My interview with the Vegan Society of Ireland is now available for viewing online.
My interview with the Vegan Society of Ireland is now available for viewing online.
For details of the launch of my latest book:
I decided to visit Portuguese ecocommunity Tamera based on conversations with four separate people I had met in India. I felt like I was receiving a message to go there and that there was some reason for it. What the reason was I am still not sure but I followed my instinct anyway. I committed to four weeks in the community’s gardens learning permaculture and volunteering my services.
I was somewhat disappointed to find that the big South Lake Garden which I was assigned to was not really permaculture at all. The head farmer, Jorg, drove around in a tractor and used a plough to prepare the land. The gardens were large and often had just one crop per field. He did not produce his own compost, instead buying sheep manure from local farmers.
Jorg disappeared for most of the day and left instructions to carry out one particular task. Often it was weeding, mulching or hoeing. In the summer sun, this was energy sapping and uninspiring. Although all of the garden teams started off the day at seven o’clock with a short meditation circle, I felt like I was taking orders and working for the man. In my second week we were told by the team leader (himself aspiring to be a Tamerian) that we were not working hard enough. Feelings of resentment began to surface. I was not the only one. Another volunteer felt an angry energy from the team leader. I tried to voice my feelings when the team leader called a closing circle after a heated discussion with one of the volunteers. I had already tried at a weekly group meeting but Jorg didn’t seem interested.I did not feel that the team leader was open to my feedback. I noticed that while he delegated the monotonous work to us he preoccupied himself with the more interesting tasks or just stood in supervision. For a place that aspires to move away from the capitalist system of hierarchy and division of labour, this behaviour didn’t seem to fit. I asked to move to another garden team but the people in charge told me they didn’t like people moving because they have to teach them all over again.
I finally had my move after two weeks when I told them I was getting a bad energy from the team leader and that I would even move to the kitchen if I had to. The new group was much more interesting. The gardens (in the Valley and by Lake 1) were much more varied, prettier and greener, They bursted with life and had ample surrounding areas for wildlife to flourish. The head gardener, Robert was also present more often so I had more opportunity to learn.
My first two days were spent shovelling and rotating kitchen compost, reaping rye and oats, watering and ‘ploughing’ with huge forks which are levered by standing on the forks and swinging the body back and forth. As I walked back to campus, I picked the apricots, nectarines, peaches and strawberries that were just coming into season. The apples were starting to ripen too. Huge numbers of swallows, frogs, dragonflies, butterflies, rhinocerous beetles – and mosquitoes – were at home here.
I was asking lots of questions and trying to understand the processes. Ultimately however Robert exploded and started shouting at me, telling me I was asking to many questions and telling me I was annoying him. My questions were around the compost from the toilets. Robert had not carried out any tests on the compost to make sure that pathogens had been removed. I asked him how long the “shit” had been processed for before use. He tried to avoid my questioning and eventually told me that he would not talk to me anymore. “It is not shit it is liquid” he kept shouting.
The free love aspects were becoming more and more obvious as I heard tales of midnight romps from one of the girls I started here with. She was in her element and had been intimate with several men or women in the same night. I was also offered a ‘kiss ticket’ by her. If I accepted it led to the inevitable, I kept the ticket and was free to use it as an offer to another. I realised how closed off we were in the west to new ideas about love and sexuality and I became aware of how I supressed a lot of my feelings without even thinking about it. I was very much out of my comfort zone in Tamera and it pushed a lot of buttons. While the free love theory seemed reasonable nobody seemed to have mastered it here and everyone still struggled with feelings of jealousy and rejection. The big question that remained for me was how someone can remain emotionally independent and yet commit themselves into a deep and loving relationship. In Ta Mera they have a phrase for emotional dependence – it is called “giving away your blue ball.
The Tamerians were forced to leave their original home in the Black Forest region of Germany in 1995 when they received negative press when they tried to defend a man who had been accused of illicit sexual affairs with a girl at the community. The Tamerians claimed that the press had paid off this girl to come up with a story. They claim that their ideas pertaining to love and sexuality have always been misunderstood.
There were some trips away from the community too. We visited the beach at the Mira Estuary by the town of Milfontes, we swam in the cool river gorge (called Paradise). The taxi driver pointed out the abandoned buildings along the way, telling us that everyone had moved to the cities to find jobs. H epointed out the now redundant school which he said was buzzing with children only thirty years before.
There was also a trip to the local 108 community where people sat in a circle singing hippy songs and getting stoned and a new community where one of our friends passed around magic mushrooms around the camp fire. I’m still not sure if it was the mushrooms or the atmosphere that made everything a little dreamy that night.
Meanhwile the weekly ‘Political Cafe’ met to debate the merits of the World Cup of football in Brazil. I was one of many voices calling for a boycott. Guests were shown footage of horrendous violence meted out on protesters who have been squeezed out of their homes to make way for super stadiums. Billions in taxpayer funding is being diverted away from social services and into a “sport” that has now become a corporate profit machine. An interesting video was shown at the meeting:
I left Tamera feeling that I have learnt more about myself, community life and permaculture but it was not a place I felt like staying in. The community is beset with contradictions – it claims to seek a break from capitalism but is still crammed with petrol-guzzling cars and caravans, peddles alcohol and processed food at huge prices and relies on paying guests to fund “pocket money” for the residents and funding for the projects that abound. Although they recognise this an official from the Tamera government told me that his “vision for humanity” did include the “withdrawing” of capitalist products such as smoking and drinking, processed food and petrol-fueled cars. In fact he said that the focus on free love was so intense that people needed these products to calm themselves down.
The land had become a dumping ground for caravans because there is no more planning permission for buildings and people drive short distances just to make it on time to lunch. There was also an unwelcoming coldness for guests that seemed to be felt by most of my fellow volunteers. It felt like the guests and the residents lived in two separate communities. I journeyed back to Ireland via Lisbon, glad of the great learning experience and ready to prepare for the next trip.
This is a beautifully written article I wanted to share. In the last year or two I have met more and more awakened souls or empethats. Today I heard the story of Holland’s first ecovillage. According to one of the fellow volunteers here at Ta Mera, a piece of land was being decommissioned by the military and the sale of the land was subject to the new owner taking responsibility for that decommissioning. A group of friends entered a blind auction with an intuitive bid of €12,345.67 and defeated multimillion bids after they all fell way on technicalities. Maybe its just a coincidence? I don’t believe in coincidences anymore.
Yesterday the Irish Independent newspaper printed an article on my bike tour. Thanks to Deirdre Reynolds who did a great job on the story. I believe an online link will be available soon (you will have quite a job trying to read from the image below). They seem to have called me an accountant in the headline but all finance/office jobs blend into one in many ways!
I arrived at Lisbon airport on Saturday morning. It was later than planned so by the time I landed I had written off my chances of catching to train to Funceheira. It meant I would have to sit in the train station for four hours but such is life. I was first through customs and there was no queue at passports so I arrived outside the airport at 10.20. This was the exact time of the train’s departure so I decided to take a shot at it! I jumped into a taxi and told the driver to take me to Oriente “faz favor”. He complained that it only took two stops to get there on the metro and told me I was wasting his time. I showed him my train ticket and said “muito rapido”. He was trying to tell me something but I didn’t understand so I kept saying “no entiendo” (which is actually Spanish) and he soon gave up. Then I understood “norte ou sul” so I told him I was headed to the “sul”. I managed to grasp that he was suggesting driving instead to the next station in order intercept the train.
“Ah o proxima?” I asked
“Bem” I said, and off he took like a maniac through Lisbon’s streets, leaving me in about six minutes at the station where the train was just pulling in. I jumped on and sat back for the 2 hour trip to Funcheira, where a German lady picked me up. It was a short drive to quaint, rustic countryside with stone farmhouses, olive groves and cork oak plantations lining the paths.
We were just in time for lunch. Tamera grows some of its own veggies but sources as much as possible from the local organic farming network. Unfortunately due to price constraints I also discovered lots of conventional produce but also processed food. Packets of cookies are sold at the bar at very expensive prices. They compost all of their food and human waste here and 60-80% of their energy requirements are from solar (they are also experimenting with biogas). All that was planned for day one was a tour of the community for newcomers.
One difference that I noticed with the community I visited in India was that you feel more like a guest here and not like you are part of the community. The residents live in a separate area which we were told not to enter. An English chap, thick set with long greying hair, was sleeping next to me in the dorm. He introduced himself as Colin then said “sorry no Alan”. Apparently he had changed his name by de-poll to mark the start of a new life, but sometimes forgot his new name! He introoduced me to his ‘Bagpuss’ toy which he kept on his bed. He told me his wife was in the woman’s dorm, because he wanted to experience real community.
I barely slept that night due to Alan’s snoring. It grew worse as the night progressed and I was missing my tent. I thought about asking him to try to stop snoring but the next day he offered me his cap after I told him I’d lost mine. He told me to keep it too. I soon decided to try to tolerate it as best I could. As well as being considerate Alan was quite an interesting character. He had suffered from depression and Ta Mera was his last hope. I had the impression that if he didn’t leave the community with a restored faith in humanity, then he was just going to give up on the cause forever.
The project was originally founded in Germany but moved to Portugal because the community wanted a more rural setting (and land was cheap here it seemed). I did later discover that there were political motives too and that unfriendly press had alienated them form the community with the resul that they were seen as a sect. The people here are very direct. Quite a few of my questions (such as how decisions are made, why they are not allowed to build more houses etc.), they refused to answer.
The community is surprisingly commercialist too. It has a cafe and a shop that sold expensive books and skin care products. There was even a bar where most of the guests ended up every night. I tried to ask about the second hand clothes shop but the facilitators were very vague about it. There seemed to be one but the location was mysterious. Later I discovered that the residents kept the clothes for themselves.
Free love is encouraged here and is one of its core values. This doesn’t mean there are mass orgies happening here every day but people are encouraged to be open about their feelings and not to fear talking to their partner about attraction to other people and other desires and emotions. One morning the gardening team sat down for breakfast and when asked if I was still tired, one resident followed up by asking if I’d been having sex all night. I told her I had not, but the first questioner had been more successful and proceeded to tell us all about our exploits. I was outside my comfort zone having grown up in conservative Ireland, but then there are many who spend their whole lives never leaving their comfort zone, so it could only be a good thing.
Although it proclaims to be a non-violent and ethical community, I have seen cheese and honey. I have seen dogs being walked around on leads and donkeys being used to pull farm tools. Other animals are also kept here.
I spend my days helping out in the garden and although I am learning some techniques and principles of permaculture, the work does get tedious at times. The work consists of weeding, planting, harvesting, seeding, mulching, scything, hoeing and so forth. I try to remind myself that I am learning all the time just by observation. I also have a renewed appreciation for the food I eat after witnessing at first hand the work that goes into it.
After each shift we have a short yoga practice under the willow tree or we go for a skinny swim in one of the many lakes. Often we are accompanied on our swim by snakes and frogs. With the temperature now soaring to thirty seven degrees I am starting to doubt my ability to last the 4 weeks in the field.