I was going to something new. A new group, a new activity and a new location. I left the house 15 minutes earlier than required, checked the email with google maps one last time, and wrote the address in my notes on my phone. I’d already been lost once this week so I wasn’t willing to risk it again. On that occasion I’d been running late, I was sure I knew where it was. It wasn’t. After 20 minutes of driving in circles and being given directions which began with “You know Beverly Hills 15? It’s not near there, don’t go there”. I gave up. Angry that I wasted time when I could have been working on something else while simultaneously being disappointed I’d missed out.

My new adventure began badly, caught in traffic with a long line of trucks which appeared to make their way to the horizon – I changed tack, took another route. When I got closer to where I needed to be the usual nerves took hold. This is new, I don’t know anyone in the group, what if I’m the only one who doesn’t know anyone? I drove to where I thought I needed to be, went into the wrong compound and made a 27 point turn to get back out on the street. I tried another street, and another. I rang to say I was lost – no answer. For the next fifteen minutes I discovered hidden mosques, new schools, outlandish houses and compounds I never knew existed. I looked across at the clock in my car and realised I was now so late it wasn’t worth going. I pulled over to the side of the street, made one last futile look at my phone and let out the most self serving heavy hearted sigh that I could muster.

On the verge of tears I looked up to see a man with a broom sweeping sand from the street to the curb. He had a shirt wrapped around his head to protect him from the heat. A twinge of guilt provided the slightest wince.

On our first move, from one state in Australia to another I spent the first few months permanently lost. I asked questions which provided answers that meant nothing. “Where do you live?” I’d ask knowing that unless it was in my suburb the answer meant nothing. I didn’t understand the conversation about which side of the river you lived. The intonation which came when speaking of which school you went to, or the favoured football team. I was lost – a South Australian fish in Western Australian waters.

In Jakarta getting lost meant never being alone. My driver Ramli  originally from Bandah Aceh, had come to the city for a job and found himself with minimal English driving an Australian with minimal Indonesian. Together we muddled our way through the day, often heading home with nothing to show for our troubles. Ramli refusing to lose face and me trying to learn enough Bahasa to ask what it was with men and not being able to stop and ask for directions.

In Kuala Lumpur I sat and cried by the side of the road with a map in my lap and a screaming baby in the back seat. In Libya I held hand drawn maps looking for “the palm tree after the green fence with the tyres out the front”.  In Canada I spent hours trying to make my way free of suburban cul-de-sacs. The suburb of Signal Hill had Signal Hill Drive, Signal Hill Close, Signal Hill View, Signal Hill Court, Signal Hill you’re never getting out of here.

While I sat this morning on the verge of tears it was the man with the broom which had me asking myself why getting lost or not being able to find something can feel like the end of the world. Stronger women than me have threatened to go home after being lost three times in a week. So what if I didn’t find it, I knew I’d find it next time. I’d get better directions, I’d have a look over the weekend. Why did I let it upset me so much?

It all goes back to the same thing. It’s not about being lost, it’s about being new and unsure of your surroundings. What if I’m the only one? What if I say something stupid? What if I’m not meant to be there? What if I stand in the corner and not one person says hello? The outsider, the level of comfort wearisome, the confidence low. Fifteen years on and it still catches me when I least expect it.

I have no answers, just the knowledge that I’m not alone.

We’ve all had our days of feeling lost.

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