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More Melilla

I am back in Tangier now and rounding out my last few days on this trip. I will back in Canada on Wednesday, if all goes well. I am looking forward to getting home, more so than on any of my other travels. I miss my wife, my friends, my family and the easy conversations. I’ve also never returned from a trip with so much to do.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I spent the last several days in and around Melilla. I slept most nights in the village of Beni Ensar on the Moroccan side of the frontier. This border area is the ugliest place I’ve seen in Morocco. The streets are torn up for roadworks and there are heaps of rubble and wire everywhere. The winds from the Atlantic cast about the trash bags and dust. Puddles of grease stain the ground along with the slugs of mucus left by spitting men. Stray dogs limp around the streets afraid of everyone except for the teenage boys who huff slovents from dirty rags. At night, the streetlights flicker and men fight.

It is a shock crossing the border into Spain. There are smugglers everywhere. They are mostly old women who carrying huge bundles on their backs, or tie items beneath their clothes with twine. The word ‘smugglers,’ is not quite right. It suggests something furtive and secret. There is no doubt what these women are doing, but as long as they drop a few coins into the palms of the Moroccan border police everyone is happy.

I went to investigate the ‘wall’ and I found it means different things to everyone in the city. It was built to keep out illegal migrants, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, but the migrants find other ways in. And once they are inside, the wall takes on a different meaning. As I wrote earlier, it becomes a symbol of imprisonment. It was built to keep them out, but now it reminds them are trapped within.

For the Spanish ‘Christian’ population in Meilla, the wall represents a barrier between their life in Europe – with tapas bars, bull fights and art modernista – with the wilds of Morocco. For centuries, Spain’s primary adversary has been the Moors, and this wall represents another facet of ancient animosities. This is our side. That is yours.

But for the ‘Muslim’ population in Melilla, the wall means little. The border is fluid. They can come and go, legally and illegally, without much problem. The Muslims are more concerned about what, if anything, their European citizenship means to them. Melilla’s largest slum, dubbed the ‘Canyon of Death,’ lies just inside the border fence. Residents here are Melilla’s poorest and are treated with disdain from the ‘Spanish’ elite. Steel wires and barbed wire are more forgiving than poverty and bigotry.

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