Under The African And Canadian Moon

“After thirty years of marriage all I got was this dumb ring.” Andy Rayner

What I jokingly said to my wife about the 30th anniversary ring I got her this year.  We both laughed.

She bought me a 30th anniversary Telescope. A Meade ETX 125 Observer. I had been eyeing one of these babies since the late 1990’s. Meade discontinued the ETX 125 for a while, but brought it back to market again in 2016.

I will tell you first about the Moon over Canada, then I have a story to tell about the moon over Mali, West Africa.

Meade ETX 125 Obserer

The telescope was delivered on Friday, and even after a long hard day of eel fishing I unboxed the telescope, put it together, and set it up on the drive way.

I Initialized the Audiostar first, then pointed the optical tube at a terrestrial object, and lined up the dot finder.

Then I assured the ETX 125 scope was in the home position, (level optical tube, pointed to magnetic north). I went inside and reread the manual while waiting for the stars to emerge as the scope to acclimate to the temperatures. .

I peaked back outside a little later and saw stars. I was excited. I was about to initiate the auto alignment and cloud went over. I waited a half hour and tried again.

Unfortunately, I could not get the scope to auto align after three attempts. I was tired, so I just opted to slew to the moon.

The motors and gears were smooth and quiet. I had heard people say they are noisy, but not so much on this scope. When I went to center the moon, I adjusted the slew speed (can adjust from 1-9) and the vertical axis slew speeds worked flawlessly, but the horizontal axis only moved at one fast speed. It would not slow down according to the speed selected on the number keys. This made it difficult to get the moon in view with the left and right slew keys.

However, I was not deterred and had the moon in view in the 24mm eyepiece, and wow. Though the conditions were far from ideal, and still early evening, I was still pleased with the view I received from the Optics.

I gazed for a while and then my son came out to join me. We then popped in a 9.7 mm eyepiece for 195X magnification and I snapped this photo with the Note 3 smartphone in the eyepiece.

The picture does not do the view justice (Keep in mine how this image was taken. Less than good viewing conditions, not very dark yet, and with a smartphone in the eyepiece), but we were both “WOWing” a considerable amount.

Unfortunately, as I powered the scope up and down over the earlier setup, and then later alignment attempts, the power switch began to act up. I would gently snap it off and on a few times and it would then light up again and stay powered a while. When the power shut off,  with the switch in the “on” position, and no power, if I gently pushed the switch inward a little, it would flicker back on and off. Just not right. it never would power up after that unless I pushed in on the switch a little. Just not right.

Also there was something funny with the stand too. When I placed the leg spreader bar in place it was touching one leg long before the other, (Yes all legs were fully spread out, I checked many times) and when you tightened it in place there was no way the spreader could be level, as it was tight on one leg, while still 1/2 inch from the other, and 1/4 from the third. There was simply some design flaw in the mettle stand itself, so that one leg did not open as wide, or the center rod was bent? Either way, disappointing as well.

I was impressed so much with the quality of scope in many ways.

These things happen, and I am trying not to be discouraged. I called Kan Scope in Toronto, where I ordered the ETX 125 from, and Ray said I need to contact Meade Instruments Monday. I was told they will send me a shipping label for a free return and they will either fix this scope or send me a new one.

Finally got my dream scope, had one hour of use, and I will be without a scope for probably a few weeks or month. Rats!

Anyway, I will keep you posted. I certainly hope this does not end up being a rat race, though I am told Meade has good customer care.

I hope to have more astro-photographs for you in the future. Nothing fancy mind you, because using a moderate small scope and a smartphone in the eyepiece for imaging will not produce Hubble Space Telescope images. LOL

Anyway, I will be honest, as I looked at the moon, I was thinking about Mali.

At this time of year, I would be flying to Mali, West Africa, within three weeks of this date.  This fall I will not be flying to Mali at all.

My passport is expired as of August, I did not even bother to do the renewal. A first for this to happen in over twenty years.  It’s depressing really.

As I sat on my stool by my new telescope, in the darkness, another darkness came over.  I realized I will probably be doing  more astronomy than Mali. I was feeling very sad. Regardless of how I feel about it , Mali is not and should not happen at this time.

Expat teams evacuated most towns outside of the capital city, all over central Mali, in August. Hardly a week goes by where I get indications people are leaving the country altogether. Some teams are reassembling in new countries around Mali, other teams members are dispersing across West Africa joining other teams, while others are returning to the west entirely.   Their are few expats residing outside of capital city of Bamako at this time.

I feel their emotional plight. The Sahel is where the need is greatest, and workers are the fewest. It is almost impossible to even speak to us about going to Kenya, Uganda, or Haiti after what we have seen and experienced in French West Africa. 85% of the workers go where they can work in English, where there are hundreds and thousands of other workers already on site, works established for decades, generations even.

Great works, needed works that could certainly use a hand, but there are people lining up to go there. Few lineup for places like Mali, Niger, or Algeria. We just can’t imagine working in moderately poor, or modernly underdeveloped regions when we have been serving the severely so.

I shared this little known fact with a university professor. It gave him new glasses to see with as he attended a huge convention in the US. I asked him to look at all the booths and displays, see where they are going, where they are working. Then, ask yourself how many are working in least reached nations? How many are going to  English Africa or English speaking countries, the most reached and touched? Countries with hundreds and thousands of local leaders already active for decades and often generations already. He returned to Canada with an education. They all were, practically everyone focused on English countries. Few people are focusing on those last, least reached, and most difficult to live areas and work.  We just keep going to the same places where huge developments and breakthroughs already happened, a lifetime ago.

The good news is my work is ongoing as my partner in crime is still setting up water filtration with needy families as he encounters them. He has helped 150 of the 300 families in this project (about 3000 people total).  Also, I am so happy about the reported success of the women’s literacy course. We have to figure out how to get funding and micro SD chips to our Malian partner, who has no bank account, and no P.O. Box. and few expats to utilize as a go to (and I hate asking them anyway as banking is such a stress thing overseas), so Salifou can have gas money to continue the literacy program by leading these ladies through the next few literacy books in the sequence this fall. I wish we could begin several others classes too.

We westerners are such hero centrists. We are the hero of our stories. I try not to get annoyed, but I see people struggling with the fact that I am not going to be in Mali this year, as if nothing happens in Mali without me, that all the activity is about me, and my presence.  I’m the guy, so if Andy is not sent over by Man of Peace Development, what do they need funding for.

Sigh!   I build around myself local volunteer partners wherever I work. always have. You would be amazed at how little I am the face guy for anything in two decades around Africa. In Mali, I am never the spokes person, the one being asked, or addressed, or teaching.  All the official meeting and work is presented, spoken about, or discussed with people through our local volunteer partners. I have purposely chosen to shut up, be silent, and invisible in this work.  It is working beautifully.

Now I’m struggling how to get funds there. Maybe good old Western Union? But I am not certain my partner even has proper identification paper work (which is common as it is such a hassle to get this stuff), which he will need for certain, to pick up such a wire.  I will be keeping my eyes open for a window of opportunity to get back and check on things. I hate this model of sending money without first hand seeing how it is used, with regular followup, even in the modest amounts we are speaking about here. I mean very modest input.  Oh the joys of working in Mali!

I have not told people about this much. However, we saw the writing on the wall this past term as we were closer to security issues than ever, and we had some interactions that told us something serious changed. We knew there was a high probability we would not be returning for security reasons. Sure enough our foresight was true. Teams evacuated North and East of us my mid summer. That is why our board told us to release our living and working place. We gave all we had away, all $2000 worth lol,  so that we could deal with the close up ourselves, and not be in a bind if we got blocked. Then, if and when a return was possible, only Andy would go, for a shorter term, utilize inexpensive, simple, temporary lodging to carry on the work. Our board does not want to run the risk of both of us facing a security breach. That would be a huge blow to our family. I’ll return to Mali as a nomad again, the third time I have been homeless returning to Mali.

Can I share a personal story here? There are a thousand things I could do to serve while here in Canada  But I no longer know how to function in service in Canada. The dilly dallying  work of tinkering with peoples little Canadian programs is so tedious to me. I don’t want to play with programs, I want to work with people.

I may not fit well, however, I am not going to over analyze it much. I am hospitable, honest, chatty, and I try to be kind and helpful where I can be. That is all I can do. I will keep trying to plug into life here as both realities are sacred places and sacred work.

We have been considering serving within the First Nations of Canada this winter, seeing where we might help with food security, and poverty.  I did some digging, and I will be honest. I give up. There is so much red tape, so many politics and turf wars going on that I don’t have the emotional energy to do it. Also, I have been increasingly sensing that dividing my interest from Mali is not the right thing to do. There is a lifetime of work  there in Mali for me yet. If our agency wishes to divert the work from Africa, they will have to hire someone else to do the job as I’m not in the game. Unless they can show me something I am not seeing very well.

But I am afraid I will sink. I am afraid I might have already, to some degree. I was in that bad place in 2000-2003 after returning from Ivory Coast. (I know, you have heard all this before).But I just can’t shake Mali, or French West Africa.

I will be looking at the same Moon as I see in Mali, but that is about as close as I will get, physically, to Mali this winter. But my Malian volunteers carry on.

In the mean time, I am going to renew my passport this week, just in case……

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