After the Show with Stolen Lives author Malika
June 20, 2001
Oprah: One of the things (that I think got cut from the tape) that I really wanted to share with the audience... Where you were talking about the escape and you were saying when you all first came out of the tunnel it was difficult to find your balance becauseà Malika Oufkir: Yes, because we were not used to walking you know and we lived during eight years without light and we had no notion of space. So the first time, you are hurt by the light—by the sun—and also you've lost it because you don't know where you go soà
Oprah: You were saying there was too much space so you couldn't get your balance, it's hard to stand... can you imagine? Malika Oufkir: And for example, the first steps we had to walk, you know, it was really difficult. We need to hold the wall before because when you have to put your foot like this before you put on a step, you have you feel like—how can I say—everything is turning.
Audience Question: Malika, I was so touched by your story. My husband is from Morocco and I could really relate to your story. And my children just loved it. I have a question though. I would like to know about Halima and Achoura. Are they okay? The two other women who went with your family? Malika Oufkir: Thank you for asking about them... Because they chose to live with us this experience and several times the guards came in and told them, "You have to go, to leave them, because they are going to spend their life in prison." And each time they refused to go. So they spend with us all these years.
And Halima, for example, when we were released, we told her you have to go and see your family because her father was very sick. And she spend with her family only three months and she came back. And I ask her, "Why?" And she told me, "It's impossible for me to live with them because I have nothing to tell them. And they are so different. And now my reason and my family is you." So she's living in Morocco with my brother, Raouf. But it's horrible to say that she has no change because she's sick and she has three times a cancer...
And for Achoura, who is the cousin of my mother, she escaped with Maria, my sister, in 1996 to Spain so she lives with her now in Paris. Thank you for asking the question.
Audience Question: Was there any one particular point where something inside you just died and wanted to give up... Where did you turn to in yourself to get the strength to go on, to live for the next day? Malika Oufkir: I think without my family, I never can live or still be alive now... Because we were a family and because of the love we give each other, and also because of my mother. She learned us how to accept our life, our destiny, and to accept suffer like as we accepted to live in good conditions. So it helps. It was very hard because she's very strong woman but her education help us to go through this experience. And I think you, when you are a prisoner —and for so many years—you can really lose all your humanity, your dignity, and you are not a human person. After five years... eight years... you become like an animal. Because of her education she was always here to tell us, "You have to be good people, good persons with an education with dignity." And I think it's because of her and because of all love of all the family we are here now. Oprah: I was yeah thought about you all constantly since we taped that last Wednesday... Anyway I was thinking about other people who survived prison and about how Mandela came out and he was able to release his bitterness. And I think that your mother and other people who were older ... the difference is your mother was already mature and already knew who she was. I think that—because you were 18? Malika Oufkir: Nineteen.
Oprah: Nineteen. To be 19 and in prison and all of the years... Think what happens between the time that you're 19 and 40 years old—your development, what you know about yourself—that is what makes the difference between being able to come out and being able to survive and not because you don't, you didn't have a self there. Know this—they didn't have a newspaper. There were no books. There's no stimulation other than Malika's stories at night. And one of the things when I asked Malika the other day about would she ever be happy and she didn't know if she would—that's why I had her back 'cause I'm gonna make her happy. I was saying to her, "Perhaps maybe the happiness is already here." Because you know how she wanted to be on the stage? I said, "But look at what life did for you. You ended up being able to tell those stories, create your own script that ended up saving your brothers and sisters' lives which is far more dramatic than any play or any movie or any stage that you could ever have." But that's all they had. If you think you go 20 years and you don't see a newspaper... And you were telling us that that little beat-up transistor radio is what kept you all sane. Malika Oufkir: And the day we lose this little radio, we lose our mind, you know. That's why we decided to escape and dug the tunnel because to realize that you are far from the reality—far from the world—it's impossible.
Oprah: Right. Your world then becomes that little, that prison which becomes your tomb... Malika Oufkir: And you feel really abandoned at this moment...
Audience Question:... When your sister Soukaina was being inundated by all the guards asking, "How could they have dug... been physically able to escape?" And she miraculously comes up and says, "Fifteen years of personal humiliation... that's what gives me strength." And I just remember the earlier part of the story with her being so small, and so timid... You gave her that strength to stand up for what you all believed in. It's so marvelous. Malika Oufkir: It's not me. It's because of her, it's because of this experience... this experience is terrible because you lose all your life, I think this is a great also experience. That's why I can say it makes you better and you understand a lot of things. This experience is very rich. Even though you lose a lot of things, we win very important things like humility, compassion, and tolerance. Material things mean nothing to us, only value, human value.
Audience Question: From the time you were released—you and your family—did you ever see or talk to the king again? And if not, if he was standing in front of you today, what would you want to say to him?
Oprah: Oh! Well, he's not gonna be standing here; he's dead. He died—he died two years ago. Malika Oufkir: He died two years ago so very difficult to meet him again you know. But now it's his son who is king and I don't think I have something to tell to his son because for me he's not responsible of what's happenedà Oprah: Malika, when you were released he was still alive. Did you want to say something to him? Was there something you wanted to say? Malika Oufkir: Yes. Maybe I think I told him everything I want to tell him through the book. The first thing—the most important thing—it's to tell him the truth, because nobody in his life was allowed to tell him really who he was. And the second thing maybe the only question, why?
Oprah: Why. But there would be no answer that would justifyà
Okay, Malika told us something after the Book Club taping. You know, when the cameras had stopped taping and we had dinner. It's one of the women who's husband was also a Moroccan asked the questions... whether or not the king had some kind of revenge toward your mother. That he seemed —that the king seemed as revengeful toward your mother as he might have been toward your father. And you shared with us that he did—that he had told her at one time he would avenge her. Pretty amazing.
Audience Question: I would really like to know... if this has been healing for you—sharing your story with all of us? Malika Oufkir: I cannot say it has been only a good experience. It's like... maybe you never have to experience this. When you have to die and then you realize you are reborn. What I feel now it's impossible to describe because what I feel now it's like the end of a nightmare for me when you have to dieà It's not only happiness, it's like a miracle in my life because to realize that I'm here with you and I have the big chance to meet this woman and really I have no words to speak about this woman...
Audience Member: I am stunned by your resilience. Are you getting help to deal with the long term effects of trauma? Malika Oufkir: You cannot forget easily when you are used to suffer. We are strong and sometimes I think maybe we are too fragile. Life hurts us. We have lost 20 years but we try to manage a normal life. But we have some many respect for food... It's like a religious moment. We used to be hungry and now it's like we eat every minute, every day. But you can not eat... I waiting to feel really hungry before eating. I can't eat in a restaurant because the people are talking and laughing and there is a whole plate of food.
Audience Member: Have you tried counseling? Malika Oufkir: We have no support. I tried twice to see psychiatrist, but it's too strong. Yes, the book was a kind of therapy.
Audience Member: Are your brothers and sisters... how did they feel about you telling the story? Did you consult them to write the book? I mean, was it okay with them to write the book and that you were the spokesperson for all of them? Malika Oufkir: When I wrote the book, I didn't tell them that I was going to write the book. I gave them the book when the book was finished and they had two reactions. The first one, they were so shocked by the reality of their life you know because everyone was trying to... not to forget... but trying to have another life, to reborn. And you realize when you read two words that it's your life. It's terrible to realize that. And the second reaction was... they reproach me. "Why you didn't tell the reality?" And I tried to explain them that finally you have sometimes you cannot found the right words for telling the reality of suffering... Oprah: It wasn't horrible enough.
Audience Member: On a lighter note, I wanted to know are dates really good for your skin? Malika Oufkir: (laughing) You'll have to tell me.
Audience Member: I was also amazed by the story you told. Did you ever write that down and do you have a copy? Do you ever talk about it? Malika Oufkir: Whenever we talked about... It's the best memory that we have of prison.
Oprah: You told that story for how many years? Eleven years. It's the greatest drama ever telling those stories. You weren't on the Hollywood stage but you were on the stage that saved your brothers and sisters.
So what will happen now? Do you think you will go on and the book... Do you see what I was saying the other day, though? That people read the book and they are changed by it—enlightened by it —opened up by it. We see the world differently because of you. And that's part of the reason why you are still here. You lived to tell your story.
I was saying to Malika when she seemed so sad the other day, I said most people, a lot of people, go their whole lives and are never able to own their own truth—to really tell their own story—in such a way that can benefit the lives of other people. And you did that. You did that. That is why you are my hero. Thank you.