Monday, March 27, 2006

The Apoca-eclipse

During a solar eclipse, animals tend to go to sleep and flowers close their petals. In ancient times, the eclipse brought fear to bystanders who thought that it was the work of angry gods. Here in Togo.. well, things move slowly here.

As some of you might know, there is a total solar eclipse occurring on the morning of March 29th. It will pass over West and Central Africa, with the best viewing spot in the Libyan desert, before moving on to Eastern Europe. Since the Libyan desert isn't our idea of a fun getaway, we plan to stick right here and look at it. It passes over Lomé at about 9:30 a.m. We've got the solar filter for our telescope, and we're ready.
The Togolese government is ready too. Not being entirely oblivious to the outside world, they knew it was coming and ordered over a million pairs of mylar-coated paper sunglasses, called "anti-eclipse glasses" here. They're pitch-black, you can't see a thing through them in normal light. The name should give you a clue as to the Togolese disposition regarding the eclipse. Although the government last week declared the morning a public holiday, stories in every paper every day warn the Togolese public against looking at the eclipse. Not just before and after totality, but during the entire thing. Don't look at it, they say, you'll go blind. Better yet, don't look up that morning. You know, it's best just to lock the children inside. Really, lock them inside. They might look up. (Who knows what they think about the dangers to children the other 364 days of the year.) Although about 700,000 pairs of glasses have been sold, for the equivalent of about 75 cents each, there's little danger they'll be exposed to the sun. Our cook doesn't have them, and said he was worried about the whole ordeal. He plans to stay inside all morning.
But sure, you think, a domestic helper isn't exactly the best representative of all Togolese. Surely they're more savvy! Well, then let's take my five local employees in the consular section. All of them have a baccalaureate degree, uncommon for Togolese, and extremely so for Togolese women. Most of them have university degrees. All of them speak at least three languages. How will they spend the afternoon? "Yes, we'll stay inside." But what about those glasses? You bought glasses! "Yes, we'll wear them. In our rooms. Inside."
The only people who don't seem to be concerned are the voodoo practitioners. One American here said she's heard a lot more drumming lately. I'm sure they're making good business. We don't plan to go anywhere that morning either; we'll just stay in the backyard with the telescope. It's not just to look at the eclipse. I don't want to drive anywhere in case some brave soul tries to drive to work -- with his glasses on.

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