Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ground Control to Major Major

We took off from Beirut, a parking lot, as the sun hung low in the end-of-winter sky, navigating through narrow streets and metal asteroids. We mocked stupid drivers, cursed semi-trucks, laughed as an unfortunate man waved other cars around his taxi with a broken axle. Beirut turned into suburbs and we climbed higher and higher and farther and farther into the Lebanese atmosphere.

The road from Beirut into the great beyond is steep, necessitating harrowing curves and skillful navigation. With big eyes and good fortune I watched a billion possible head on collisions not come to fruition. We left daylight and approached the darkness of Lebanese space, reaching the peak of the mountain road just after the last rays of the day's sun had become forever forgotten. We hit the police checkpoint, then the army checkpoint, then around the bend, down the hill, and...wow.

A full moon flush with the ruddiness of a new night illuminated the entirety of the Bekaa Valley, whose tiny, twinkling lights were no match for the radiant sphere dominating the cosmos before us. No photo or words can recapture the instantaneous breathlessness of that moment. We pulled over in a vain effort to forever preserve the moment in binary form, but even the cosmonaut's fancy camera could not save the initial awe of the sight.

The clarity of the night lent a brilliance to the stars that one doesn't get in an urban cosmos. Orion hunted Ursula while she tried to protect her cub. Scorpio clicked his shiny claws and Leo paraded with his luminescent pride and I struggled to recall the names of constellations I had known so well as a child. The night cloaked the posters of dark stars, hiding Nasrallah and dead Khoemeini and Imam Musa, who left the building long ago.

The night also masked the potholes, blackholes, a danger to the health of our four-wheeled ship. The cosmonaut navigated the treacherous path to Planet Btedhi with wild abandon. Eventually, we landed. Yes, outerspace is cold, if you were wondering, but there was plenty of heat to get us through the night.

I woke up to this view, fortunately early enough to enjoy a sunny warmth for a couple of hours before the winds began to blow some weather in. Planet Btedhi is a lot like Planet Earth, only they don't have 24 hour electricity or internet and there are no car horns or blaring pop music to disturb the peace. The temperature began to plummet by the afternoon; comfort was a shooting star diving out of existence. I learned about photovoltaics and watched the Btedhians prepare for the next day's workshop on that topic. Wires and computer chips were everywhere. The Btedhians are a smart race of people who want to use the sun to overcome their electricity problems. What a novel idea! Maybe the Earthlings should try it!

On Planet Btedhi, stores don't have shelves. If you want to buy a toaster, you have to take it off the tree it's hanging from. On Planet Btedhi, their pizza doesn't have tomato sauce. Also, they drink pineapple beer. And they have woolly animals with tiny legs that participate in marathons on the winding roads. Oh, and they have ham from invisible pigs. I didn't see any, anyway. Also, the mystery of the Flintstones has been solved, because we found the ruins of their home near a reservoir in the hills. You can see this amazing dwelling place in the photos that follow. Not quite as impressive as the Roman ruins on Planet Earth, however.

American astronauts helped the Btedhians alleviate their water problem by building this reservoir, as another alien race with yellow skin, gnashing teeth, and Iranian weapons was stealing all the water for their crops. It's still not enough water, for climate change is causing desertification in Lebanon and there just isn't enough snowfall in the winters any more. Snowfall is vital to the Bekaa because there is no rainfall in the summer. The water table is found deep in the ground, too, so wells for irrigation have to be dug quite deep, and the fuel to run the generators for the pumps is expensive. Solar powered pumps would change the lives of the farmers out there, but that takes funding, so we'll have to work on that.

On Sunday I learned that the Btedhian weather can be unkind. Shamefully I did not attend the workshop that the Btedhians worked so hard to prepare, and I regret that, but my Earthling body was no match for the alien temperatures which had dipped into what humans would call winter. But the workshop was given in the Btedhian language and though I have learned some phrases, the complicated topic of photovoltaics - a word I hadn't even known in English until my voyage to the planet - would have left me wishing I had stayed under the down comforter in the headquarters. Which is what I did, by the way. The weather was such that we had to delay our return trip for another day; however, we had expected that, and I had packed extra undies for the occasion.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't going to miss that cosmonaut, for he is returning to Earth while I will continue to float through the vast expanse of outerspace. But it is just one mission that has finished, and perhaps we can continue to help the Btedhians overcome their energy problems.

The title of this post is a reference to the character Major Major in Catch 22 and David Bowie's Space Oddity, both chosen for a purpose. Wiki says it well:
His character also stands in contrast to the other authority figures in the book who relish their power and use the bureaucratic system and the law of Catch-22 to maintain or try to increase their power over others.

Here are some more photos of Planet Btedhi:

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful pics. You must be homesick taking pics of tractors. Ha. What a great piece of literacy.