One never knows whom one may be seated next to on a plane. Early in another blog post, I mentioned being on a medical evacuation flight from the U.S. Navy base in Kenitra, Morocco to the American Air Force base at Torrejón, just outside Madrid. When the Americans withdrew from the latter in 1992, the Spanish built a new regional airport there. Originally a SAC base for B-47s, which also flew from Moroccan bases in the nineteen fifties, by 1970 when I visited, F-100 Super Sabres and F-4 Phantoms were flying there. I remember the noise as squadrons landed and took off.
I was seated on the plane next to a gentleman whose job was to train Moroccan pilots to fly F-105 fighters. When he asked what I did, I told him about my extension work and about the Peace Corps more generally. He was very impressed, and our conversation ended with him wondering whether he couldn’t use some volunteers in his program! For the record, a year later, in a coup attempt on the life of the Moroccan king, Hassan II, those planes attacked a passenger plane carrying the King, and he narrowly escaped with his life.
Many, if not most, Peace Corps volunteers were posted to countries where their skills were needed, but not necessarily the counties in which they wanted to live. If my recollection is correct, John Paulas, a graduate of Paul Smith’s College and avid outdoorsman, really wanted to go to Nepal. On the flight to Morocco, he was seated next to another new volunteer on his way to Nepal. When John told him that Nepal had been his first choice , the other volunteer responded that his first choice had been Morocco! I consider myself very fortunate to have wanted to go to Morocco and to have been actually sent there, though it did take the Peace Corps two tries, since they had first offered me a placement in Senegal.
Perhaps the strangest encounter on a plane was between my housemate, Gaylord Barr, who had re-enlisted in 1970 prior to teaching English as a second language. On his flight from New York to Casablanca, Gaylord asked the fellow next to him why he was visiting Morocco. The response was unexpected, if not a bit unsettling: the man was going for a sex-change operation. Apparently Casablanca was a major center for gender realignment surgery in the late nineteen sixties and early seventies. Recently I learned that Jan Morris, the notable travel writer, now 92, went there in 1972 for that purpose. Now Gaylord was no prude, and would have had no objection, but he was shocked at the time. Morocco had many foreigners going there for many reasons, sometimes scandalous ones, but this man’s journey threw Gaylord for a loop!
After rereading this published post, I got to thinking about the scenes in the satirical film, Airplane, where one of the protagonists tells his sob story over and over, driving the passenger next to him to suicide. If you’ve flown often, you probably have your own stories to tell.