Star Light, Star Bright

By Laura Ruggles.

I think it’s interesting how much your perspective on life can be shaped by where you have come from and what you have experienced. Something might be so familiar to you that it may never cross your mind that you could look at it or think about it in any other way. Until coming to Zambia, I have spent all my life looking up at night to see the stars in the Northern Hemisphere. While I may not be an expert astronomer, I can easily pick out the Big Dipper and the North Star (Polaris). When I think of the night sky, the image of these stars has always been the first and only image that crosses my mind.

IMG_5662 (1)I might have never really stopped to consider the night sky here at Chikuni—and realize it looked different than the night sky at home—if it weren’t so breathtaking. Here at the mission you can look up between the tree branches to see an infinite number of stars twinkling brilliantly above you. It is so dark that you can easily see many constellations—more constellations than I have ever been able to see in places that I have been in the United States. On one of the first nights we were here, Jack pointed out the Southern Cross to Lynsey and me, which made me stop and think about how the sky of the Southern Hemisphere differed from that of the Northern. Now, every night as we walk back from dinner at the parish house, I pause for a moment to take in the stars and various constellations of the southern sky.

This past weekend, Fr. Kelly, the parish priest at Chikuni, took all of us out into the bush and away from the lights and trees of Chikuni to get a clearer view of the night sky. We used an iPad app on to pick out some of the most famous, as well as some of the more obscure, constellations. It was absolutely incredible to be able to pick out Scorpius, Sagittarius, and Lyra—as well as the Milky Way —among many others.

However, the stars of the southern sky, and the darkness that makes them so apparent, have really made me think about energy poverty these past few weeks. There is almost no light pollution in the area around the mission. While this may be great for star-gazing, it also indicates that most homes have no electricity. With no electricity, most people are dependent on batteries, candles, or fuels like kerosene to run their lights for two to four hours at night, and batteries to power their radios, which they rely on to gather important news and other updates. Some families that we have interviewed have told us that they have a solar panel that they can charge their lights and radios on, but this is not common.

Having the chance to take in the southern sky has been great, and I’m glad that it’s made me think about energy use and availability in a new light—by star light, that is.