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With Filiz...

Full of seedlings...
Yearning for blue roses
This path
Opens our weaknesses 
Like a song
That remains
Full of roses
And dead silence
Being reborn
With every century 
That inks into
A new chapter
(Filiz Çelik)

Filiz is my first guest. She is a systemic psychotherapist. She is Kürdish and lives in Swansea. I met her when she came to see my theatre play “Enough is Enough” in Swansea. We have known each  other for nearly six years now... 

My stay with Meltem was different to her other guests, not only on the account of me not being a member of the artistic community, but also us needing to run some errands and catch up with work. My retreat began late Saturday afternoon when I arrived feeling fatigued after a very busy week. Arriving at the Valley felt like stepping into another world, the chilly air of the valley was refreshing every inch of my body, my mind was awakening to sense the windy postures of the valley, the majestic beauty of the beast that is called a dam. I picked up Meltem at the visitor centre and we drove to the cottage. I needed to stay silent for a couple of days and immerse myself in the tranquillity of the place. We decided to run some errands the next day and then start our week as she outlined in her project.

The cottage is cut off from the world except for the telephone landline. To receive a mobile phone signal or internet access one needs to walk to the Elan Valley Visitor Centre which is about four miles away from the cottage. Electricity is supplied to the cottage via a generator which could only be switched on for half of the day and heating is through a wood burner in the lounge and a Rayburn in the kitchen. It sounds very idyllic! Yet, it is not! 

We walked a well-marked path, sometimes it was a bit muddy and slippery but this is all about my project… My guests walk with me in all but the most severe weather conditions in the Elan Valley.  My plan is to walk five hours every day but I understand it’s not easy for everyone, especially when it’s raining or strong wind. I also realised that five hours is not realistic for some. So if the weather is really bad we change our plan, something that is not always easy for me... 

On Tuesday I woke up and my eyes hurt so much. I felt panicked because I have a chronic dry eye condition that leads to erosion of the cornea. This is when the layer of cells on the surface of the cornea loosens from the layer underneath. It is very painful and makes my vision blurry or hazy. The pain starts suddenly, often when I first wake in the morning.

 My eyelids stick to the cornea. Because the epithelium is not firmly attached, opening my eyelids might occasionally peel the epithelium off. It is such a painful experience. When it happens I have to go to hospital. Before I came here I talked to my wonderful ophthalmologist Mohammed Muhtaseb who advised me to protect my eyes very carefully because the conditions in the Elan Valley Cottage is not good for my eyes. So I am always very careful.  I  use eye protection glasses when I burn the fire, and when I’m out walking…  I always clean my hands. I clean my eyes with a tea tree oil pad, I bathe them in warm water twice a day. Before sleeping I tape them closed. 

In the morning I woke up in pain. My heart was pushing my skin out… I’m sweating… If my eyes could not open it would be a disaster…  I tried to open them very slowly… Thank goodness it’s not stuck…  My right eye gets red  and my eyelids are swollen…. I had pain…I tried to ignore my pain but it was so strong…  I made the fire and cleaned downstairs but my eyes hurt so much… I said to Filiz I have to rest.. I taped my eyes and went to bed…. I only want to sleep… I had pain…

At lunch time I heard a knock. I opened my door with one of my eyes closed like a pirate. Adem and Rob from Welsh Water brought curtains for the cottage… While they fit my curtains I ask them to help me to fire the Rayburn. Thanks to them, my Rayburn is working properly and the rooms no longer get smokey.

Meltem’s eye condition flared up and she had to remain in bed. This gave me an opportunity to spend some time by myself and organize my activities independently. I took a walk to and back from the Elan Valley Visitor Centre. The walk was on a plain path with a relatively smooth surface. I had the opportunity to take in where I was. A beast of dams built to provide drinking water for Birmingham. I realised that I knew nothing about dams. My generic knowledge equates dams with destruction. They are signs of political power! The politically strong take people’s histories, submerging their towns, villages, memories, and sense of community. Giant reservoirs are not only holding water but signify a different version of local histories lost to some political power. My steps are getting slower as I think about what had happened here!  What is my walking doing? Is it idle pacing from place to place or am I passing by great stories untold? Where are the narrators of these stories, what did they do with those stories? Did they suppress them into reservoirs of their subconscious and flood them with mundane tasks of survival?

Luckily, some of my questions were soon to be responded to as our third day was an exception in Meltem’s diary, marked as a non-walking day because she was expecting members of the Elan Valley Board to pay her a visit. Four lovely women arrived, and as I was making tea for them, Meltem’s voice was octaves higher than usual. She was not able to contain her joy and excitement for the fellowship and for living in this cottage. During this meeting, I found out more about the Elan Valley and the construction of the dams. They are products of Victorian Engineering, there was no civil
society movement protesting their construction. We reckoned that people might have been happy that it created employment for a few decades. It was commonly acknowledged that different times produced different reactions. Perhaps at the time, these dams were built there was not a considerable knowledge base for the public to appreciate its impact! Noticing my interest in the topic I was invited to a talk in Rhayader which was about how the landscapes would have changed and communities would have been destroyed if all the dams proposed in the late 1800s were built. Through a comment by an audience member, I learned that there were plans in the 1980s to build another dam on the Elan Valley but fearing the public reaction, money was spent repairing the leakages on the existing pipes in England.  I was also invited to go back to Elan Valley and talk about oral history collections. I neared the end of my stay with a solid plan in place to return and with an opportunity to connect my content to that of Elan Valley. 

After this episode, I was able to open my eyes each morning. I thank goodness they are not getting worse and so I’m able to stay here… Each day  I walk and thank mother nature for accepting me here…  I’m so glad I am able to handle this situation without causing any problems for others…

In my mind, Elan Valley evoked a lot in me and I had much to reflect on myself. It was not just about being a woman which occupies most of Meltem’s literary work. She has positioned herself to focus on gender issues, from protesting inequality to sheltering sexually abused people. I admire her passion and the love that she is able to influence her audiences very quickly and create better informed people about women’s rights! Women’s rights! A gigantic topic that I will not go into here.  Being a woman is a political arena for me, something that I have to walk, run, fight, give-up and take-up again, some kind of a struggle where I have to reinvent how I challenge all the time. It is embedded in how I reflect on everything else; it is part and parcel of the politics of living/surviving as who I am.  There are forever questions about your choices, you are constantly pushed into justifying the way you exist.

I think about
The sun, the mean
And the stars
I think about what is away
And what is close
I think about me
Staying between the north and the south…
(Filiz Çelik)

All the words in italics have been written by Filiz Çelik


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