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Serendipity: At El-Kharga

The Oasis of El Kharga in Egypt

I am currently reading Jan Morris’s Contact! (2009), which is a whole book full of serendipity type encounters which travel writer Jan Morris (formerly James Morris when she was a male) had all around the world. This is only the first of what will probably prove to be more postings along this line.

El Kharga is one of the five isolated oases which lie well to the west of the Nile in the Egyptian desert, and it always has been a place of exile. Nestorius was banished there, and Athanasius too, it is said. In our time political prisoners are immured in a detention camp at the oasis, and I once encountered some of them. They were patients in the local hospital, lying on straw palliasses on the floor of a bare ward. A murderous lot they looked, all the more sinister because bandages and plasters covered their eyes and supported their limbs—one and all were enemies of the state, and their interrogations had not been easy. I talked to them warily of this and that, the conditions of their detention and their hopes of release, and they told me that every morning they were given a lecture of indoctrination by a representative of the regime. Something in their eyes, though, told me they were far from brainwashed, and now and then a particularly savage old dissident lying in a corner intervened with a caustic witticism, delivered in the most cultured of English accents and with the bite of an incisive mind. Thus Nestorius might have spoken, I thought, during his exile at El Kharga.