Gone Round the Bend…

Telegraph Island in Oman (Photo: Emily O'Dell)

Telegraph Island in Oman (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

Before I left the Sultanate of Oman for the summer to do a fellowship at the American Center for Mongolian Studies in Mongolia, I took a boat ride to the isolated town of Kumzar (the northernmost tip of Oman). On the boat trip, my friends took me ’round the bend to Telegraph Island, a bare, rocky islet within one of the fjords of Musandam which served in the 19th century as a British communications post to relay messages from India to Britain. The isolation, heat, and hostile local tribes allegedly led British soldiers stationed there to go mad — hence giving birth to the phrase “going around the bend” (it’s not clear if the deaths on the island were from suicide, murder, or both). I have to confess: as we were swerving through the endless fjords, I felt myself going a little bit mad — the imposing, encircling fjords mask the horizon line, and the monotony of fjord after fjord makes one feel like they might just be the last one left on earth. In June 1867, Col Stewart wrote: “In a purely sanitary point of view, it would be desirable to move the establishment to a less confined locality. The heat…the high encircling rocks and limited view to seaward must have a depressing effect upon Europeans, especially during the hot season.”

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