One afternoon in Marrakesh, a French pilot in dusty boots came into my wife’s restaurant for one of her famous hamburgers. He’d been out scouting parcels of land vast and flat enough for his dream which was to build a flight school for women and name it after Touria Chaoui. We’d never heard the name, but in 1951, at age 14, she had become Morocco’s first pilot, North Africa’s first aviatrix. This had made her a hero to the resistance against the French who had occupied the country for over 30 years, and she spent her short life fighting for the freedom of Morocco and its women. Then in 1956, on the eve of Independence Day, she was killed by an unknown assassin and forgotten just as quickly.
Inspired by her story, my wife swore to enroll at the flight school that would someday bear Touria’s name. As if in preparation, she started flying up to Casablanca in a Cessna with a pilot friend of ours. She dressed like a 1950s stewardess, low-heeled shoes, fitted skirts to the knee. Our friend was also the British Consul and flew with a co-pilot so that he could drink himself to sleep over moonscapes of sheepherders and scrub. Sometimes as he snored, or half-consciously hummed Cat Stevens tunes, the co-pilot would gamely nod for my wife to take the yoke which she did happily before envisaging their fiery deaths, smoke and scrap metal provoked by an involuntary twitch of her wrist. Sitting straighter then and furrowing her brow, she would attempt to make her hands as dead as a statue’s — terrified, and yet I imagined that feeling of control must have been exhilarating. More… “Post-Revolution”