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Photo: Juliana Werring

Finding Meaning in Morocco

I have always viewed the idea of traveling the same way I view the blank space between the last sentence of a chapter in a book and the title page of the next. It is like the part of the page without any text; the brief moment when your mind settles after the final word, and the anticipation of what is next to come sets in.

I’m not the type of person to take yearly week-long vacations. I find that I often plan trips during the small, lucky slivers of time after major shifts in my life– valuable and rare moments to pause and take a deep mental breath; its a chance for re-evaluation and to regain perspective of the outside world that is so much larger than my own.

The day after I graduated college, having left my Bachelor of Fine Arts diploma still wrapped at my parents house, I left for Greece. Having just made my flight with ten minutes until departure, I sat next to a kind Polish woman, drank two glasses of cheap airline wine, and fell asleep dreaming of what on Earth I was going to do with the rest of my life– but all the while I was aware of a nagging voice in the back of my head screaming “Why didn’t you just major in something practical like computer science or marketing?!”

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I spent two weeks traveling and taking in the beautiful country, but still had no idea what was going to happen when I landed back in New York.

On New Years day of that same year, my first real “adult relationship” came to a crushing, unpredictable end, and by the following week I booked a solo trip to visit my siblings in Kansas. I leaned up against my window seat, stared at the frozen patchwork farmland of the Midwest, and wondered if I was going to die alone surrounded by stacks of old newspapers and animals in a tiny, cramped (hopefully rent controlled) apartment. Mind you, it was the dead of winter and I was just dumped… on New Years. I remember holding my baby niece in my arms wondering if I’d ever meet someone to have a family and home of my own.

When I was laid off for the first time this past February, thanks in part to the overlord suits of corporate America, I knew it was time for another trip. Similar to the sheer panic I felt after graduating college and the shocking end of a seemingly happy and healthy relationship, losing a full-time job that I felt confident and secure in was overwhelming and incredibly scary. Without a clue of where to go or what to do next, I left my office that afternoon in the pouring rain with my separation agreement in hand, hid out in a Burlington Coat Factory store vestibule where I called my mom, and through anxious tears told her I needed to get out of New York.

Photo: Juliana Werring

After talking with her, I quickly realized that not only was I going through a major life change, but I knew that she was in a similar situation herself— only forty years later. A retired music teacher for more than 10 years, she was the main caregiver to my ninety-six year old grandmother and juggled two part-time jobs. After my grandmother passed last July, my mother found herself in that same small blank space— a new freedom from the pressures of caring for my ailing grandmother, as well as an empty nest at home. She now had the time to focus completely on herself and achieve her own goals. She started and maintained a healthy lifestyle, and even lost a significant amount of weight. As individuals, we were both at the brink of the next unknown step in both our lives, and I knew that taking a trip together would be healthy not only for us individually, but for our relationship as mother and daughter.

In a matter of two days after that phone call, we planned and booked an eight-day trip to Morocco. A 100% Italian Long Island worry-prone mother and firm believer in Murphy’s Law, she was incredibly nervous, whereas I, a 26-year-old go-with-the-flow photographer, was thrilled. I couldn’t wait to immerse myself in a culture so vastly different than my own, and to share such memorable experiences with my mom.

Photo: Juliana Werring

Once in Morocco, we spent every moment together taking in the cultural overload of the bustling medinas, listening to the stark silence of the Sahara desert, eating delicious food, and sight seeing the intricate and stunning architecture. We spoke to wonderfully kind, friendly people and learned about the beautiful history of the Muslim religion, and had a new perspective measuring ourselves against the High Atlas Mountains.

Over glasses of red wine during dinners spent at the beautiful Riad’s we stayed every night, we spoke about things we never had the chance to share with each other before like the ups and downs of being in a marriage, and what to expect and tolerate within relationships. She shared her experience of being a mother, and I explained my hesitation of maybe having children of my own. We discussed what I wanted out of my career, and what she had expected and gained from hers. We spoke about the future and her plan of moving out of my childhood home and starting a new chapter somewhere else. I asked about her past experiences during her late twenties and the steps she took that led her to be the woman she became. We learned a lot about each other over the course of the trip, shared experiences with each other, and saw things we never imagined we’d ever get to see.

When we were first planning our trip together, I knew I wanted to ride a camel at sunset in the Sahara. Initially, my mother was terrified and refused to do so in fear that she, or at least the camel, would be injured. When the day finally came, we hopped in our 4×4 with only an hour or so before sunset. Laughing hysterically as the car rode up and down the dunes like a rollercoaster, we arrived at our campsite with only a few minutes to spare before the sun went down. With only moments to decide whether or not she would ride the camel, she ran up and got on without hesitation. I’ll never forget the smile on her face and her nervous laughter as the camel rose up, her face saturated in a bright orange glow from the sun. She smiled down at me with a look of panic and joy as I snapped a picture. I’ll treasure that moment, as well as all the experiences we had together for the rest of my life. If I ever have a daughter of my own one day, I can only hope to be able to take such a special, once-in-a-lifetime trip like my mom and I did.

Reflecting back on our unforgettable travels, I quickly noticed a pattern of positivity in my life that happens after ever time I travel. Within a month after I got back from Greece, I got a great job that I would stay at for more than a year. After my trip to Kansas, I immediately met a boy who I would later fall in love with. It’s only been a few months since my mother-daughter trip to Morocco, but I’m still hopeful in taking the next step in the right direction for my career. I now know that whatever happens in life, it goes on. Time is essential in preparing you for whatever comes next in life. Chapters begin and end, but I now hold a greater value in that blank space between now and whatever happens on the next page.

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