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April 22, 2010

Not going to a place (or, I’ll miss you, Nestorius)

Exit sign in Egypt

Somewhere in Egypt

The Patriarch of Constantinople may have spent some time at Al-Kharga Oasis, but I had to give it a miss. And I really, really hated to do that.

Nestorius (c.386-c.451), to simplify a complex issue, was the loser in one of the great theological controversies in Christian history, and so he found himself booted out of his patriarchate and sent deep into exile in Egypt’s desert. While Al-Kharga wasn’t the absolute end of the Earth — long before Nestorius it had been a stopover on an important trade route — it was not Cancun, nor was it Constantinople. As my guidebook says, “Its remote location, punishing summer heat and destructive winds mean the oasis was synonymous with misery and exile.”

And so I wanted to go here, not only for the potential taste of misery and exile, but because I had studied the history of these theological controversies in grad school. I wanted to see something of the landscape, the fierce heat. I wanted to sit in the old ruins outside modern Al-Kharga and imagine Nestorius remembering his days in Constantinople as that hot desert wind, so unlike the breeze off the Bosporus, blew into his face.

Unfortunately, I had a problem. Or maybe two.

After almost two weeks photographing around Luxor, the desert heat had wiped me out, and so I wondered if I really had the energy to make the day-long journey to Al-Kharga, which would have then been followed by days of wandering around (or mostly just sitting in) the ruins as temperatures soared above 100 degrees Farenheit.

More important to my decision-making, however, was simply the constraint of time. I have a Syrian visa that will expire in several weeks. In order to make use of this visa, I have to move at a certain speed so that I can reach Syria in time, which means that between here and there I need to say no to some places I’d really like to visit. Of course, even without a visa expiration date, our time is often limited as we travel. For me, saying “no” to a place which is near and which I would like to see (but can’t) is one of the challenging aspects of being on the road.

Perhaps I’ll never return to Egypt and so I’ll never see Al-Kharga. And if not, for the rest of my life, I’ll sometimes imagine what might have been had I gone there, sitting in the ruins with a notepad in my lap and fifteen liters of water by my side, and a nauseatingly hot wind blasting my face.

But while wondering, I’ll also remember this: We can’t see it all; no one ever does.

Posted by | Comments (1) 
Category: Africa, Images from the road, Notes from the collective travel mind


One Response to “Not going to a place (or, I’ll miss you, Nestorius)”

  1. Asa Says:

    You can’t see everything so I think this is just inevitable. We’ve left a lot left unseen on our trip. We spent a month in Australia and never made it to Sydney for goodness sake! I tell myself I’m leaving something for next time but I know that I may never make it back to some of the places…

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