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Day 97: Oran

Ceuta, Spain 
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The Portuguese-built bastions of what is now a piece of Spanish territory in Africa, the city of Ceuta.
Michael Palin - SaharaAs if things aren't delicate already, my first walk through Oran reminds me that this is the city immortalised by Camus in his novel La Peste (The Plague).

In it one of the characters actually keels over and dies of the plague on the stage of the Opera House. This splendidly florid edifice still stands at one side of the Place du 1er Novembre 1954, formerly the Place d'Armes. It makes for an interesting culture clash. Brazenly bare-breasted women loom large at the top of the Opera House, whilst a statue in the middle of the square bears a quotation from the Koran: 'And Victory is from God and God is merciful.'

This then is the end of the road. It looks as if the only way from here to Morocco might be by sea, and, given the current state of relations between Morocco and Algeria, even that could be tricky.

Back to the hotel. Get talking to a tall, rather striking Algerian with a family in Stockholm. He is curious to know what I think of the bombing of Afghanistan. Something in his manner rubs me up the wrong way and instead of expressing my doubts I dither indecisively. He thinks it will only strengthen the hand of the Islamists. I shift the discussion to something that has worried me ever since I came to Algeria. What happened after the glorious armed struggle against the French? How come the freedom fighters of the FLN became the oppressors? How did the anti-colonial legacy of the 1960s become today's 'Pouvoir', a military state almost wholly dependent on oil and gas exports to the West?

He looks witheringly at me.

'A hundred and forty years of colonialism cannot be destroyed right away.'

He shrugs and reaches for his briefcase.

'Mistakes will be made.'
Choose another day from Sahara


  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 97
  • Country/sea: Algeria
  • Place: Oran
  • Book page no: 251

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