The Dar Taliba is a girls' dormitory located in southern Morocco, in El Hanchane , a small dusty town between the tourist spots of Marrakesh and Essaouira. Due to economic limitations and cultural traditions, illiteracy for women in rural areas can reach as high as 90 percent. As part of a national initiative to help girls in remote areas receive a secondary education, dormitories like these have been built across the Muslim nation. As the young King Mohammed VI said, “We have focused our interest, first, on rural women, the group most affected by the ills of illiteracy and poverty – two issues I firmly believe are at the heart of human rights, just as they may constitute structural obstacles to democracy.”
I returned to Morocco as a documentary photographer to rediscover the country that I had moved to as a young girl. My father was the U.S. military attaché and I used to love the view from his shoulders, gliding through the market with my head up above the crowd. I was four years old. Thirty years later, the political realities were more apparent. “You are an American,” some would say, “from George Bush.” Then the real conversation would begin.
At the Dar Taliba , labels fell away. Behind the walls separating the girls from the public space of boys and men, there existed a hidden world of reading, prayer, soccer, whispers and the universal dramas of adolescent years. I remember these girls, unaware of their place in a national movement, wrapping their headscarves around their hips late at night after studying. “Make it shake,” some told me as they danced. Others drummed against books and chairs. Unreserved in a way they never were in the outside world, I could begin to see who they really were. A sharp knock at the door soon cut through the rhythm to remind us it was bedtime, and suddenly there was quiet.
- Amy Thompson, August 2006
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