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With Zehra...

I’m not a little girl
who used to love walking,
I'm not a little girl
who beats the wind in the mountain.
I'm not a little girl
who easily cries
I'm not a little girl
whose colourful dreams were shattered...
I try not to remember
The weight of all your words
I carry in my mind

Zehra was my second guest. She is a kurdish painter who spent more than 2 years in jail in Turkey. I was a bit anxious because I didn’t know her personally before she came here. One week together, one to one…

I haven’t got a car so we picked her up on Saturday night from Llanidloes with Filiz. Filiz went back to Swansea on Sunday and Sunday could have been my alone day… I have to clean the whole cottage and cook for my guest and enjoy it a bit by myself.  But this Sunday I was with Zehra. I woke up a bit early and I didn’t want to wake her up. I made the fire first, then started cleaning. Zehra had woken up now and on seeing me busy said “Why didn't you wake me up? I have to help you. Your eyes…” She was so cute… She helped me clean the house and I cooked food for us. It was stormy so we stayed at home…

I feel like I’m walking in those labyrinth-like streets of my childhood. The ones I walked for years, tired and with an empty stomach. I was always dreaming of being a guest in one of those houses, where an old lady, her arms folded under her big breasts, her feet too big for her slippers, would ask me “Hey kid, what are you doing here? Come in, eat with us, later one of us will drop you to your home”… I feel like I'm in one of those houses here. I’m a victim of my curiosity but I’m in a completely different, unknown world. This forest pulls me in to itself like a vacuum. 

I know Zehra doesn't want to walk a lot but we have to… On Monday the weather was not good. Strong wind and rain… So we decided not to go so far. We walk to the Penygarreg dam. After I spent one day with her I feel so comfortable and happy to have her in Elan Valley. I’m so glad that my friend suggested that I invite Zehra… Our culture, lifestyle and background is totally different but we enjoy being together, we listen to each other and we create things together. This was my dream and my vision when I applied for this fellowship… Being in nature and creating art with other women.

I didn’t know how I would feel while walking… I kept on saying I didn’t like walking since I arrived in the UK, and people have been forcing me to walk. I had cut all my connections with walking. 

I developed a distaste for walking in 2015, in the midst of curfew, siege, war… There was a curfew on and off for one and a half years in the city where I used to live. First for 9 days, then 15 days, 1 month and at the end, I couldn’t step outside of the house where I took refuge for 5 months. 
After that I had to live as a fugitive for 5 months. Then they put me in prison. I was “inside” for 5 months. After I was released, I spent 5 more months hiding, and then I was arrested and put in prison again, this time for 2 years. 

I’ve talked a lot about myself. That’s why I don’t like walking. I was deprived of walking, it was taken away from me, so I said “Go, take it with you”… When I was in prison, I wasn’t even pacing back and forth, I did only a couple of times if a friend of mine really insisted. I suffered every time I did though. It’s a road going nowhere. You walk a bit and in 5 meters there is a wall, so you have to turn and walk back. You do the same thing 5 steps after, going back and forth, back and forth… Like a ticking clock. Not only does it lead you to nowhere but it is also frustrating. 

It feels like the walls stand there with a command to make you obey. You have to turn back as soon as you face them. No, I can’t obey! A wall can’t have that power over me. This system can’t make me obey it via a wall. It can’t manifest itself in my life with a wall, it can’t make me surrender with a metaphor. 

That’s why I never walked. I hated walking. Whenever I walk, I remember bad memories. I told myself “No, I won’t walk”. 

But today we walked in the forest with Meltem. She said “Listen to the forest, the running water, listen to the silence. Let go of everything inside you while listening to them. If you don’t feel good, we’ll go back”. So I started listening. 

All of a sudden a waterfall appeared in front of us. A huge, majestic waterfall. What’s this? Is it a waterfall? Is it a wall, is it a rampart? 

I’ve seen a lot of dams. I’ve written news about them, I walked, I protested against them. 
Those walls were always quiet. Huge, disgusting walls… Nothing could have overcome them. 
But not this one. Water passes over the wall in here, it revolts against the wall. It says “No, you can’t stand in front of me”. As it overcomes the wall, it also throws out all of its tempestuousness.  I feel like the water also screams for me. It passes over the walls, runs rebelliously, finds its own way. And this majestic wall tries to stand tall in spite of the water running over it. 

The temper of this water has brought the real Zehra back, who had been quiet, acting weird, had problems with herself in the last couple of years. As the water puked, I puked… As it screamed, I screamed. I’ve found myself in a place I had no idea about.

We walked for hours. We chatted all the way along. We talked about trees, the earth, and people… And sometimes we didn’t talk at all, we just stayed silent. We got to know each other through silence. It feels like Meltem has been living here for ages. 

What I had witnessed with Zehra was magical for me. It was proof that nature can cure us and help us find ourselves. After the first day, Zehra wanted to walk more and more…

The next day the weather was not so cold and there was no rain so we decided to walk around the Garreg--ddu Reservoir.

Meltem wakes up early in the morning, cleans the Rayburn, makes the fire, carries firewood inside, cleans around, prepares breakfast. In the morning our chats are usually joyful. I don’t know where we find that many subjects to talk about. And sometimes we stay silent. And how I manage to stay silent, I don’t know that either…  
Today we walked in the forest for 5 hours. How beautiful these trees are. They cling on to the soil with their roots. I love trees. I like trees and stars the most in this life.

I never had been to the place where Zehra grew up. Listening to her childhood and what she had been through made me think a lot…  How borders and nationalities separate us even though we are so similar… How patriarchy teaches us nationalities are more important than being human…  Staying with Zehra shows me once more that only women will be able to change this world. İf they understand each other like us...

This time we climbed up the hill. It was so muddy that we sank into the mud. I covered my feet with cling film to protect them from water and mud. 

The change of colours in the mountains mesmerises me. How beautiful they are. The pastel colours of the mountains in winter time have a big influence on me. 

Meltem made little dolls tonight, she made them very beautifully.  Tonight is my last night. How quickly the time has passed…I really don’t want to go back. 

If pain doesn’t hurt your soul
If pain doesn’t reach your heart
If pain only exists far far away
As if no one is suffering in despair
You have always been more important
You have always made them other

All the words in italics have been written by Zehra Dogan


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