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Photo: Fernando del Berro

Mule Women — Morocco

by Jonah Goodman

The border crossing from Beni Enzar, Morocco to the Spanish enclave of Melilla opens at 7am, four days a week. When it does, hundreds of elderly women flood across, rushing towards parked vans. Each will take a single bale of cloth or toiletries and carry it 400 m back into Morocco. At this border, duty fees do not apply to personal, hand-carried luggage, so traders pay people €3 to €10 (US$2.60–8.80) per bale to carry goods across, and pack as much as they physically can into each 60 kg to 90 kg (132–198 lb) load. The job, however, can only be done by local residents, who don’t need visas to cross over and back. Most of these porteadoras or ‘mule women’ are widows or divorcees, unskilled and uneducated, with no other source of income. About €265 million (US$300 million) in goods crosses the border duty-free every year, according to the New York Times. Spanish officials told the paper in 2014 that they would close this loophole if it wasn’t the only means of subsistence for these women.

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