SALT, Sutherland, South Africa by Kai Staats

I was again mugged last week, just three train stops down from Muizenberg. My fellow researcher was knocked to the ground and repeatedly hit upside his head. I tried to defend, but one of the four guys displayed a gun tucked into the front of his trousers when I charged them. I backed off while one of them forced his hands into my friend’s pockets. Oddly, they did not discover his cell phone nor wallet. Following much yelling and insisting we had nothing for them to take other than the car battery we were carrying, they took the battery and ran.

We were lucky, we learned, as a man has been shot in that same spot a few weeks prior. Not the best part of town to walk through, it seems.

I was very much on edge for the following days. When I found a man who had been harassing another of the homeless population pressed up against a wall, the folds of his jacket in the clutches of my hands, I knew I had to get away for a while.

The South African Astronomical Observatory site at Sutherland is my retreat of choice.

Feels so good to be away from trains, sirens, car alarms, people shouting, and the constant awareness of potential crime. Planning a long hike across two or three ridges to a distant set of peaks I have wanted to visit since my first visit here two years ago.

Tonight I am working from the control room of SALT, one of the world’s largest telescopes. Listening to salsa, chatting with astronomers, and working on my Genetic Programming suite.

Every few hours I step out onto the wind-strewn plateau to enjoy the dark, southern sky.