So much of India is alive with tourists for most of the year as people continue to discover the vibrancy and variety of places to visit and things to see and do throughout this vast and multifaceted country. But not the northeast states. They are kind of looped in over the top of Bangladesh which used to be a part of India before the partition and below the foothills of the Himalayas.
Up until 2019, we had had only two unexpected visitors, an Australian who came by bus from Bangladesh and stayed a couple of days and a totally deaf French man who was travelling alone and writing a history of the seven local states and their tribal culture. They were both looking for accommodation and were brought to our door as there are no hotels in town and we are the only ‘pharengs’ living in Nongstoin. Our Israeli visitors we met while in Shillong and invited them to visit.
All that changed in late March 2019, as I was walking back down the main street after buying a couple of things when a very blonde couple rode past me with big packs and panniers strapped all over the bikes. They stopped just ahead of me to buy a loaf of bread. The first foreigners on bikes I have ever seen in our town. I stopped and asked them where they were from.
“Germany,” came the reply, “We’re cycling back there from Thailand, we’ve already covered over 8,000 kilometres.” My mouth fell open. “We flew to Bangkok last October and now we’re on our way back, we’ve got about 12,000 km left.”
Mirco and Jelena were our introduction to this mad group of fit young people who have decided the best way to see the world is to save up some money and travel by bike as it’s cheaper and more eco friendly. Because Nongstoin is located very close to the Myanmar border, it forms part of their route from Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar, through India to Nepal, Iran, Kazakhstan, Turkey and up into Europe. A lot of them are also travelling by the same route in the opposite direction.
We invited them to stay for a few days and told them about our school (this was in the evening, so no students were about). Mirco had just done his training as a PE teacher and Jelena is an architect. They both spoke perfect English and fell in love with all our kids who obviously fell in love with them. It was such a win, win situation! Mirco taught them some new team games and other fun activities. They promised to stay in touch and that they would see what they could do to help the school and since their return to Germany in December 2019, they have been raising funds for the school regularly.
As they left, they bumped into another couple from Belgium who were travelling in the opposite direction and a few days later Nik and Joanna came to stay for a few days. They were also great fun, taught the kids to juggle and read them stories using different voices for all the characters and taught more new games. This couple told us that they had met so many similar couples who were travelling around and would surely love to visit the school. They suggested we enrol with an organisation called Warmshowers that is set up for the benefit of the biking round the world community, to find hosts and exchange information and ideas in different locations. We enrolled as hosts and were on the map!
In October 2019 we were contacted by Markus a Canadian guy who had been travelling round the world for over four years without the use of a motor. That meant he had sailed and rowed across the Pacific Ocean to the Philippines and then biked through the rest of Asia and had just reached India. He stayed with us for a week and was very popular with the kids as he was quite zany and different. He made a short video about the school and the students using his very smart equipment, so we were delighted. We have kept in touch and we did a Facetime call with him in Nepal. He has been stuck in India because of the current situation, but is about to leave on a sailboat from Kerala very shortly for the Seychelles.
At the end of 2019 just before the end of the year we were visited by a guy from the UK, travelling alone and a couple who had met en route, she was from France and he was German.
At the start of 2020 just after the school reopened, we were visited by Thomas and Isabelle from France. He was a rugby player, so he could teach the kids lots of tricks and she was a primary teacher, so again plenty of connections. Then in March, just before everything shut down, we were visited by Benno and Marie another couple from Germany. She was a doctor and he was an entrepreneur. They stayed with us for a week and during that time, he found a novel way to raise funds for the school by contacting his friends and ended up raising quite a lot of money for the school. This came in very handy as many families were day labourers and lost their income because of the lockdown, so we ended up providing basic supplies for about thirty different families over a period of three months. They also both played at state level a fascinating game called ultimate frisbee and taught the basics to the kids. Marie also talked to them about health and covid as a doctor. Unfortunately they got stuck in Shillong for months because of the lockdown and finally flew back to Germany just before we left in June. We are still in touch with them
After that we were advised to shut down and not host any more visitors by the local council, in case they were carrying the virus. Nobody was of course able to move much by then anyway, but it was a sad end to a wonderful run of visitors who helped to inspire and thrill our students with their warmth and sense of fun.
We hope those days of unexpected but anticipated visitors may return one day, but we realise it will take time.
‘V’ is quite an easy letter to sound, but people in India tend to confuse the ‘v’ and ‘w’ sounds. We teach our students to pronounce ‘v’ by catching your bottom lip with your top teeth and making that vibrating ‘v’ sound as hard as possible. It’s also easy to write with two diagonal lines above the line in both the small and capital letters. I always think it looks like a bird in flight.