Monday, April 20, 2009

If You Can Read This, You Are Literate

I came across this sign on a recent hike. I know the Arabic alphabet, so I could sound out bits and pieces, but the only word I knew for sure was mamnua: forbidden. Since I was standing next to a small reservoir I figured out I shouldn’t go for a swim, but none of the words seemed close to what I know means ‘to swim’. Or ‘enter’. Or even ‘water’. Maybe it’s written in Modern Standard rather than Moroccan Arabic. Or maybe its something else entirely– a warning against climbing an unstable slope, or to watch for a man-eating Yeti. If so, I was totally unprepared for a possible rockslide caused by a rampaging Yeti as I swam in the reservoir. This leads to a TRUTH: Being functionally illiterate is not good times.

Transport unions in Morocco just ended a nearly two week long strike against a proposed change in traffic laws. I was in Agadir the day before it started, trying to get home. It was late in the afternoon, and I knew making it all the way would be a stretch, so I decided to go halfway and stay with another volunteer for the night. Had I been able to read the signs plastered around the taxi stand, I’d have tried a bit harder to make it home. But I couldn’t, so I didn’t know there was a strike beginning the next day. A strike of indefinite duration.

I was able to figure out a way home after three days, but I know more than one volunteer stranded away from home for over two weeks. And none of us had a clue, because we can’t read.

Did I mention I’m a teacher?


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