Englishmen Rich Sears and Nick Gough, who have been travelling around the world in an autorickshaw for the past nine months, are currently in the city on a stopover. The childhood friends began their trip from the United Kingdom in a Piaggio Apé and have travelled half the world in their ‘tuk tuk’, spreading the message of the importance of education.
Nick is an Economics teacher while Rich teaches Religious Studies in the UK and both have taught abroad. Says Nick, “We want to raise awareness for the 61 million primary age kids around the world who don’t have access to schools.” Adds Rich, “We are looking at formal, informal and vocational education. There are several local, grassroot projects who don’t have exposure and lack funding.
We make short films about the projects and upload them on our website so that those who want to donate to a project can do so. We give the projects this film so they’ll have a tool to generate funds and exposure.” They have set up a charity in the UK that ensures the funds reach the deserving recipients.
The two 28-year-olds got the idea for the trip seven years ago, and had to save for four years before they could embark on it. The money their charity collects goes completely to the projects. The journey has been frustrating at places, especially when they had to tackle bureaucracy. Says Nick, “We have learnt to have a healthy dose of patience.
” But wasn’t travelling the world a daunting idea at first? Says Nick, “We don’t think of it as one trip from London to Rio de Janeiro. We break it into chunks and concentrate on where we will be in a week’s time or so.” Language and cultural barriers didn’t pose much of a problem.
People in many of the countries spoke English and in other countries, like Rwanda and Burundi, they got by with their limited knowledge of French. From India, they will go to Nepal and then to Southeast Asia, armed with a book that contains pictures of essential items. They intend to point to a picture and get directions to wherever they want to go. From there, they will go to North America and then South America, ending their journey in Rio. The duo speaks Spanish so they don’t foresee any difficulties in the Americas.
There have been other difficulties. “In Egypt,” recalls Rich, “the police caught us and said we were taking pictures of secret military bases! Fortunately, we could get in touch with a few contacts who explained to the police who we were. They thought we were spies!” Nick asks, “Can you imagine a spy, James Bond, riding an auto?” “He did ride one in Octopussy,” points out Rich.
That begs the question, why an auto? “You have autos in Mumbai, but we saw tuk tuks for the first time in Thailand about eight years ago and loved them,” says Nick. They named their tuk tuk Tommy Tempo after a Nepalese comic book in which a tuk tuk is the superhero. Adds Rich, “One of the best things about the tuk tuk is that we can go via little villages and towns instead of highways. We can explore parts of the country we would have missed otherwise. The Piaggio Apé is durable and fuel efficient so we chose it.”
True, but the auto comes with its own share of problems. Says Nick, “The worst time was when we were in Northern Kenya. We had to travel through sand and deep mud and we got stuck. It took us eight days to travel 600 kms through Kenya and another 800 kms through Western Tanzania. We were running out of water, out of food, and were really frustrated. We had to stop and push the vehicle.” But even in such harsh times, they witnessed humanity. “Whenever someone passed by, they would stop and get into the mud and push our vehicle,” recalls Rich. They also had to face wildlife. “Twice, in Uganda and Botswana, we were almost charged by elephants,” says Rich.
Once in Greece, they set up their tents for the night at a lovely spot on a beach with a cliff hanging over them and the sun setting over the water. Unfortunately, the tide came in. “We couldn’t keep our things in the vehicle as it is open on both sides. So we would keep everything in the tent. We wake up at 4 am and there we were in the middle of a huge puddle! Our things were floating. Fortunately, we didn’t lose anything!” laughs Rich.
The biggest dangers though come on the road, says Rich. “We try to mitigate the risk - we switch driving every hour, don’t drive for longer than eight hours or in the night, we get enough sleep.” They also had lots of confusion about driving on the correct side of the road. “We can drive on both sides of the road,” says Rich, “But the problem was, in countries such as Malawi and Mozambique, we didn’t know which side is the right one. So we would drive in the middle of the road for a while, till we saw the other vehicles and figured it out.” Adds Nick, “Of course, in Mumbai, everyone drives all over the road.”
Nick and Rich grew up together, studied together, and know each other’s most annoying habits, yet, it hasn’t been an easy companionship. Rich says, “People told us, ‘We’ll see if you guys are still talking when you come back’. Of course there are moments when we get frustrated but if you get angry with each other, where can you go? So when we get frustrated we think, ‘Okay, so why am I saying this?’ If one of us feels low, the other cheers him up.”
Adds Nick, “The hardest thing is making decisions. When should we break for lunch? Where do we stop for the night? If one feels like the other is making all the decisions all the time, then the anger builds up and you will start fighting on something else. Once you settle down to a routine, it is easier. The first three weeks we were touring schools and projects in the UK, and by that time we settled into a routine,” says Nick.
They have been to Europe and Africa till now and came to Mumbai directly from South Africa. The response they have got so far, says Rich, was overwhelming. “People think that travelling in an autorickshaw is hilarious, stupid or even crazy, but because of that they listen to our message about the importance of education.” Finding the projects was also tough initially since many of them don’t have an online presence, so they asked the locals.
In Mumbai, it was tougher as they found that many projects were already well-known and they were looking for little known ones. Says Rich, “We liked this project in Mulund called Sakhi which is about girls’ education. In Delhi, we found Kat Katha, a project where a young girl Geetanjali provides informal education for sex workers and their children.” Adds Nick, “It’s inspiring, the lengths people go to to provide education.”
Nine months down and many months left to go, what motivates them to keep going? Says Nick, “We are passionate about education. When you have an idea, taking a risk for something you are passionate about is a no-brainer.”
How Rich and Nick prepared for the trip:
>> We underwent survival training and medical training before we embarked on the trip, but we are teachers and don’t know much about mechanics. Fortunately, we had only one punctured tyre so far. (During their time in India, they will get spare parts and service support from Piaggio centres.)
>> We learnt a few phrases in the local language and would introduce ourselves in that language. It helps to break cultural barriers.
>> We accept that bureaucratic clearances will take a long time, so we don’t get frustrated when they do.