francopoli:

We were set up in public, with telescopes, looking at Saturn and the Moon. I was looking at Saturn, at high magnification, getting nothing but ohhhhs and ahhhs. One of the groups that came up to me included a kid, he could not have been more than 10. He stared at me, as in STARED at me in a way that I knew something was about to go down. I've done this enough that I can tell the kids that are there because of mom and dad, and the kids that are there because they are curious. (I've also been able to pick out the pick pockets and sneak thieves fortunately they are rare.) He asks to look through the telescope and I give him the spiel on how to look and where to look. One of the reasons I like doing this is to watch the faces... you can tell the INSTANT they see Saturn. Or Jupiter. Or the faint stuff. This kid never lost the stare, so I asked him if he saw the planet. He said he did. I asked if he saw the rings, the bands on the planet, the shadow of the globe on the rings. He stood there for a good 2-3 minutes. At these events the adults will stop and watch the kids as well while they wait patiently. he finally comes down from the stepladder, and his face is now much softer. More of a kid and less, well, adult. I then realized I am dealing with a kid with a shit homelife and just showed him something that he is trying to process.

As he moves aside to let his mom(?) look, I look him right in the eyes and say "neat, huh?" He stares at me. The face grows a bit more of what I like to call "puzzled, curious child" and I can see he as a question. Mom(?) starts saying prayers and praise Jesus as she looks. He then says, and I quote him exactly here: How long was it after you got out of jail that you bought the telescope?

This confused me and I really did not understand that. I wanted to ask him to repeat the question, but then thought through what he said. I replied "I've never been to jail. I had to save up a long time to get this from working my job." The reply hit me like a truck: "All the men I meet have been to jail."

I sat there with my head spinning for a moment, then saw that the line was gone. I look the kid in the eyes and say to him "Want to see something really cool?" He looks at me and nods. I put M11 in the eyepiece and show him how to see the "V" that makes up the "Wild Duck" of the Wild Duck Cluster. I explain that this is 2900 stars over 6000 light years away, and ask the mom(?) to take a look. All I can say to this kid is "Life is much bigger than we think, and the universe is infinite. We all have the opportunity to end up where we can do the most good." The mom(?) says "amen" and they move on. I hope I see the kid again; I'm kicking myself that I did not get his name.

Why do I type it as mom(?) in the above? I'm not sure if the lady was a guardian, a grandparent, an older sister. Hard to judge ages sometimes in the dark at these events. And with some families, there are questions that should not be asked.

That same evening about an hour later as we were talking about packing up, a Chaldean family walked up to us, very excited to be able to look through a telescope. Excited people we help and spend time with. There were 3 men, 3 women dressed and acting like their wives, and an elderly couple, obviously the parents. The older woman whispered in Arabic, and the older gentlemen asked me if his wife could look at the moon. I say sure, and move the telescope off of Saturn after giving the younger couples a glance. While the scope is moving he tells me he is from Baghdad, he left as a child in the 80's and they are touring the USA before they move back to Iraq. I set the scope up so that the whole of the moon is in the eyepiece. The men look first. Lots of chatter in Arabic, smiles, and handshakes. Then the ladies look. The elderly woman looks last, gasps, takes a step back and makes the sign of the cross and starts whispering in Arabic. The other women all look and chatter excitedly. I look at the elderly lady and ask if she wants to look again. She does, only this time she looks longer. Finally, in English "So Beautiful!" I smile at her husband and say "I think she sees it!" He then asks me, a great question: So, is this the same moon my family in Iraq is looking at? I reply "Yes! Only they are 12 hours away, so the sun is up there... when we have a sunrise, it will be sunset and moonrise in Iraq." The lady is in tears, mumbling "So Beautiful!" I look at her, and ask, Do you want to see it closer? She nods. I put in an eyepiece that goes from about 70 power to about 150 power so she can see right into the craters in the Southern Highlands near Tycho. I let the men look first, then the younger women, then she looks. She starts speaking in Arabic, faster, more of a mumble to her husband. For a few minutes, I explain to the husband how Tycho formed, how big it is (54 miles), how the big mountain (1 mile tall) in the center formed, and that the impact made the bright rays they say before and he translates to the wife, eye glued to the telescope. The Husband tells me that his wife has always loved the moon as it reminds her of when they used to watch it back in Iraq when she was a little girl, and that they have never looked through a telescope before. He also asked me how I knew he was Chaldean, I told him where I grew up and he laughed. His family moved there not too long ago. We said goodbye and wished each other well in our travels.

It seems that every other time that I think this outreach stuff is not worth it, something like the above happens and it makes me realize that I may be making my tiny little corner of the earth suck a bit less.


posted by pubski: 254 days ago