I've always dreamed of travel. It's worth noting that prior to my 23rd birthday my travel had been limited to a few interstate excursions and a one-way trip ticket from the UK to Australia where my family had migrated. When people question how I can manage the extensive time spent in the air - it's simple - I'm happily catching up.
One of the more considerable benefits of my job are the locations I'm able to visit. I still remember my first solo trip - nervous, naive and completely unaware of the simplest of travel processes. Apart from the fact that after all this time security, customs and immigration are now (only slightly) less daunting, it's the immersion into foreign environments that I find most rewarding. During a time of severe cognitive overload thanks to cat videos (they are adorable) and jarring media headlines I find that the best source of inspiration is through the delightful tangle and discourse of human interaction.
Enter Morocco. The dream destination of my teendom. Picture me, 16, in all my teen pigtail-bunned, Spice Girl-obsessed glory perusing a few of my brother's old National Geographic articles on North Africa. I was completely idealistic, dreaming of a foreign land. Then me, thirteen years later, badgering the kind Berbers with my political inquiries, curiosity of cultures and questions of the assortment of ways one might fashion a headscarf.
I do not exaggerate when I say that experiencing Morocco was life-changing. Having spent five days in Marrakech for Seek The Uniq's Creative Escape (more on that later), Mari (renamed Itren by our Berber buddies) and I (now, Africa) were free to head north and indulge in the sheer brilliance of Morocco's diverse landscape.
I'm also not exaggerating when I say that you would be doing yourself and Morocco a gross injustice by vetoing a road trip through northern Africa. For this is where even the most seasoned of travellers' knees will begin to buckle and find themselves in a complete state of wonderment. Joined by one of the nicest/most entertaining guides I've ever met, Youssef, we embarked on a road trip through the snowy Atlas Mountains to the dramatic Todra Gorge and then through the incredible (read: life-changing, profoundly moving, vast, stunning, magnificent) Merzouga Desert before our final stop, Chefchaouen (this story coming your way soon). The hours spent chatting with Mari and Youssef laughing in the car about accidentally eating silica gel or quoting "tomorrow is another day" repeatedly (a phrase by our Berber friend Mohammed that is surprisingly suitable for a plethora of circumstances) proved to be some of my favourite memories of that trip. Despite the brutish bluster infiltrating our feeds from a distance (which thankfully, in the middle of the data-blocking Sahara is near impossible to totally consume) it was not only refreshing to talk about Berber culture or Islam, it was necessary. It is necessary. We spoke to Youssef about his customs, religion, family, culture, politics, history, food, business and thoughts, basically the ingredients of a conversation bound for disaster yet in the confines of our 4WD and in the company of Mari and Youssef it was enriching and educational. We'd even fallen in love with Youssef's favourite song (in Arabic) and attempted to sing it with him (in Arabic) in a surreal stretch of our road trip that will remain on my camera roll for me to enjoy for years to come [Note to self: Must learn Arabic]. It
opened the eyes of this already seemingly open-minded human being. Acculturation is the term used when you immerse yourself in a culture different to your own and assimilate that which is foreign. I can only imagine the effects on society should 'acculturation' be formally introduced into our capitalist society's schooling systems. No really, imagine that. An antidote to discrimination, if you will. I began to understand, through talking to Youssef and Berbers, why discrimination is so dangerous and so destructive - because it is almost always born from ignorance. It's born from a lack and deficiency - of knowledge, of empathy, of assimilation, as opposed to the existence of something. Imagine what the world would look like if we spoke openly and more often to people (see here at 38:12), instead of dissecting a single misinterpreted or misunderstood sentence and tearing it to shreds for all of its imperfections. Social media - one of the most powerful tools of our generation has evolved to become an instrument of pedantic fault-finding. Instead of uniting us and opening our eyes to the beauty of contrast and in differences, it's homogenized us and made us think there is only one 'normal' and damaged our democracy.
Now is a season of perplexing and complex silent inner conflict for me (and many other women I know in the same industry), trying to navigate this online world of almost paradoxical virtual escapism that I've created while still maintaining a platform to voice my opinions and experiences as a woman should - as everyone should - in today's dense and polarising political milieu.
Early one morning, sitting with Mari at the top of the sanddunes (warning: metaphor fast approaching) in the Sahara, watching the sunrise (and trying to maintain a flow of blood to my freezing feet) it was impossible in that moment to not cogitate on the idea of what greatness and beauty can be created from a single unit. Not unlike a single grain of sand. It serves as an apt simile for today's youth - to leave a legacy not as a generation of #instagood, #tbt and #followme (which, believe it or not,
are three of the most used hashtags on Instagram right now) but rather a generation of acceptance and assimilation. Millennial mensches! Who's with me?!
Seek The Uniq is helping with that. Highlighting that women need a space that cultivates creativity and inspiration they set up shop in Marrakech for five days allowing women from all walks of life and professions to immerse themselves not only in Morocco but within a community of women from a variety of fields.
We all operate differently, our brains mechanically wired to produce even the subtlest of variations in the way we live our lives everyday. Those differences and traits are best utilised when shared - an idea explained in the design thinking program of the workshop. We work best when we do so together, sharpening and galvanising our purest and most infant of ideas. I spoke on the topic of reigniting passion. (You can download the edited pdf version here) What does it mean? How do we find it? If and when we find it - what do we do with it? Writing that piece was a journey in itself, forcing my own vulnerable questioning and extraction of what it means to me to be a passionate, ambitious, purpose driven woman in today's society. And what am I doing to make a difference?
And this was just from 10 days of the 20-something thousand days I will live. (God-willing). Morocco is a magical place - one deeply embedded with history and culture (and yes many, many Instagrammable corners). You'll have noticed I've placed links all throughout this article that point you to a Dropbox filled with a few of my favourite moments that I wanted to share separately. I hope those of you who haven't been to Morocco can eventually make your way over there and please hit up our new friend Youssef and explore this corner of the world now so very close to my heart. You must drive your own buggy to the top of the Sahara. (It's so worth it)
And buy babouches. And poufs. And rugs, don't forget the rugs.
Photography/Styling: Kim Jones (with the invaluable help of the best travel buddy, Itren)