Visitors!

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.”

Teaching a game involving trust

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.

Our students looked extra small next to Mirco!

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.

Time to say goodbye
Nik and Joanna

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!

Learning to juggle
Nine months plus on a bike, I don’t know how they do it!

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.

Markus was also extremely tall

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.

Serenaded at their end of year picnic

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

Soccer with Isabelle and Thomas
Learning ultimate frisbee skills

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.

Back to the Beauty of Beaune

I am sure no one has really heard of Beaune. I only heard about it because I got to go there in a very unexpected way. It is an ancient historical town in the French province called Burgundy, in the heart of a famous wine-growing district.

After I left school, I decided to opt out of my place at university, as my parents were heavily in debt and I really didn’t know if I really wanted to study French and Drama at university, as my dreams of being an actress had sadly been dashed when I failed my audition at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (incredibly fortunate, in the long run!). So I decided the best thing to do was a secretarial course in London as secretaries could always get jobs and my parents wouldn’t have to keep supporting me financially and I could be independent of my very demanding mother.

Let me point out that the last job on earth I wanted was to be a secretary and work in an office all day long. The course I chose was a Secretary-Linguist course with French and German (I did well at languages and thought I might as well put them to good use). This meant I had to learn shorthand in French as well as English and how to type at fifty words per minute (on a manual typewriter).

Every day I travelled up to London from home and climbed the stairs of this old and unattractive building along with a group of other young women and learnt shorthand and how to touch type (for which I’m also incredibly thankful). I was bored out of my mind, but the goal of getting a job kept me going.

The city of Beaune

Towards the end of the course, we had to do a six week stint in either France or Germany (just across the channel from where I lived in England). As French was my main language, I opted for a job at a winery in Beaune (pronounced ‘Bon’ with a short ‘o’ by the French and ‘bone’ by the English). I travelled most of the way by train and was picked up by someone from the Maison Jousset-Drouhin on arrival.

The fabulous patterned roofs of the Hospices de Beaune

It turned out to be one of the most exciting and unexpectedly fun-filled adventures of my life. The Jousset-Drouhin family is an old established wine making family that are still going strong. Beaune turned out to be this gorgeous old town filled with stone buildings with pointy turrets, cobbled streets and many historic sites, surrounded by oceans of green vines. Robert Jousset was my boss and would dictate letters to me occasionally (his English was a lot better than my French). He was absolutely charming and so easy to deal with. I had a few other jobs to do in the office, but nothing was too arduous. He usually left me in the care of his secretary who became my mentor and showed me around town, whenever I wasn’t working.

He told me the history of how his family had bought the winery here early in the 20th century. Part of the buildings had belonged to the Ducs de Bourgogne and some of the Kings of France in the 15th century. The architecture was stunning, as were the rows of barrels down in the underground cellars.

I think this is where I stayed.

I stayed in a room in this vast house. They gave me a little gas stove and a saucepan and I went to the market and cooked my own meals, I can’t remember where I prepared food, but maybe there was a little kitchen. Three times a day the French bakers produce their baguettes, those unbelievable crusty fresh bread sticks that every household buys. It was heavenly, just fresh or with butter.

The cellars that used to belong to the Ducs de Bourgogne and the kings of France,

I was a little lonely in the evenings, but I soon became aware that children were coming in and out of the bathroom across the passageway, so I plucked up courage one day and opened the door and lo and behold there was the sweetest little blonde girl smiling at me. This was Veronique (she and her brothers now run the winery!) Their nanny brought them every evening to have a bath, so I soon became friends with all of them, the youngest being about two years at the time and Veronique about eight.

Laurent, Frederic, Veronique and Philippe

This led to some invitations to dinner with the whole family and many times when I played with the children and my French improved enormously. This would have been sufficient to have made the whole trip worthwhile but there was one more wonderful treat in store.

The streets of Beaune

Robert could fly a plane and he owned or had a lease on a small Cessna plane and he took me and his wife up in it one fine sunny day and flew us down over the Alps and Mont Blanc, the highest peak in France. Back then not many people flew light aircraft, so I knew I was really privileged and the views were spectacular. We landed somewhere where there was natural spring water to drink (before it became something you find in every single supermarket). My memory has totally failed me as to the name of the town. Unfortunately during my move to Australia I lost all my photos.

The whole family as they are today.

I was truly overwhelmed by the warmth and kindness of this very gracious family and of everyone I met in the office and elsewhere. Sometimes people say the French can be a little proud and haughty in their attitude and I have experienced this, but I found on this trip that everyone was just the opposite. On my last day, Robert also gave me money in payment for my time there, which of course he wasn’t obliged to do at all. It was like the icing on the cake! By the time I left, I was even thinking in French and my accent was pretty good after tuning in to so many French speakers.

It was of course the highlight of my secretarial course and more than compensated for those days of banging away at a typewriter and scribbling down shorthand and then trying to decipher it, all the while trying to concentrate very hard on the task in front of me, while my mind was longing to escape into fields of imagination.

The letter ‘b’ has a harder sound than ‘p’ but they can sometimes be confused. Students can also confuse ‘b’s with ‘d’ when written,. You can use the thumb and forefinger of each hand to show that ‘b’ faces towards the right and ‘d’ towards the left.

Justice

“No money, no justice,” they wept.

My six word memoir.

I realise in many countries and from the perspective of others, this may have different meanings and significance. My memoir is the point of view of working with the poor in another country off and on for the past 25 years and seeing that 95% of the poor are never going to be anything other than poor in their entire lifetime and most of the rest of society doesn’t really care. Please do not always believe the statistics that big organisations and governments publish from time to time.

We seek through education, awareness and relationships to alter that perspective and offer hope and a possibility for some to rise above the poverty and all the injustice that accompanies it. It won’t happen in our lifetime, but just maybe…..?

The letter ‘j’ has a strong satisfying sound that is not confused with any other letters (the same sound as a soft ‘g’ of course. When it is written most of the stick needs to be below the line with a little semi circle to the left. Don’t forget the dot above the stick! The capital letter is all above the line and swaps the dot for a horizontal line.

A musical zeal that extends to a whole family!

I love the word ‘zeal’. It has such a strong dramatic ring to it. I would love to use it to describe one of my students as he or she rises out of poverty to attain amazing academic achievements, but it hasn’t quite happened yet, although I’m hopeful one day… There are quite a few stories of kids who have studied in the slums without proper electricity in abject poverty but with zeal, perseverance and determination and scored high enough marks to get into medical school or become engineers.

The zeal I’m looking at today is a musical zeal combined with incredible talent. I first heard of Sheku Kanneh-Mason when he played a cello solo at Prince Harry’s wedding. I watched the concentration and dedication on his face as he played and saw how deeply he was involved in his music and did some research. I discovered he had won the BBC award for Young Musician of the Year in 2016 at the age of 17. This guy is basically a genius, who is living with Type 1 diabetes that he has to treat before every performance. I am constantly struck by his humour and pleasant and unassuming attitude.

Sheku performing his heart out

Not only does he play outstandingly well, but his WHOLE family does and he has SIX brothers and sisters! I was in awe, as I watched a documentary of a day in the life of his family, a Saturday when they camera followed them around as they all went off to music practice at the Royal Academy of Music in London. They play various instruments, three of them play cellos, a couple play the violin and three of them play the piano. Of course some of them play two instruments. In between, they act like any normal family, joking, arguing, but also doing a lot of practising.

When they play you can see all of them putting every fibre of their being into what they are doing and also getting so much pleasure out of the music and performing together when they can. They have now made several albums as a family. Sheku also spends some of his time encouraging other young musicians and giving performances to underprivileged children.

The dictionary suggests other synonyms for zeal, such as ‘ardour’, ‘enthusiasm’, ‘passion’ and ‘fervour’. I see all of those emotions crossing Sheku’s face as he performs, practises, or shares about his music. It’s exciting to know that he and his family members will be making music for many years to come!

Z is the final letter of the alphabet and needs a bit more stress than the ‘s’ to be sounded out, with a satisfying sound, just like a bee buzzing. Most kids love that sound and the slight tongue vibration it causes. It is not too difficult to write in small or capital form. There are several old faithful z words for young students to learn, like zoo, zebra, zip, zero and zig zag.

Living laughter, laughing kookaburras, libraries make me laugh

There is no doubt, laughter is one of the best medicines.

I think children know better than anyone how to laugh. Sometimes listening to a houseful, a classroomful, a playground full of laughing, chattering children can bring a smile to your face, dispel the wave of depression or rising tide of gloom you’re currently feeling. I love the sound of laughter bubbling up from a child’s carefree spirit.

Australia has a bird called the kookaburra, I’m sure most people have heard of it and its wildly unique slightly raucous cry. It sounds just like someone starting off with a chuckle and then bursting into uproarious laughter, which is inevitably imitated by one or two others, until it lifts to a cacophony of shrieking cackles at some untold joke. I guarantee it will bring a smile to your face.

Kookaburras getting ready to laugh

We opened our little library at the school in a small alcove that used to be our temporary bedroom while Mark built a bigger house for us (another story). I laughed inwardly every time I went in with another box of books to line the shelves. Over the years we received second hand books from friends, second hand shops, a school in Shanghai where our daughter taught and a friend in the US who visited many garage sales on our behalf.

loving our library!

I have covered almost all of them in contact (clear adhesive) paper so they will withstand many tiny hands and page turning. I have spent hours of repetition showing younger students how to carefully turn a page with forefinger and thumb and not slop through the pages. One of the reasons kids wash their hands when first coming to school, is so they won’t cover our precious books with little brown fingerprints! It makes me laugh to remember all the tricks to keep our books clean and neat as possible.

Part of our Daily 5 curriculum, read to another

Each class has its own library box full of books for that level. On a certain day they choose a book to take home to read for the week. These children have zero books at home, unless other siblings have text books. The only books most children see here are text books. So it fills my heart with laughter that they are taking a fun fiction book into their household for parents and others to maybe notice.

Even textbooks are better in a library setting

Our students love to read and are now starting to learn how they can write their own stories and use their imagination and creativity. I watch them discuss a page of the book they are reading with another student, or absorbed in the pictures. They can tell me what the characters, setting and problem is in their library book or recount a story they have watched on youtube to the whole class. This fills me with laughter too.

Decodable readers gifted from Australia

The letter ‘l’ pops up all over the place, the sound ‘l’ made with the tongue pressed behind the upper front teeth. Kids remember it easily and of course it’s not hard to draw a straight line or make the line across the bottom to turn it into a capital. Later on, you can make it as loopy and fanciful as you want when writing.

I love the lovely letter ‘L’!

Overseas

I came from a very long way away; I had other options, originally I was going to South Africa, I even got a job offer in Vienna, but German is not my favourite language;

I chose Australia, where I knew one person (sort of), the sister of a friend I had shared a flat with for a while in London;

I was twenty-two when I left England on a cold, sleety January morning and flew to Singapore, by ship/jet, the cheapest method available;

I spent three days crying on and off in hot steamy Singapore (where my parents were actually married when it was a British colony);

Then I boarded a boat for the final leg of the journey across the Indian Ocean to Fremantle in Western Australia;

Our dormitory was below the water line in the bowels of the ship, several were seasick, but once I got used to the odd motion of the waves, I enjoyed myself;

Maybe this was the right decision after all and the sunshine was so warm after so much cold and dreariness working in London and not getting on with family;

We landed and I spent one night in Perth and then caught a bus across the Nullarbor Desert to Adelaide;

The Nullarbor road was a red dust track back then, the journey was over 2,600 kilometres, the bus was old on its last trip;

It was 45 degrees (113 F) and the flies were appalling, crawling thickly over my face at every toilet stop;

The second day the air conditioning broke, we threw water over each other in an effort to keep cool;

We were all travelling as cheaply as possible, so when the back of the seat in front of me broke, we couldn’t stop laughing;

We reached Adelaide early morning two days later and I met Margie, a Canadian girl who had been hitchhiking around Australia with my friend’s friend;

She took me to a barbeque at someone’s house where I met my future husband (unbeknownst to me at the time);

We left by car with another guy early the next morning and headed to Tasmania, a little island state off the coast;

I went greyhound racing for the first (and last) time, it was all part of the adventure, Hobart was lovely but chilly;

In Canberra, we met Suzy, the friend I actually knew and her friend and the four of us prepared to sail to New Zealand;

Out of the spectacular Sydney Harbour, one of the most beautiful harbours in the world to hitch around both the islands, but that’s another story;

I went overseas and I found my home in Australia. It was never planned, it just happened!

The letter ‘o’ is straightforward to sound and to write, just a circle, round like an orange and even your mouth needs to be round to sound it out properly. It’s a neat little vowel and I find it fun to teach.

Kitten duties

I need to get this post written while my charge is napping. Yes, I’m on kitten duties which is a not too strenuous task that involves keeping an eight week old bundle of tortoiseshell energy amused during her waking hours. We have also shut her in our daughter’s room as there is another CAT in the house who is aware that SOMETHING IS GOING ON, that she probably doesn’t approve of. Something has come into her kingdom and she is not sure how to react. In the research I’ve been able to do so far, I’ve found out that they should be introduced gently to each other through a closed door, towards the end of a two week period. Any further tips would be gratefully received.

So this little furball has had no trouble being separated from her sister and brothers, eats food like it’s going out of fashion and of course loves to play. Little soccer balls of paper, twisty bits of paper attached to string, pen lids, bottle tops and a feather lie scattered around the room. She loves them all and usually entertains herself as long as someone is in the room.

Occasionally the action stops and you look down into this irresistible little face, wondering what the next play item is that you’re going to toss her way.

Fortunately little kittens need to nap long and fairly often, so the work is not taxing and I can easily fulfil every other thing I need to do on a daily basis and have the added delight of a very small and amusing companion.

Tomorrow I’m going to look for some more natural toys, like gum nuts, seedpods and maybe some dried leaves on my walk. I went into the local supermarket and nearly died at the price of cat toys that I don’t know if she’ll even appreciate.

So many ways to write a curly K!

‘K’ is a very easy letter to sound out and doesn’t usually cause confusion with whether it’s a ‘c’ hard sound or a ‘k’. There are almost no 3 letter words starting with ‘k’ introduced in kindergarten, except perhaps ‘kit’. It’s sometimes called the ‘kicking k’ to distinguish it from its little cousin as it supposedly looks a bit like someone kicking an object.

It does look very decorative and attractive when written as a loopy curly capital letter, so I had a bit of fun experimenting. Normally students don’t have any problem writing the letter. They just some practice with making the two small sticks diagonal to each other. Since I started writing this, part of the phonics alphabet, ‘the king kicked a kettle, k, k, k’ has been running through my head, no wonder the kids never forget that line (even if they don’t really know what a king is!)

Celebration concert

I’m a little hesitant to post this, as I know most readers don’t have this freedom yet, but here’s hoping you all can do this by the end of the year.

On Friday night the local council staged a free celebration concert for families with the Perth Symphony Orchestra at a local park from 6 to 9 pm. There were a few food trucks but most people brought picnics to share and enjoy. It was actually a little chilly by Perth standards as our average temperature is around 32 degrees (90F) for our slow slide into autumn. Evenings do cool down by about 15 degrees, but Friday was a lot cooler.

Waiting for the orchestra to come onstage

This symphony orchestra is trying to bring classic back to the public and kids and make music more approachable and fun, so they played a lot of musical numbers that everyone could sing and dance too, with numbers from Frozen, Aladdin, Shrek, Katy Perry and Taylor Swift. Dozens of kids danced, leapt, cartwheeled and sang all night with vibrant enthusiasm. The orchestra had two local singers performing the lyrics.

Really bad photo because of lighting, but you get the idea

There was an intermission half way through and a few families left, but the majority stayed on for more delights. We went with all three of our daughters and two husbands and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves!

Wrapping it up with the announcement of future concerts

The conductor was a young lady who performed with huge energy and aplomb. It was a night that I will remember with such pleasure as I saw families and friends sitting, reclining, chatting, laughing, dancing, singing and celebrating together. This is what local community is all about.

I’ve managed to squeeze the hard and soft sounds of ‘c’ into my title. They do cause confusion in kindergarten, especially the soft sound which is always pronounced so before the vowels ‘e’ and ‘i’ (like my own name ‘Celia’). Both hard and soft sounds are easy to pronounce, it’s just when to use which. They are also easy to write, just a half circle facing to the right. Again confusion comes, when students don’t really make it clear if they are using a capital or a small ‘C’ as they are formed the same way.

I love the letter ‘c’ even if I’ve had to spell my own name out thousands of times over the years!

Feathers and flight

Last week I noticed a feather on my walk and retrieved it. Just an ordinary feather, probably from a magpie. I marvelled at the sheen and smoothness of the feathery part and the hollow strength of the quill and the absolute floating nothingness of holding it. A bird and its feathers are uniquely designed to fly. No wonder we say ‘it’s as light as a feather.

These days, I walk alongside a river, the lovely Swan River that glides its way through the city of Perth on the west coast of Australia. It snakes and serpentines its way around the suburbs before flowing out into the Indian Ocean. It’s a meandering tidal river with lots of wetland areas around its banks, so there are plenty of birds to watch as you walk. The majority of these are ducks, moorhens, cranes, ibises and coots of all shapes and sizes that skitter in and out of the reeds and marshes. Or land with a satisfying swoosh as they skid to a halt in the water. Generally are not airborne, just fossicking around in their natural habitat, water, with evident delight.

The Swan River is obviously home to swans. These are magnificent black swans with scarlet red beaks that are indigenous here. It’s debatable if they are more elegant and regal in appearance than their white cousins, but they are certainly a striking sight when you spot them swimming alongside the bank with their partner, occasionally in a larger group, or resting on the grass, preening their glossy feathers with long elegant gestures. I haven’t yet seen one up in the air, but I would love to. Big billed pelicans are another common sight here, in the water or along the banks, shovelling their enormous beaks right down into the water at regular intervals.

In flight, I often see brash loud cockatoos, galahs and parrots. lorikeets and rosellas, especially in the early morning and evening when they gather and swoop to feed on various types of eucalypts and other native trees or forage through the grass. There are so many other native birds here, magpies, wagtails, honeyeaters, butcherbirds, bee eaters, fairy wrens, wattle birds, butcher birds and bellbirds. I know I’ve spotted some of them flitting in and out of the bushes as I walk past. There are an endless number of birds here and the obvious pleasure they take in flying is enthralling. No wonder people have sought to imitate them over the centuries and get up into the sky.

The letter ‘f’ is another easy letter to learn to sound, with the top teeth just touching your bottom lip. There are many useful little words that start with this letter. ‘For’, ‘fun’, ‘fan’, ‘fix’ and so on. It’s quite easy to write, but needs the curve at the top of its stick to distinguish it from ‘t’. I think only the word ‘of’ uses the hard ‘v’ sound at the end of that word.

A Time to Write…

The title of my blog is A Time To Write, so today I take that little letter ‘t’ which is ubiqitous and write about time….it’s time to write about time.

Twelve days have floated by in the slice of life challenge, so time is passing, it’s always like that … time passes…

Time can be busy

Time can be slow

TIme can allow you to wallow

in minutes or

Terrify you with hours

Even days

Time is there

But it’s always passing

So is it really there?

Time slides to a halt

To keep you guessing

Or picks up its skirts

And it’s gone.

Listen to its passing;

“It’s two o’clock already!”

“Just five more minutes!”

We’ve got hours to do that!”

“That will take ages!”

“Please wait, I’ve almost finished!”

Does time wait? Not today,

Maybe tomorrow we get another chance..

The letter ‘t’ has a soft phonic sound with the tongue just behind your front teeth. It’s not hard to pronounce because there is no stress that is needed with a ‘d’. So sometimes students say ‘t’ not ‘d’, but not the other way round. It is supposed to be written with a shorter stick than a ‘d’ or an ‘h’, but I don’t think anyone bothers about that any more. But when you type it next to an ‘h’ you notice the difference. A straight stick with a little line across is easy for kids to learn to write and pronounce.

Fancy or plain, ‘t’ is one of our most useful letters. “Two tired tigers trotted to the trees talking tactics.” A sentence of words starting with ‘t’ requires almost no effort!