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Thoughts reverent and irreverent from the road in Turkey

THE GOATHERD OF BEÇİN

by in bloggingaboutturkey
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I had such fond memories of Beçin, near Milas, but of course since my last visit the tidy-uppers had been at work, restoring the fine 14th-century mosque so that it now looked brand new. That was bad enough. What was worse and what always makes my blood boil was that, having spent heaven knows how much money on an unnecessary restoration, the people responsible had locked the gates and walked away. 

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Before you could see inside the mosque. Now you can’t. That was bad enough but then I rounded the corner and realized that it had been turned into the focal point of a new picnic area. Two fireplaces had been installed, both of them defaced by someone called Mestan. A stream had been diverted to run through the site. Needless to say the whole area was strewn with litter amid which a couple of dogs were scavenging for scraps. Even the side wall of the mosque now had graffiti on it, albeit of a faint, tentative kind as if even the tagger’s heart hadn’t really been in it. 

Grinding my teeth in frustration I pressed on, happy to find that even though a new fountain had been added to the side of the old Kübbeli Çeşme nothing at all had been done to the Kızılhan which still stood as roofless and abandoned as it had done for centuries. Shortly after that I came to a stretch of the old city wall. There was a gap in it which, as I remembered, led to the more remote monuments of old Beçin. 

Then something rather wonderful happened. Stepping through that gap was rather like stepping through the back of the wardrobe in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. On the other side I found not Narnia but old Menteşe Beçin, the Beçin that had been the capital of an independent emirate that had picked up where the old Selçuk state had dropped off, a Beçin that was still mercifully free of the attentions of picnickers, litter louts, and players of boombox car radios. 

As the sun started to set I strolled alone amid the ruins. In the fields the wheat shimmered softly golden. Above giant thistles goldfinches twittered. In the air high above me passing beeeaters warbled. The roar of the crickets in hundreds of gnarled old olive trees provided a steady backing track.

Eventually I came to the vast Emir’s Han, an empty enclosure whose existence I’d completely forgotten. Then wandering out again on the far side I came face to face with a goatherder. She was slender, willowy in the way that only those who spend entire lives on their feet can be. Her face was nutbrown and timeless. I guessed she was probably about 40 but really she could have been any age. On her head she wore a rough cotton scarf. Her şalvar of cotton revealed rips from the thistles. They skimmed her ankles. There was a cotton bag strung across her back. 

Given the hour and my solitary status she seemed remarkably unsurprised at bumping into me. She was herding a flock of black goats, a mass of bleating, farting, bell-jingling silky hair that moved steadily through the undergrowth, reaching up occasionally into the trees for especially tempting titbits.

“How many do you have?” I asked her.

“About 150,” she replied. “Plus the kids.”becinblog4

Everything else she said was lost in a dialect that might as well have been Menteşe for all I could understand it. Slowly, though, we reached out to each other, establishing that, yes, I was wandering around on my own (although I lied and claimed that a taxi driver was waiting for me) and that, yes, I did want to find the mosque and han that lay even further into the distance. She pointed, she clicked, I thought I understood and made off anyway, suddenly conscious of how very odd my behaviour in being alone here at such an hour must seem. 

The path I thought she’d indicated took me eventually to a building I certainly hadn’t seen before. It was unlabelled. A mosque? A han? I really didn’t know. Looking across from the shade of a huge oak tree stood a bullock, young and pretty with balls like bright shiny pink plums and plastic tags hanging from his ears like special bovine jewellery. Beside him was a well which, when I inspected it, appeared to have been made by reusing a piece of Menteşe marble. Who knows – maybe that, in turn, might have been reused from Roman Mylasa (nearby Milas). 

In a field to the side a donkey looked up briefly, before returning, disappointed, to its meal. There was a farm just beside the ruin that I certainly didn’t remember from my last visit. But by now it was gone 6.30 pm and I still had the longish walk back to Milas ahead of me. becinblog3

I’d no sooner started to retrace my steps than I ran into the goatherd again. “Too far?” she asked, and I nodded sadly.

“No, no,” she said. “You go this way, then round, then back again.”

“You know it all so well,” I said in rueful appreciation.

“I’m used to it,” she replied. “I was born here,” and at once she was away, scrambling over a stone wall, her şalvar riding up to reveal her plastic sandals. 

I hastened after her, wishing I could quell the slight worries eating away at my peace of mind. I was alone up here and the day was drawing in. She had her husband with her and, I assumed, her son. How easy it must be for a man, I thought. There would be no need for these worries that came not so much from any real fear of attack but from awareness that what I was doing cut across cultural norms and so left me vulnerable.

But now my helper seemed to have arrived at the point when she thought that I ought to be able to manage alone. “There,” she said pointing. “A mosque and a han. You come back the same way and follow the path back.”

Then she was gone, off with her goats, clicking and calling to them as they bleated and farted their way to their beds, leaving me to the solitude of the ruins and the long walk back to the hotel.

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