It's been a while since I posted in Mud Mountain. But my thoughts often drift back there. Mud Mountain isn't simply a place, you see. It's a pocket of time. It's a certain mindset and lifestyle too. As I write the concluding chapter of my latest book Dirt Witch, Mud Mountain feels incredibly present. This story of what happened to me when I first moved onto that land in Turkey with a tent and not much else, has taken longer to complete than I anticipated. That is perhaps in part because I wasn't sure whether to let Mud Mountain's secrets go.
The Fugitives (Excerpt from Dirt Witch)
We were sitting in front of my neighbour’s house under a large shade she’d created out of a grapevine. The vine was expansive and abounding. Thick stems crisscrossed over a wire frame from which bundles and bundles of leaves pushed out.
Dudu pulled a plate onto her lap. It was filled with cracked wheat. Deftly, her experienced hands began to sort the bulgur. As usual I gaped in amazement, because there was nothing this woman couldn’t make. She was pretty much self-sufficient. She pressed her own olive oil and pomegranate molasses, she grew all her own fruit, vegetables and herbs. She made her own tomato puree and carob molasses. Her flat breads were piled up in her kitchen like a tower of enormous poppadoms, and there were endless pickles and olives and dried fruits too. She was nearly seventy, owned a hectare of land filled with trees and produce, and managed it almost single-handedly except for the summer tree watering when family would sometimes pop up for the weekend. Dudu thought this was all quite typical, but for me it was an incredible life. She was my survivalist heroine.
“Ahem.” It was Celal who coughed. His shoulders jerked upwards. The little man began to squirm on his stool, and the lines around his eyes started to twitch. It looked as though he had something of personal importance to expound. Finally he rested his tea glass on the plastic table, and made the subject of his twitching known.
“I’m gonna move into my hut next summer. I’ve decided,” he spat the sentence out onto the table, leaving it to glisten in front of us.
I blinked. Leaning back on my chair, I peered past Dudu’s house, and from there I could just about see Celal’s hut. The small wooden shack perched uncomfortably on the hillside, and depending on your point of view it was either a crime of engineering or a miracle of amateur carpentry. Celal had built it himself, much of it out of recycled materials. He’d gathered the timber and wooden cladding from another dismantled shed, the tiles were second hand, and the windows and doors were from scrap yards. It was actually rather funky in my opinion. But to live in it?
“Do you think it’s safe?” I said. “I mean, it won’t fall down on you, will it?” I glanced over at the wonky wooden stilts it was squatting upon. It resembled some sort of spindly-legged creature, and a drunk one at that.
“Bin fine for two winters,” Celal sniffed and downed his second glass of tea. Dudu remained tactfully diffident. She stood up, tucked her headscarf in once again, and poured Celal and I yet another glass of tea. Eventually, she broke the silence.
“Yes it will be just fine. You can keep all your food in my fridge, can’t you? And fill up your water here too if you need to.”
“Gonna get water from the borough,” Celal said.
“Yes, but until then…”
“But why?” I blurted. “You have a decent house in the village. Why do you want to live up here?”
“Me kids are in my house. You know, they’re a young couple. I mean we have two kitchens and the like, but I wanna sit in me own house, on me own land, with me own trees. Everyone needs their space.”
And ain’t that the truth?
Looking at Dudu and Celal in turn, I chuckled. We were a rum lot, hugging the outskirts of Yaprakli village like three self-sufficient fugitives. Celal in his hut with Apo the dog, Dudu in her house churning out a never ending stream of natural produce, and me, the crazy English woman in the tent. Lord knows why I was surprised at Celal’s decision when I was at least ten steps closer to lunacy than he was.
This need for a space of one’s own is so primal. It is such a basic yearning. A garden, a shelter, and sovereignty over your own territory. As a woman, I knew why I was going to the limits for it; In a world where the game plan has mostly been designed by men for men, I wanted a space to be free, a place where I could have room just to see who I really was, and what I was capable of. I wanted to dress how I felt like, be ugly or pretty and it not matter. But what I wanted most of all was to create my own world. One that adhered to my values.
And perhaps this was why I was surprised at Celal. I understood Dudu. I understood myself. Both Dudu and I were survivors from The Man’s World in our different ways. But I hadn’t considered that some men were in cages too. To be a sensitive, caring man, to be a man who hears the animals and plants, a man with a heart in a boarish, brutally systematic, and mostly moronic culture, is hard.
“Yes it’s great to be alone on your own land Celal. You can do exactly what you want!” I felt my grin stretching so wide it made my cheeks smart.
“Aye. I can see it is.” Celal chuckled. Apo raised his fluffy dog head and nuzzled the nobbled brown twig of his owner’s leg.
As I sat with my two neighbours, such a tenderness rose inside me. We differed from each other in so many ways, in age, gender and culture. Yet here was this bond. And it gleamed and shone like a golden thread, winding around our love of our gardens, our independence, and our space. This is the truth of being human. The powers that be can segregate us and label us as much as they want, but in essence all people, male and female, black, brown and white, Eastern or Western, right-wing or left-wing, come wired with the same underlying drives: To be free to express themselves, to love and be loved, and to grow.
A heartfelt thank you to all those supporting me on Patreon, and for allowing not only The Mud Home, but my stories and creative writing to continue.
Atulya K Bingham
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