The BBC World Service reports on the lives of the porteadoras - the mule women of Melilla. Every day these women carry huge loads on their backs across the Barrio Chino crossing from Melilla into Morocco.
|Photo: Fernando Del Berro|
Melilla and Sebta (Ceuta) are tiny fragments of Europe on North Africa's Mediterranean coast. They have been under Spanish control about 500 years ago. And while Spain claims that the enclaves are integral parts of Spain, Morocco views the Spanish presence as anachronistic and claims sovereignty.
The enclaves are surrounded by fences, intended to deter illegal immigrants. But Sebta and Melilla are nonetheless used by many Africans as stepping stones to Europe.
Linda Pressly writes that every day the mule women carry their heavy loads across the border between the Spanish enclave and Morocco. Melilla is an important entry point for goods in to North Africa - and if the women can carry them, they can be imported in to Morocco duty-free.
In the early morning sunlight, a cloud of dust hovers close to the 6m-high fence that separates Melilla from Morocco. The dust is kicked up by frenetic activity as traders prepare goods to cross the border. There are second-hand clothes, bolts of fabric, toiletries and household items, all of it destined for markets in Morocco and beyond. Thousands of people are here and the noise is deafening - a cacophony of revving engines and raised voices.
Massive bales are everywhere, all wrapped in cardboard, cloth and sacking and fastened with tape and rope. And under the immense bales, obscured and bent double by the size of their loads, are Moroccan women.
This commerce takes place daily at Barrio Chino - a border crossing from Melilla to Morocco for pedestrians only. As long as a porteadora can physically carry her load, it is classed as personal luggage, so Morocco lets it in duty-free. The women have the right to visit Melilla because they live in the Moroccan province of Nador. But they are not allowed to reside in the Spanish territory.
|Photo: Fernando Del Berro|
One of the women, Latifa, claims her place in one of the rowdy queues made up of hundreds of women, and drops her load of 60kg (132lb) of used clothes. She has been doing this work for 24 years and will be paid three euros ($4.10 or £2.60) for transporting her bale across to Morocco. It is not work she chooses to do.
"I have family who must eat," she explains. "I have four children, and no husband to help - I divorced him because he beat me."
And then as the queue surges forward, Latifa disappears in a sea of merchandise.
Many of the women who work as porteadoras are divorced or separated like Latifa, single mothers providing for their families. Life is difficult for them in Morocco's traditional society, and often this is the only work they can get. Some of them make three or four trips a day from Barrio Chino, carrying up to 80kg.
Rates of pay vary and the women complain they must give bribes to the Moroccan guards.
In Melilla, there is debate about whether this trade should be allowed to continue in its current form.
Read the full story here: BBC World Service