It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
Dawn can be much like dusk. Only colder. The darkness capitulates. A ridge of mountains pulls itself out of the night. Clouds distinguish themselves from the sky. And the world exists once more. It’s never the same world as yesterday. The night changes everything.
The ridges I spotted as day broke on the 7th of November, were the mighty caps of the Bey Mountains. Snow hadn’t reached them yet, their treeless heads were still brown. A road threaded through them. The road I was on. It plunged north westwards to the city of Izmir, slicing through bygone cities and ancient burial mounds.
Rotty’s furry head poked over the armrest. I stroked between her ears. Panting a little, she nuzzled the arm of our driver. Through the windscreen I watched bands of sky turn from lead to steel. The twine of the road grew clearer. This was my last dawn in Turkey. For a while at least. After almost twenty years, I was leaving the land of my heart. Because my heart had moved. Though where?
Twenty years is a long time. I was 26 when I moved to Turkey, a young woman very different from the mud-home building, wilderness-loving witch I am now. I married here, divorced here, moved homes, built and lost businesses. I had woven friendships, networks and communities over the years. I knew the ropes. Understood the rigging. Could make my way through the coded warrens of Turkey’s various systems.
It’s a lot to leave behind. More than just a mud home on a beautiful hill.
Yes. More than that.
It began with a carob tree whispering across the ravines of time, and a bulldozer growling at my fence. It began when I imagined building another home and felt a flurry inside my heart. It began when a friend of mine sent me photos of land the other side of Europe, when I cast my eye upon the Atlantic coast and sensed something inside me hungering. Yes, that’s where it began.
But it has been transmuted into something else. For the world has shifted into another shape. I’m not the only one moving. Turkey is on a road too, and like me it’s changed direction. One midsummer night there was this mysterious coup, and since then a good 70 000 people (at least) have been arrested. Opposition newspapers have been closed, opposition politicians arrested. It’s pretty much a fait accompli. They are discussing the reintroduction of the death penalty as I write.
I no longer enter much political debate. It’s too uninspiring. (And depending on where you live, too incriminating). The serious study of a tree or a bird offers far more light than the intellectualised bickering or emotional ranting of the political domain. Besides, it's not the focus of this blog, nor my area of expertise. But for what it’s worth (and it might not be worth much - though let's face it, few of the official pundits seem any more capable of prophecy) this is a snippet of my perspective from the inside.
Some say Turkey will become Iran. Others say Afghanistan. One or two are in complete denial and pretend nothing at all is happening. I seriously doubt Turkey will become Afghanistan or Iran. The leadership is far more ambitious (in case you hadn’t noticed). This isn’t the nineteen nineties, either. In the new world, Turkey is financially sturdy (currently 18th largest economy in the world, with a higher GDP than Saudi Arabia and Switzerland) and in possession of some business savvy. Lest we forget, it also holds the 10th most powerful military in the world, fourth largest in NATO. Socio-economically speaking, I’d start looking vaguely in the direction of the U.A.E, if you want to see where Turkey’s trajectory is headed. The U.A.E with a hefty army, a lust for importance, and a toe inside Europe.
Oh well (sigh). I expect international business will carry on as usual, regardless of human rights (Britain is already talking about trade deals with Turkey). And if you keep your head down and your mouth shut, you might just be able to pretend all is sort of alright, until they drag off your neighbour for questioning that is, or build a shopping mall in your back garden.
But for many citizens of the country, for those who can’t shoehorn themselves into the narrow social constraints of what is deemed acceptable by those in power; for women, for the ethnic minorities, for the secularists, for those who adore Turkey’s incredible nature, the artists, the LGBT community, child brides, anyone who wants to think outside the box and speak their mind, and for whom Tommy Hilfiger and a macchiatto simply aren't enough compensation...for them? Right now, the new Turkish dawn isn’t too rosy.
This has all been brewing for years of course. But like a slow-swelling boil that finally bursts, the explosion of pus is startling. I sense something I haven’t felt in Turkey since my very first visits back in the late eighties. An undercurrent of unease. And the hurried closing of mouths.
Staring through the windscreen on that early November morning, I imbibed Turkey's natural beauty one last time. The jagged upsurges of mountain rock were petering out, leaving the hills to deflate on the plains. Our jeep hummed up a gear. The sun peered over a summit, and in an instant the waves of the valley were gold-plated. The road spawned factories and conurbations. The temperature rose. Pulling off my jacket, I stretched, then reached for my bottle of water. I noted, despite this parting of ways, how inspirited I felt.
There is something inordinately therapeutic about the road. It is a continuum of reason in a mad world. A rolling sequence of reassurance. The landscape changes. Mountains disappear. Orchards flick in and out of view. Cities sprout. Flocks of birds fly overhead one minute. Fighter jets roar over the next. But the road is still there. Moving. From one place to the next. Holding your feet and guiding your soul.
The steel tube of Izmir airport pulled into view. I turned to stroke my dog still grinning on the back seat, wonderfully oblivious that she was about to fly across Europe. As we pulled up to the shiny rectangles of the departure doors, I realised something. The only other time I had set foot in Izmir airport was the first time I visited the country way back in 1988.
Smiling, I opened my passenger door. I was leaving Turkey by the same gateway I had entered almost three decades apart. Once again the lightning of coincidence was striking my path, and the scene was set for kismet. For a journey from East back to West. To new lands that whisper. New rocks with old memories. And a new Eden.
Atulya K Bingham
Sick of the screen?
You can now get a beautiful, illustrated paperback edition of Mud Mountain.
"Beautifully written and inspiring." The Owner Builder Magazine.
The Mud Home is expensive to maintain and a full time to job to run. If you are inspired by it or finding it useful do consider becoming a patron so that it can continue.
If I can build a house, anyone can. Here's how I did it.
Be sure to catch the next installment by joining The Mud Circle.