|In Essaouira, the Marjana Cooperative offers literacy classes to the women who work in the argan oil production process.|
Before I leave the topic of reading, I have one final note—a disappointing observation, really. Yes, it's a generalization, but one of the truer ones I've told: in spite of the rich body of literary and narrative works written by Moroccans and about Morocco, this country still has no culture of reading.
The first few times I rode the train in Morocco, I felt something amiss. At the start of every long, dull ride, Jacqueline and I would sit down and immediately reach for our books. All around us, the Moroccans chatted with each other, stared at the wall, stared out the window or, more often than not, stared at us, generally doing little to fill the free time. (That I find their inactivity so bizarre is, I realize, also a reflection on my own, very Western inability to sit still.)
Without exaggerating, I can count on one hand the number of times I've seen a Moroccan crack open a book and start reading on the train. True, at rush hour an occasional businessman or two will unfold one of the local newspapers, but you can almost forget about books. And even fewer women seem to even read the newspapers—again, after a year here I can also count those sightings on one hand. Just compare this state with American commuters' obsessive reading habits.
To a great extent, the remarkable lack of a reading culture is probably tied to the high rate of illiteracy in Morocco. Over 40 percent of all Moroccans over age 15 can't read, including more than half of the country's women. The figures for rural areas are even worse. (The government's full data are available here in French.)
While I rarely act on my frequent complaints about Moroccan society and its frustrations, for once, I can proudly say that this problem is one which I have actually done something to help solve. For the last nine months, I have been working to help launch a sizable US-government-financed adult literacy project here in Morocco, which over the next four years aims to train almost 70,000 men, women, and youths.
I hope that this program—along with all the other important efforts that the Moroccan government and civil society are currently undertaking—makes a dent in the coming decades. Morocco could be a very different place if a culture of reading ever took hold. I'll be watching to see how this story ends.
Thank you for reading, and I hope you've enjoyed this little series. If you missed the earlier entries, check them out here.