Mid-morning in the little village of Om Albadry in Sudan’s North Kordofan state, and it is market day. But a curiously dull market, eerily silent but for the occasional sounds of livestock. In a few minutes, I realize why. All the village children are safely in school, and that accounts for the peace. In other Sudanese villages that we typically visited late in the afternoon, the first sounds of greeting were always whoops and cries from a horde of excited little boys, while the girls hung back, shy of strangers.
We carry on for half a mile past the market, passing large camel pens, in search of the school. We find a collection of small shacks that houses the older boys and girls, while preschoolers sit in a dusty group under a shade tree. The preschool teacher is seated on a plastic chair, and the children are repeating their lesson after her. It is a while before I notice the teacher is nursing a baby, even as she recites to her pupils. When the lesson ends, some of the girls begin to skip, using ropes that the teacher fishes out of her bag. The others play listlessly in the soft, warm sand, some lying down in it and falling asleep. None leave the shade of the tree, not even the little skippers.