Finding My Release in Morocco

Morocco - Travel photography by © Lola Akinmade Åkerström
I stopped doing New Year’s resolutions in 2009 and instead opted for what I call “focus” words. A single word that takes off the undue pressure of checking off an arbitrary list and lets you live every day and every moment in that “focus” word.

Earlier this year, I found my 2013 focus word deep within the steamy hollows of a traditional hammam and that word was “surrender”. Here’s a brief excerpt from that experience:

My thoughts were broken when one of the bathers drenched in sweat walked up to me. I slowly looked up at her face. She muttered a mix of French and Arabic to me. I didn’t need to understand. I already knew what she meant.

My turn.

By the time my bather was through with me, I’d been kneaded like pizza dough, vigorously scrubbed like animal hide, and hosed down with water on a slab of stone marble like meat in an abattoir.

I had no choice but to surrender.

I’m not done with Morocco yet. Far from it.

You see, Morocco demands multiple trips. It requires you as a traveler to come over and over again, to get beneath its rich culture and to peel back layers and layers of experiences. From vibrant bustling souks to warm desert sands of the Sahara stretching out as far as the eyes can see to centuries-old Berber traditions in villages around the Atlas Mountains and fortified medinas.

Oh, I’m so not done traveling to Morocco yet.

To me, traveling means listening. Listening to a place – wherever it may be – and trying to understand it as best as I can and respecting it. That makes me naturally want to invest. For lack of an original metaphor: travel continuously weaves me into the very fabric of each culture, which in turn continually opens up my mind, and the minds of others I meet.

And if I’m still struggling to hear its voice and heartbeat, I should be willing to go back and back and back again until I hear it loud and clear; chucking out any bucket lists I’d initially planned.

This is my general philosophy on travel.

This is how I find my release during my travels. I go with no preconceived notions and soak up whatever the place wants to tell me. Whatever it wants to share with me at that very moment.

Morocco - Travel photography by © Lola Akinmade Åkerström

So if I were to go back to Morocco with Expedia and NFFTY, here’s what I’ll do to get deeper within its culture.

I’d go back to the vendor who stood proudly with his arms on his sides within his small stall deep in the souks of Marrakesh inviting me nonverbally to come listen to his story. Morocco - Travel photography by © Lola Akinmade Åkerström

I‘d find out his name and tell him to show off his best wares and ask him to share his story. I would go back to the vibrant chefs and waitresses at Al Fassia and beg them to let me into their kitchen to watch them make Moroccan tagine with lamb and dates and fresh vegetables served with fluffy couscous.

I would ride a camel out into the desert to camp beneath the stars and listen to not only traditional stories told by my guide but also let my guide know I’d be honored to hear his own stories as well. I would go on a drive through the Atlas Mountains stopping in Berber villages along the way to learn more about the Berber way of life. How they’re preserving tradition while navigating through changing times.

Maybe spend a night with a Berber family drinking mint tea from cups passed down through the family around a warm fire. Maybe photograph the glowing natural light from the fire’s hot ambers shine across their faces.

As a professional photographer as well, I couldn’t ask for more.

I’d wander the bazaars and tanneries of Fes. Maybe experience the festival of World Sacred Music if I’m lucky to be there at the same time. I would saunter through those narrow blue and white alleyways and explore those 18th century fortified walls of Essaouira.

I would buy my own freshly caught fish and find someone to help me grill it as we chat about football and how I was rooting for Morocco’s team the last time I was here but ecstatic nonetheless that Nigeria won the Africa Cup of Nations. I would watch the sun set while casting its golden glow over blue wooden fishing boats that line Essaouira‘s sandy shores.

Bathed in blue, Chefchaouen will beckon to me from a distance. And Meknes. And Merzouga. Oh, did I forget Tangier too?

But alas, my trip would be coming to an end. I’ll try to experience as much as I can in those few days, but I know Morocco would only laugh in my face.

“Haven’t you learned already?” she would say. “You can’t peel me completely open in just this visit.”

I know Morocco isn’t done with me yet. It never will. Because for me, travel is release. Release from expectations. Release from rigid itineraries and “must sees” and “must dos” and other “musts” that stop me from hearing a place’s voice.

Travel is permission to release myself and just be.

Morocco - Travel photography by © Lola Akinmade Åkerström

About The Expedia Film Contest with NFFTY

This post was written as part of the Expedia Film Contest with NFFTY. You can learn more about the contest over at the Expedia Viewfinder Blog. Check it out and if you’re so inclined, maybe submit an entry to “Find Yours” as well.