The Transformative Power of Travel
The farther you journey, the closer you get to home
Illuminated by a shimmery orange sunset, the sands of the Moroccan desert revealed to Becky Aikman a truth 11 months and 10,000 miles in the making: Among life’s fickle twists and turns, new possibilities always beckon. Aikman and five other women—all young American widows who had banded together earlier that year to heal together through laughter, shared experiences and adventure—had traveled to Northern Africa to get as far away as possible, literally and figuratively, from their lives in the States.
“We wanted to go someplace new and exotic,” says Aikman, a former Business Weekeditor and author of Saturday Night Widows. “We’d all suffered losses and wanted to transform our lives. Our theory was that new experiences would break us out of our old thinking and give us new ways to approach our lives back home.”
It was in the beauty of the desert, among its ever-shifting and surging dunes, that Aikman and her companions found what most travelers ultimately seek: a fresh perspective from which to view their own lives. “When we were on the dunes during sunset, it felt like being suspended in space and time,” she says. “That enabled us to step back and look at our lives in a clear way.
“It can be the same for anyone, really,” she adds. “Stepping away and being in such a different place has a transforming power for approaching anything in life: what to do about a career or where to live or whether to start a new relationship. All of us felt that by being so far from home, we had a distance that made it easy to look at our issues in a way we could sort out.”
This transcendence was precisely what Aikman hoped for when, after extensive research (she’s a journalist, after all), she booked the group’s passage to Morocco with Classic Journeys. She expected to find it in the silent desert, but what surprised her was discovering it in the pulsing cultural sea of the Moroccan souks, or markets. “Fès, especially, was unlike anyplace I’d ever been before,” she reflects. “It had such a medieval feel. Usually when you visit anyplace around the world, you turn a corner and there’s a McDonald’s—well, that definitely doesn’t happen in Fès. There were the traditional artisans doing their work as they’d done for centuries and narrow little alleyways and donkeys carrying goods. It was every bit as exotic as I could have imagined.”
Thanks to the group’s warm and engaging guide, Saida—a native of Fès and a former journalist herself—Aikman and her friends were quickly immersed in the intriguing culture. As they strolled through the colorful, bustling souks, Saida would stop to introduce them to artisans and vendors she’d known since childhood, and once even invited them to a riad, a private home, for a vibrant, women-only party complete with traditional music and dancing. She also taught them the art of ululation, the high-pitched trilling sound Moroccan women make when they’re together and happy.
As Saida nudged them deeper into this unfamiliar yet alluring world, they began to shed their inhibitions … and more. Several days into the sojourn, Saida took them to a hammam, a traditional Moroccan steam room where women come together to strip away their clothes and their cares in a relaxed environment more akin to a bachelorette party, as Aikman describes, than a sedate Western spa. The shock and joy of it all sent their soul-satisfying laughter reverberating through the ornately tiled hammam—deepening their bonds of friendship and creating the enduring memories they all sought.
Saida also arranged for one of the most poignant evenings of the trip: a dinner with several Moroccan widows, adorned in traditional scarves and floor-sweeping djellabas. Over savory Moroccan stew, the widows’ stiff, translated conversation gave way to a heart-baring exchange about wounds, struggles, healing and dreams for the future, reminding each of them that beyond our visible differences, we’re really all the same, Aikman says.
That lesson settled in even deeper with the group’s epiphanies atop the sand dunes. As a radiant sunset yielded to the first sparkles of twilight, Aikman and her friends ran carefree down the dunes, following the lilt of lutes, castanets and goatskin drums to a fire crackling among the bevy of tents that comprised their desert encampment. The women soon joined in, laughing and dancing to the ancient Moroccan rhythms. With one voice, they broke into ululation and released their troubles into the vast, star-strewn sky.
Saturday Night Widows By Becky Aikman (CROWN, 2013)
A widow at 49, Becky Aikman was ready to reinvent herself and embrace the days ahead rather than dwell in her loss. This hope-infused memoir chronicles the yearlong, life-changing experiences of six like-minded young widows who come together to face their futures with honesty, humor and hope. As part of their healing process, they trek to Morocco with Classic Journeys, where they discover the transformative power of travel.