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.