Finding my 2013 focus word in a local Moroccan hammam

Moroccan Hammam - Casablanca, Morocco - Travel Photography by Lola Akinmade Åkerström

The middle-aged Moroccan lady to my right gave me a wink followed by a wide toothy grin. Her silky jet black hair was wrapped into a wet bun atop her head. I returned a weak smile. I knew why she winked. She thought I was being absurd and needed to relax. I fully agreed with her. I knew I needed to relax. The fact that she was lying on her side, head resting on her palm, on a slab of worn out stone marble with nothing but panties on while a traditional bather was scrubbing away – exfoliating her inner thighs – only made her wink more awkward.

I was sitting on a small wooden stool in front of a marble water spout unsure of what I was supposed to be doing. To my left was another Moroccan lady gently lathering herself with aromatic soap, tossing her head so her long silky waist-length black hair was plastered all over her back. There was no head tossing on my end. My ‘fro was done into cornrows which barely grazed my neck.

To my right was the winking lady lying on her side. I turned back to my water spout, reached into the toiletry bag my friend had brought along on my behalf – yes, it was the type of local hammam you brought your own supplies to – pulled out some soap and a sponge and just followed suit.

I was in Casablanca visiting my friend Meryem and her family, and she’d insisted on taking me to a real hammam – a joint where working locals went with their own toiletries and towels, and there wasn’t a foreigner in sight for miles. I had to check it out. After all, when a trusted native takes you to one of their favorite local haunts, as a traveler, you’ve sort of struck gold.

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.

And at that moment, the word “surrender” came to me.

Since 2009, I’d stopped doing resolutions and started choosing a symbolic focus word to encapsulate what I’d like to accomplish in all facets of my life during that year. My previous words have been focus, discipline, growth, and nurture.

In many ways, the word “surrender” seems perfect for this year. Not in a defeatist sense of the word, but rather, to completely and fully surrender to life’s flow because one has no true control over its preordained flow. To just roll with continuous change in this new life I have first as wife, mother, and someone blessed to be pursuing some of their dreams in life.

Surrender to the fact that our very next breath isn’t guaranteed. As a practicing Christian, I’ve long surrendered to a much higher power (God) who works in wondrously mysterious ways that my tiny human mind can’t fully comprehend and deconstruct. And this year, I want to continue to surrender to His will above all else. As my pastor once said, our daily prayer should be “God, what’s your plan for today and how can I be a part of it?

I want to completely surrender to the fact that I now have a toddler who’s currently trying to figure out how to pry open a hot oven door. Surrender to the fact that opportunities, blessings, and disappointments will come, and how I meander through them will only make me stronger and wiser.

Surrender to the fact that losing and gaining friends is important to the process. Surrender, or rather, be fully comfortable in what I know and do not know, and to continue developing personal weak areas while sharpening strengths.

Fully surrender to the fact that it will take two lifetimes for my slow growing afro to reach waist-length.

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.