Lydia Barends runs a small guesthouse, Dirimguesthouse, on a mountainside in western Turkey, where she lives with her dogs, cats and donkey. “Apart from being sociable and good companions, the animals are also very useful, because the dogs guard the house, the cats catch mice, and the donkey keeps the grass short and accompanies me to the forest when I fetch wood.” This month, Lydia tells Flow about her life.
The hermit, who I shared the well with, was called Muharrem, but everyone called him amca (Uncle). He was an important part of my life because, for 12 years, he was my closest neighbor. He didn’t have any family. He made a living from odd jobs and grew tomatoes, peppers and potatoes. For the past few years, he no longer able to work and he found it difficult to walk. When he was sick, I cooked for him. One wet winter, when things were really not going well for him, he decided to go to a nursing home. Every spring, he would however – much to my dismay – ‘escape’ and suddenly I would see him sitting in the middle of the field, leaning on his cane on his way to his cabin.
Last year, he made his last trip. One day he was here, the next he was gone. He had secretly got on a bus and gone to the village where he was born, 1,500 kilometers away. Five weeks later, he returned. He had changed and had a twinkle in his eye once again. The malevolent flame was gone and he had become calmer. In the evening, I heard him on his porch, singing “O de gider, o de gecer” (everything passes). A few months later in the fall, he passed away.
Although it was sometimes hard to take care of him, I learned a lot from him. Together we planted the first fruit trees and vines, during a raging winter storm. It’s not easy placing something into the ground here, because there are lots of large stones that need to be dug up first. I would make a hole using a pickaxe, and then Uncle would get down on his knees beside it and pull out the stones with his weathered hands. Then we would put the vines in, strung like a bow – that way, they would root well. Uncle had a lot of sense when it came to plants. Everything he put in the ground grew and blossomed. Take the garlic for example: for me, it wouldn’t grow, but for him, it lay in abundance, even amongst the weeds.
Uncle was thin and ate simply: potatoes, tomatoes, eggs and hot peppers – as hot as possible – and a lot of yogurt with bread. Once a month, he would slaughter a chicken, which was then cooked in a large pot over a fire in the stone circle in front of his cabin. He would sit by the fire with his cat, both of them content, and feed the fire with long twigs. He wasn’t a very talkative man, but he could talk for hours – and laugh out loud – with children. He handled animals really well, too – even allowing the marten that lurked amongst his chicks to hunt its prey. Because he always sat outside his hut, he saw everything – a fox with her playful cubs, or birds of prey high in the sky – whereas I didn’t see anything. But nowadays, I do sit on the bench outside my house at times, just doing nothing. I gaze at the passing clouds, and occasionally see the buzzard eagles or a fox sneaking stealthily by.