Thursday 7 July 2011

La Prisonniere

Malika Oufkir, imprisoned in a Sahara Desert jail, dug a tunnel to freedom with a spoon.  Her father, a high ranking official in the Moroccan government, became the right hand man of King Hassan II in the 1960's.  The King liked him so much that he "adopted" his daughter Malika who moved into the palace for a few years to act as the companion of the King's daughter, Princess Amina.  By 1972, however, Mr. Oufkir betrayed the Moroccan monarchy by attempting to assassinate King Mohammed V, but without success.  He and the other would-be assassins paid with their lives. 

Malika, her five younger siblings and their mother would also pay.  They were imprisoned in a secret jail in the middle of the desert where Malika helped keep her siblings' spirits up by telling them stories night after night.  As she told her tales, they would all take turns digging in the sand with a spoon.  Hearing stories helped distract the children from their miserable situation; digging a tunnel gave them a purpose.  Day after day, week after week, they scooped up spoonful after spoonful of sand.  Malika's positive attitude helped her transcend her miserable surroundings, spending much of the time in solitary confinement.  Her approach was similar to that of Victor Frankl, a concentration camp inmate during World War II, who refused to be broken by his captors.  Finally, one day in 1987, they broke through to the desert surface and found their way to freedom only to be returned to jail five days later.  They were placed under house arrest for another four years, and then officially released in 1991. 

In 1996, the Oufkir's were given permission to leave Morocco.  Forty-three year old Malika immigrated to France where she met a man and got married.  She, along with her siblings, converted from Islam to Catholicism.  In 1999, she wrote a book about her experience called La Prisonniere which was later translated into English as Stolen Lives:  Twenty Years in a Desert Jail.  In the meantime she has championed the cause of other political prisoners.  It is inspiring to see that Malika has risen above her tragic circumstances to help not just her own family, but others as well.

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