp, which is where the bars and prostitutes were.

(Original Livestream video link ended without recording, but here's a good link from Mexico.  Fast forward to the first hour, hour ten minutes or so.)

My African mama Suzanne was a retired prostitute.  Freewomen in Africa would make most of their money in cities when they were younger, but as they got into their 40s, or 50s, many would move to a place like Ngaoundal, with a military camp.   They'd buy cases of beer and make a bar, transitioning in an economy that reflected the few choices they had.  Over time, Suzanne sold more and more beer, and I don't know if she ever played prostitute while I was there.  I couldn't be sure.

That night I was sitting with two other teachers, Mbaku Christophe of Santa (south of Bamenda), and Augustin Achu Kum of Foumban, both about my age, early 20s.  We could hear drumming of the Fulani Muslims, who had fasted all day during Ramadan, and were singing and dancing -"partying" - under the full moon.  As I saw the moon turn into a white crescent, and then blood red, I pointed it out.  There was no news heralding the event, we were simply realizing, reacting to, the lunar eclipse.  Augustin, Christophe and I were seeing one for our first time.

File:Lunar Eclipse by Jiyang Chen.jpgThen we realized the drumming and singing had stopped.

We were chuckling, thinking that it must have been a strange experience to be celebrating the most holy month of a lunar year seem to "reset to crescent".  The next day I heard many Muslims, including my students at the middle school, tell me it was "dangerous".  Yadji told me (first hand, in retrospect) that Muslim men who had been drinking beer were washing their mouths out with soap that night at the mosque.

Suzanne was lying down on the bench, paying no attention.  Suzanne, I said, look at the moon (in pidgin).  She raised her head, squinted up, and said "Now cloud" (Pidgin "now" is "is" or "it's").  No, we explained, it's a lunar eclipse.  I tried to explain how the earth had gotten between the sun and the moon, as simply as I could, kind of realizing Suzanne had never been to school and was unlikely to be paying much attention.  She nodded and showed her awareness, probably sensing that if I was making a big deal of it, she should acknowledge the "eclipse" out of respect.

Then she asked me, Jack (her nickname for me), the moon in Africa, is it the same as the moon in China?  And the same as the moon in America?  And France?

The three teachers chuckled slightly.

Yes, I told her, it's the same moon everywhere.

That was interesting.  "And some men think God not there!" She took the fact that it's the same moon to be as remarkable and interesting as I found the eclipse.  And that stayed with me for a long time.  Because, why not?  Why is a lunar eclipse more interesting than the fact there's one moon which we see from every country?  It was a monetary difference.  The cost and availability of education (link to Asian proverb)

I may have written about this before.  But tonight's my second lunar eclipse, this time over Vermont.  What I took away from that night was the beauty of Suzanne's validation of faith.  From the innocence of her question, to the validation of spirituality.   And for days and years afterwards, I've pondered the relativity of my own education, of my own instruction.   I've been validated with degrees, but am only wise in relation to the foolish.  It's simple to imagine many people as much wiser than I am as I felt to Suzanne, retired prostitute, laying on the bench in the unlit "Zim" quartier of Ngaoundal.  And with certainty, there will be millions more people more informed than I am in the future.

So long as we protect freedom of speech, dialectic, and intellectual exploration and discovery.  It's a wonderful thing, the calculus of derivatives, deriving enlightenment through the observations of the commonalities of other peoples enlightments.  The cognitive derivative of emotional excitement, validation, makes faith our gravity, and truth our light.

Our emotions of revelation seem to play a role in "validating" our beliefs.  And I still consider myself a religious person, or at least give credit to all I have to my persevering faith in doing the right thing.  But I can also see how one person's validation of a belief - the predictability of the eclipse, or the wonder that China and Africa enjoy the same moon - can boil down to simple smuggery.   

Faith is like gravity, truth is like light.  Hard to imagine moving around in a world of ignorant faith, or information without direction.

"Faith is gravity, truth is light".  That's probably my best quote.  "Be true to thine own self" was the best truth (when I asked for such) quoted me by my great grandmother, Minnie Freeland, from her bed.  At 96 years old, she protested "I am not wise" and I said (at 16) that she couldn't help but be wiser than I was.  My quote is simple analogy, hers was a purposeful shuffling of Shakespeare.

"And man wey dey say dat God no deh!"  Ateh Suzanne, perhaps, eclipses us both, wondering how we can deny the higher power that surrounds us, isn't really so far away from us geographically or philosophically.

We are all here.  

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