Five years ago, young Aimee Fitzgerald penned a message of hope, stuffed it in a bottle and dropped it in the Gulf of Mexico off St. Petersburg, Fla.

"My name is Aimee," wrote the then-9-year-old. "If anybody finds this, please write me and let me know where and when you found it. Thank you."Last month, Aimee got a pen pal beyond the reach of most childhood dreams. A Moroccan sailor named Elaroui Abdellatif found the aged bottle and tattered letter Feb. 2 on the shore of Laayoune in Western Sahara, on the Atlantic coast in northwest Africa.

"I didn't think it would go to Africa," said Aimee, standing again at the shoreline where she launched her childhood wish March 12, 1984. "I remember throwing it in. And I didn't think it would go too far."

At first it didn't.

On March 28, 1984, Aimee, back home in Gradyville, Pa., received a letter from a Newfoundland couple who had vacationed just up the shore from where the girl had stayed with her family. The couple had found the bottle, popped the wax-sealed cork, read the note, resealed it and sent it on its way again.

Aimee said the couple wrote her anonymously with no return address. She said they told her they had placed another note in the bottle, asking the finder to write "the little girl."