Desert Traditions
…where new journeys into life, tradition & culture begin

Jigsaws, Juggling and Journeys

Long before India appeared on my horizon I lived for a time in a small rural town perched on a plateau and overlooking mist filled valleys where mythical creatures lurked in still waters and spirits wandered the pathways of the imagination. I was younger then, sharing my time between motherhood and artistry – both requiring similar attributes; patience, attentiveness, creativity, flexibility, love of the subject matter and – making messes and cleaning up again – endlessly! Sometimes I was invited to relief teach in the local primary or high school and once, for a period of six weeks, I wore the mantle of Miss Noelle Webb, infant mistress of mature years and long experience. And I, trained in upper primary school and art education, walked jauntily into her neat classroom with the total bliss of ignorance. Thirty-two five year olds waited outside the room, several faces anxiously pressed up against the glass door and peering at someone who was not Miss Webb while others ran around burning off Weetbix calories and the rest sat on long benches sharing lunchbox secrets. In their own ways they were all waiting for the bell – the sound that rang out over the valley and into the surrounding community with such precision that everyone could set their clocks by it. At exactly nine every weekday morning the clapper hit the sides of the old brass bell ten times, then paused and then hit again another ten. Only certain well-mannered big kids were granted the privilege and the little ones watched in anticipation of their role as bell monitor some time in the indefinite future of childhood. It was deemed the most important task any child at the primary school could perform.

On the last chime the school population would scatter and reform itself into the daily pattern. Pupils from primer four to standard four lined up on the tennis court for assembly and the ‘littlies’ lined up outside their respective classrooms jostling for position and recognition. I smiled, opened the door and let them in. The pattern broke apart and scattered like marbles into corners, under the art table, into the Wendy house and the cloakroom  – chattering, squealing, and clamouring for attention. ‘Please miss. Please miss.’ For the life of me I can’t remember what I did to get their attention but at some point I managed to get most of them onto the mat where they sat cross-legged, already untidy and waiting for my next move. I never did get them all onto the mat at once for just as the last one sat down two or three would unfold and wander off distractedly. I accepted that pattern as the status quo and began the day with the weather chart. I was wrong. The day always begins with roll call, followed by lunch orders and money collection, followed by lessons in sitting up straight and not talking. The weather chart came further down or up the list depending on where one was oriented! In the meantime a child too large for his age managed to get his head stuck in the Wendy house window and mayhem broke loose. The pieces of a jigsaw that were almost in place broke off again and rearranged themselves in new positions mostly not on the mat. I went home that afternoon as soon as the bell sounded, collapsed into bed and fell into a sleep in which I dreamed I was on a tightrope juggling balls that uncannily resembled five year old faces.

And why do I remember this episode in such vivid detail today? Because I am in the final throes of preparing for a journey to India that departs in a few days’ time and when I will be joined by twelve people who have placed their trust in me. Twelve women with high hopes and just a little trepidation for a journey that has been in the planning for more than twelve months. Twelve women who stitch finely and who are on a quest for the gifts which India offers  –history, mythology, artistry, inspiration and ‘otherness’. And for these past twelve months I have juggled their needs with the realities of differences. The pieces of the jigsaw that make the perfect plan have re-arranged themselves several times in the last few days as events changed according to the whims of India; this museum closed on that day Madam; attractions on another and the workshop organised so meticulously months ahead of time is to be rescheduled for reasons beyond my understanding. Then I slide events and times around and rearrange without losing plot, plan or patience and all the while I am juggling a new computer system with getting my camera fixed; preparing materials for a new website with meeting deadlines for next year’s ads; ensuring my travellers get all the information before departure with my own packing; sending a few Christmas cards to aging aunts with booking tickets for a Tasmanian journey in December; making sure my guide is fully informed of changes with ensuring that Mike has all the information in my absence – and as Kilgore Trout once said ‘so it goes’! And as for blogs…? October’s words were sucked into the vacuum that is time.

So this is perhaps why I think only now of an infant classroom of long ago and those eager questioning faces at the window? Every tour has its own set of expectations and will I live up to theirs? Will I do things in the right order? Does weather come before or after daily roll call? Will they all sit on the mat at the same time in some mud hut in nomad’s land? Will I remember to take meal orders? Allow for toilet stops? Will India prove to be too challenging? Will the journey be the end and not the means? Can I buy a jigsaw in the market just in case? And what if? What if?  Today the paperwork is done. I have closed the book – gone to print. The never-ending list of things to do can wait. All I need right now is a good sleep and to dream perchance of twelve balls with smiling and familiar faces as they leave my hands to fly off on their own journeys – safe in the knowledge that someone is there to catch them at the other end.  Did I hear a whisper of mice and (wo)men?