The King And I – When All Hell Breaks Loose
In this ordinarily peaceful country, there are numerous attempts on the life of former King Hassan II. I am present for two of them. Mom is safely back home in the states when Ambassador Rockwell and dozens of other diplomats attend an outdoor birthday party for King Hassan at his summer palace by the sea.
Though it is a stag celebration, I’m there to take photos for our embassy newsletter. I’m outside the main area with the rest of the minor staff when we hear gun shots and screams coming from the other side of the wall. We’re ordered to lie face down on the gravel and not raise our heads. In a reversal of allegiance, one of the king’s most trusted friends, General Mohamed Oufkir, is leading a military revolt to assassinate him and jinnahtutors overthrow the monarchy.
When your face is squashed into gravel for any length of time, you either suffocate or try to breath through the side of your mouth by furtively turning your head. Some folks lose control of their bodily functions while others lay whimpering and praying. While I’m praying, someone grabs my camera and I never see it again. I love that camera, but I’d gladly swap it for my life. I didn’t survive the Tet Offensive and a year and a half in Saigon only to die in beautiful Morocco-by-the-sea.
Suddenly soldiers loyal to King Hassan II overpower the rebels, seize General Oufkir, and save the monarchy. Ambassador Rockwell is safe, but in the barrage of bullets many other diplomats are killed. The local press claim “the traitor Oufkir is dead from multiple bullet wounds.” Whether suicide or execution remains within the archives of the royal family.
Thuraya and The Spirits
Another attempt on King Hassan’s life happens in the skies over Rabat. Thuraya, the beautiful Moroccan lady who looks after me and my apartment, has left for the day. When mom was here they were great pals, exchanging recipes in the kitchen, and carpet haggling in the souk. One day Thuraya took mom and me to a Hemmam. Similar to a Turkish bath, when we entered the steamy room, a gaggle of women surrounded us and began washing and scrubbing our naked bodies to a fiery glow. It’s amazing what comes off the skin. Later, over glasses of sweet mint tea, we listened to mystical stories about the Sahara. Most Moroccans believe invisible jinn spirits inhabit the desert. I’m soon to find out for myself.
Britannia Rules The (Air) Waves
But now I’m alone in my apartment. No mom. No Thuraya. No jinn spirits. I’m getting dressed for dinner, singing along with Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” when I hear the buzz of an airplane and loud explosions. My terrace windows are directly across the street from the royal palace. They shatter into in a million pieces-glass everywhere. I grab the phone and dial the embassy duty officer. When I relate to him what is happening at the palace, he tells me the king is presently flying back from Paris to Rabat in his private plane. The local radio station has been compromised and our embassy is getting its information via BBC short wave. When I turn on my own Grundig short wave radio I hear about the attempted military coup in the country I am living, from another country outside that country. It’s the 1970s. No cell phones, no internet. Hail Britannia!
The Many Lives of a Cool King
While the palace is being bombed and strafed, four Royal Moroccan Air Force jets fire on the king’s Boeing 727 as it heads for Rabat. They hit the fuselage but do not bring down the plane. An experienced pilot, King Hassan rushes to the cockpit and orders the pilot to give him the controls. Then, disguising his voice, Hassan transmits the following message: “Stop firing. The king has been killed and I am landing the plane.” After landing the plane, the cool cat with nine lives jumps into his car and speeds away, leaving the surprised insurgents once more to be rounded up and arrested by officers loyal to the monarchy. Later, through my shattered windows and smashed flower pots, I watch the king race his little red sports car through the palace gates to safety.
Brief Encounter In A Sea of Tranquility
My footprints are somewhere in the three million square miles of the Sahara’s unforgiving wilderness. Blazing hot, freezing cold, the desert is a riddle of invisible roads and unpredictable quicksand that swallowed African kingdoms and Roman Legions. About 375 miles from Rabat a scorched plain known as the sand seas, or erg, leads to Merzouga, a vast emptiness at the end of the world. The 21st century will bring some tourists. Today there’s just me and three friends.
Once we reach the dunes, we’re in a sand sea of tranquility, where spending a night or two in pure silence can put you in an altered state. Walking over the thousand foot dunes, I stray from my friends and I’m lost. My cries for help are muffled by mountains of sand. In the shimmering white heat, everywhere looks the same as everywhere else. Someone once told me, “when you think you’re heading east you could be heading west!”
In the stillness I can hear the steady thump of my heart. A sudden lusty wind whistles down the dunes, blows sand in my face and obscures the sun. I think, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to be buried alive; they’ll never find me. Don’t think about water. Don’t think about water.’ From out of the shimmering haze, a lone figure is walking toward me. In desert lore, jinn spirits can take many forms. Moving in that undulating rocking gait they do when on the dunes, a young Berber boy beckons me to follow him. With his pet Monitor lizard trailing behind him on a string, the boy guides me back to my companions. He knows exactly where he is. It is his ancestral home. I have miles to go before I figure it out.
Visit my website http://www.susanscharfman.com – for an eclectic collection of memoirs and articles. My historical novel, The Sword & the Chrysanthemum, Journey of the Heart – is an unconventional love story and spiritual journey into 17th century Japan. Available on Kindle and Amazon.com. I’m presently at work on my second novel.