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Diary of a Cosmic Event: Masokasapan 4 December 2002, By Wilma Cruise

18th September 2006 | Other items by

2 December 2002
John, Themba and I camp on the Masokasapan Airstrip near Punda Maria in the Kruger National Park. We share our camp site with 600 others. We are here, like our fellow travelers, to observe the total eclipse of the sun on 4th. It is a hot and desolate place. The runway is in the middle of scrubby Mopane veldt. The only objects above knee height in the vast landscape are the tents – which are temporary – and the power lines from the Cabora Bassa dam in Mozambique – which are not. They march across the landscape like malevolent sentinels. Bleak as the place is, it does not need this kind of rape.

The tent town runs the kilometer or so of cleared soil that constitutes the runway of the old military airfield, now disused. “Rustic” is how the KNP had marketed the site. It defies imagination how they came up with that word. We swallow our disappointment and pitch our tents on the bare baked earth in the small place allocated to us. We walk a hundred or so meters to the ablution area where rows and rows of trailers house washing up facilities. A low electric fence surrounds the camp. Presumably it is meant to separate us from the marauding beasts of the Kruger National Park. There is to be no sight nor sound of them for the next four nights. No jackal, no hyena, no lion calling at night. Not even a night jar.

3 December – 4 December
A canopy of stars hangs horizon-to-horizon, cart wheeling overhead in a clear black sky. The moon is off somewhere rehearsing her big moment. In the night a wicked wind blows in and as the sun rises a low cloud hangs over tent town shielding the sky from view. Mild hysteria grips the community of sun gazers and solar groupies. People have come from all over the world – from Belgium, Germany and Cape Town – some with elaborate equipment – to view the eclipse. The cloud will have to move if they are going to witness the event. As the day drags on and the cloud hangs low and immovable we collectively adopt a laissez faire attitude. There is, in any case, little else we can do.

7h55 We gather outside our tents gripping solar glasses and binoculars. The cloud parts briefly to allow us a glimpse of the sun. A big bite has been taken out of it by the moon. The cloud slides over once more. The light changes. It is not so much darker as different. The cicadas cease their call. A francolin cries in the distance. The noisy family in the camp site next to us whisper to each other in sibilant voices.

8h00: The silence is punctuated by the call of a lone lark – joined presently by a dove and a francolin. Then once more it is quiet.

8h10: It is darker now. Not like twilight – nor like night. My skin rises goosefleshy. The clouds blow intermittently away revealing the sun looking like a crescent moon. We don’t need our special solar glasses – the clouds provide protection.

8h13: I don’t think we will see the sun again. The clouds are too thick and immovable.

8h17: It is a cold light – very eery. Four minutes to go.

8h20: Darker now like night descending. Suddenly it is black, midnight … I can’t write … the bush is still…silent.

8h21: Dawn comes from the west – yellow/white. The birds call and daylight creeps back – humbled.

5 December: In the night sky the moon appears low in the west sky like a pared fingernail. Mighty moon that ate the sun. Today she is abject.

I try a poem:

he sun
she moon
she consumes him
and night falls
to celebrate her triumph

he sun
she moon
he spits her out
and heat and dust
drum his victory roll

he sun
she moon
she appears
abject
in the west sky

then slips away
as he too descends.

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