After haggling with about 5 different taxi drivers to get a reasonable (as in, less than $100 for a 3 mile ride) price for a ride from the city centre to Marrakesh airport, my bags and I arrive. In the past days I spent on my own in this beautiful country, I experienced none of the harassment I had been warned about before. Dressing fairly smart and speaking French made most people think I was a local expat (and French!), so they left me alone. Now, at the airport, I am turned back into a 23 year old tourist girl, on her own with lots of luggage. And I am way too early for check in. One trick I learned to ward off the touts is to always sit next to either the oldest, fattest woman or just a very conservatively or smartly dressed local woman. 

I pick up the departure card to fill in and ask a woman in her early fourties who wears a headscarf if I can sit next to her - no problem at all, she says and smiles. I fill in my departure card, which is, as most official things in Morocco, trilingual in Arabic, French and English - no crazy information needed, just my name, date of birth, passport home address, occupation. I notice her spying on my card, assume she is curious about me and start a conversation. I learn how she was born in Morocco but has lived in Paris since her early teens, that she visited family in a village in the south of the country, about the working environment in France, about Paris vs. London, Moroccan food and many other things. She seems shy but smart, her French perfectly fluent, or at least substantially better than mine.

Then, all of a sudden, she asks if I could help her fill out the card, because it's so complicated. I point out that it's in Arabic, too, and am surprised she has to fill it in at all, but she pulls out her French passport - so she is an official EU citizen, just like me, and needs to fill it out for the Morroccan border agency. I say sure, we can go through this together. First she fills in all the parts that require numbers. A little wacky, but why not. Then we talk about the bit that says 'Occupation'. She says she doesn't know what it means, so I paraphrase 'your job', she nodds and says 'office worker'. I urge her to write it down, but she goes back to the beginning of the form, where she should fill in her name. 

Things start to dawn on me - no, it hadn't crossed my mind, I was so absorbed in our conversation - when she got out her passport again and carefully copied every single letter of her name, like a kindergartener trying to writer her name on a drawing for her mother. This woman is illiterate. She was born in 1970 and lived most of her life in Europe.

I feel ashamed for not having noticed her obvious signs before and putting her through this 'well, just write it down' routine for every line. Should I say something? I ponder it for a bit, but as she asks me what the line below the name ('place of birth') is for, I ask her if I should fill it out for her. Smiling, she accepts and hands me her card. After I have finished, she thanks me, offering some sweets she brought with her. I feel I need to hide from my own embarrassment and get up to buy a coffee, asking her if she would like one, too. She declines. 

When I return 10 minutes later, she is gone. 

Illiteracy rates throughout the world
Back home, I look up the numbers for illiteracy and learn that over 40% of Moroccan women never learn to write. Most go only to school until they are 14, if at all. And this is by no means one of the poorest countries on earth. This is the event that made me decide that I need to see more of the world. I didn't have a pretty childhood or youth, no 'I wish I was back in school' moments for me. The one thing I have always had though, was the ability to read and write, a central part of my life since I have been six years old. No matter how 'bad' my life is, I can always study to improve it, communicate, get along on my own in an unfamiliar place because I can read signs, maps, guidebooks. What if you don't even have that?

Ok, with all this jungle-trekking, laksa-eating and Tiger beer drinking, on top of crappy internet connections, I will not get to write/post all the backlog I have for the 30 Days of Indie Travel project this fast, so I'll jump right in and see if I can post the texts for other prompts later.

This is my contribution to Day 12, Meaningful Connections.

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