It was exactly four years ago. May 2011, I moved on to this modest square of Turkish mountainside. I staggered down the sun-flogged track lugging a tent, a sleeping bag and a pick-axe. Hacking a square out of the thistles, I set up camp. There was no power and no running water. I didn’t have much of plan, not that that’s anything new. I was about to hit 40, and I’d woken up one day to find rather disconcertingly that I’d lost the will to teach. I had $6000 left in my account, a twenty-year-old car and my plot of land. That was it.
Little did I know on that early summer day, that in eight months I’d be building a house. I couldn’t even bang a nail in straight at the time. But it happened. And in the process we all had a ball— a big, round face-splattering mud ball. I can’t really say my mud home is finished. I doubt it will ever be. The back step still languishes in state of ankle-wrecking incompletion. I have mosaics to craft into the walls, the kitchen to overhaul. But the little roundhouse is a circle of sweet mud happiness, and it is from there that I finally finished the story. So if you have followed my earthbag adventure and wonder what exactly went on in those frantic six weeks at the end of 2011 while I raced against time and money to create a shelter, here it is: Mud Ball.
“Kerry! I keep telling you, but you just won’t listen. You need to build a house now! Winter is coming. A storm’s coming. It says so on the telly.” My neighbour Dudu had appeared at my fence only the day before, wisps of hair darting out of her headscarf. “And don’t forget. You can always stay on my sofa... oh but you won’t. I know!” She was wringing her hands. “You’re so stubborn. It’s English stubbornness, that’s what it is. God knows it’ll be the death of you!” She huffed and puffed, popped her false teeth in and out, and shook her fist at me.
From the other side of the fence I looked down at her, not due to superciliousness but because she only reached my shoulder.
“I’ll be fine, Dudu. The tent is raised off the ground now. Anyway I’m into storms, they’re exciting.”
Dudu screwed up her eyes and turned away in disgust. But she wasn’t the only one to fret over my houseless predicament. Celal, my wiry garden help, wandered up to the fence. He leaned on a large pickaxe and looked me up and down quizzically, his face a brown web of wrinkles.
“Aye, you wanna be building yourself a hut to park your bum in before winter, look at mine – didn’t cost me a ha’penny but it does the job, eh?”
Celal always spoke using little or no punctuation and I was left squinting as I tried to work out what he said. Once the meaning dawned on me, I swallowed a reply. Well, I could see quite clearly his house hadn’t cost a half-penny. It was something of a wonder that shack was still standing. My tent appeared by far the safer option.
“That weather’s a comin’ in, yer know and it’s not all sunshine and cherries after that. Your arse’ll be in the mud and you’ll be swimmin’ in it I tell yer, it’ll be a swampahogshit that’s what it’ll be.”
“A swamp of what?”
I remembered that conversation now, and I slid deeper into my sleeping bag. Celal’s warning echoed through the sleepless vale of my mind as I listened to sheets of rain break over my tent. I couldn’t see it, but knew there was indeed a swampahogshit occurring on the other side of my canvas. As soon as I put a foot out of the tent, I’d step into it.
Atulya K Bingham
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