Melilla is on the Spanish side of the border between Spain and Morocco. It is a small town in a small area.
It is known for its port. Each year millions of dollars of goods come into the port headed for Morocco. The rule is that if the merchandise is hand-carried across the border, traders do not have to pay import taxes.
Enter the ‘mule ladies’ of Melilla. They are Moroccans living around Melilla. They do not need a visa to go back and forth across the border.
They carry the imports by hand. To be clear, they roll or carry the goods on their backs. The distance is about a quarter-mile uphill.
The packages can weigh up to 220 pounds. Most of the women carry 150 to 175 pounds. The border is open only four days a week. Even when the women show up, they may not always get a package to carry. They make $20 to $27 a week when things are good.
Men are starting to show up for the work. They are blocking the women and pushing them aside. They are indifferent to whomever is in the way.
Nora el-Koukhou is a mule woman. She has five children and a husband in jail. She was crying after being crushed by men who were trying to get to the border turnstiles. Another woman said, “The men make this impossible. This job is so dangerous now, I am afraid I will break an arm or leg in there.”
Spanish officials say that there is little they can do about what goes on at the border. The only thing they can do is end the practice. This would leave the women destitute.
The work the women of Melilla do is impossibly hard. Young men pushing them around is a terrible curse.
Source: The New York Times March 30, 2014
BBC News Magazine October 29, 2013