Well almost. After a long day of surveying and pricking little kids we were waiting in Mvolo center for a ride back to Domeri (where our compound is) and we heard a huge rumbling. What happened next was right out of the movies. Every single person in the store, in the town, ran outside and stared up at the sky. We hadn't seen the plane but it was sure flying low, could it be landing here?! A mass migration began, first with little kids running towards the airstrip, little girls with baby brothers and sisters on their hips and older kids whizzing by on bicycles. Then the adults started to wander over in groups, continuing their conversations but obviously curious to see who had come to what has been described as an "unlandable" airstrip. A crowd gathered, everyone was pushing their way to the front to see what exciting people and things might emerge from the plane. But then the news slowly spread through the crowd and back to the town. The plane hadn't landed, it was just flying very low and had continued on to Rumbek. What was almost the biggest day in Mvolo didn't end up amounting to much, but it was amazing how foreign the sound of a plane was to me after only 6 weeks away from the big city.
All wasn't lost though because USAID had made a visit to the town earlier so everyone went back to playing with their new toys. Radios! And not just any radios. Blue radios about the size of half a loaf of bread cut lengthwise. They come with batteries installed, but also have a hand crank and a solar panel. They receive in AM, FM and SW1 and SW2 which I've never actually heard of, but are the only frequencies we get here. The funny thing was that everything from USAID says "USAID - From the American People" on it, so everyone was joking and asking me if the radios were really from me. USAID has sponsored a couple radio programs in Sudan and they are apparently giving out radios to make sure people are able to listen to them. I got the scoop on one program when I visited the USAID compound in Juba and talked to the Education Officer. She said that they had a program that broadcasts classes for grades 1-4 every day. That way even when there are places with less teachers than they need, no teachers or untrained teachers, the kids can still learn if they listen to the broadcast. And I figure it also helps if adults end up listening to the broadcasts since it's estimated that 80% of the population is illiterate, it can't hurt! We've been visiting more and more schools here and although I admit we seriously disrupt classes by taking out students in P3 and P4, it seems like school isn't the learning environment we wish it was. With most schools taught all by unpaid volunteers, and the volunteers generally untrained with little access to resources for curriculum planning or even working with children it's no wonder that the education is relatively rudimentary. Check out this BBC article about a town we've already surveyed! (I was very entertained to find factual errors in the article, things I know from being here!) http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6289528.stm
We've got a week left to finish the survey in Mvolo County before the kids go on break for a few weeks, so this week will be a big push, and after that it's on to managing all this data! I'm more than half way through my time here, and thanks to everyone who's been in touch with me so far, it's a huge help to have people to talk to, or to entertain me with stories from home. On that note please check out the addenda I'm going to add to a few blogs. I've gotten some good comments and additional info about some of the things I've written about from discerning readers. I love that people read these entries, but also remember that I'm claiming to be neither neutral nor an expert. I'm merely an observer and I am very aware (as are all of you, I'm sure) of all the biases associated with my experiences and my perceptions of what happens around me.