Heron on the Nile
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  Valentines Valentine's Day Mon 14 Feb 2005  

Mon 14 Feb

It's St Valentine's Day; not that it's particularly useful to know such things around here. I've been back for nearly a week, enjoying a kind of honeymoon period before term time and teaching kicks in.

Over breakfast the other day, my contact at Radio Omdurman kindly agreed to arrange a visit to Mango FM 96 - Khartoum's only pop, only commercial radio station.

Most of their output comes from a computer with all the music the station might ever want to play accessible from a hard-drive. The computer has a formula to choose music from certain categories: an oldie/ recent hit/ new release, English/ Sudanese/ Arabic, fast/ slow, romantic/ boppy etc. The formula changes through the day according to what they believe will suit people's moods. The computer also plays-in all the jingles and commercials at the agreed times.

I guess the mixing desk is much the same as in my student radio days but so much else has changed: now there are CD players and MiniDisk recorders. Gone are the days of tape machines and turntables. Cueing-up a [vinyl] record, starting it from a slip-mat, and back-timing the seconds to the start of the vocals are all long forgotten skills.

The staff are all young and buzzing which is refreshing in Sudan and shows great potential. However, I'm disappointed that despite knowing it's Valentine's Day they are content to let the computer do its normal stuff; surely they should be whipping Khartoum into a "lurve" frenzy?

In the evening I take my class of Sudanese volunteer medical staff. It's the first time I've seen them in five weeks. One lady is sat across the courtyard with her headscarf across her shoulders and her long sleeves pushed up above her elbows. This wanton behaviour obviously catches my attention. I recognise her. She realises I'm watching and comes across to say hello. Of course I'm pleased to see her and without thinking take her shoulders and kiss her cheek. Oh my God, what have I done? I expect the thought-police will come for me tonight. Well, it is Valentine's Day - maybe I'll get away with it? I've been here for four months now and I must say the lack of physical contact - apart from the ubiquitous shaking of hands - is getting tougher and tougher to deal with.

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