by horsleyrichie


I wake up and wash my face with the dew on my sleeping bag. Saunter to the communal vegan breakfast, then crowd into a lecture hall and fill my head with words on how to save the earth. Sing a song in a team of three hundred, drift out into the sunshine, drop my clothes and dive into the lake. Waver with a beating heart as I listen to a seminar full of stories – of desire and fear and troubles in Gaza – then find a guitar beneath a peach tree and jam with my new family. Riding this elated bubble of love I eat lunch with the theatre group and play mime games while we massage each others’ beards. Next, a tour of the eco-village’s water retention program and the bounties of permaculture, followed by a group walk in which I’m asked to spend four minutes telling a man I have never met that I love him. After a sunset dinner, we dance barefoot to the eerie Indian sitars and African hang drums of a Portuguese gypsy band while their children slumber on stage. This is life at the Summer University in Tamera, and yes, it is a little too good to be true.

Tamera is a peace research centre in southern Portugal. The community is dedicated to building a world without violence, and they do this by setting an example. Each aspect of life at Tamera is an attempt at harmony with economy, ecology, geography and human interaction. They have shaped the land so as to grow their own food and drink their rainwater. There is a Solar Village dedicated to the development of solar electricity generation and mirror cookers. They are vegan and aim to live in total peace with all animals (even mosquitos). They believe in total truth, transparency and clarity in all human interaction and emotion, and to achieve this aim they practice polygamy and free love. They have a progressive, interactive, holistic-learning school for children designed to combat the oppression of the traditional teacher-pupil hierarchy.

Each summer, Tamera offers a 10-day introduction course during which 200 outsiders are given the chance to learn how the residents fulfil their aspirations and sustain community – this is called the Summer University.

View from dining area

Tamera believes that all expressions of violence are the result of inner human unrest. They believe that every war, every rocket and every act of torture is a reflection of human beings’ inability to nurture love and honest connection between each other. They believe that if everyone lived in an environment where they felt supported by others, where they could express every wish and desire without fear of retribution, then all physical conflict would vanish. They also believe that creating peace takes work. You must spend time on yourself, open your heart to the pains of the humanity, and ask yourself honestly if you can live in a world where so many people suffer. The community is especially focussed on how war in sexual love – jealousy, ownership, self-consciousness – is the root cause of dissatisfaction in human emotion. They believe that if each individual attains the partnership and sex they crave, outer physical conflict will end.

It is the first day of the Summer University, and we open ourselves to learn all things Tamera. We enter their paradise – the lakes, the food, the conversation, the desire for change – and we are flooded with hope and confusion. Hope because it all seems so beautiful. Confusion over how we newcomers fit in. There is the joy that comes from being surrounded by inspired minds, enchanted with a child-like fascination for this new system of humanity – alert and eager to absorb. But we are not a community, we don’t yet trust each other – we are strangers in a foreign paradise. At the bar, I try to focus on the music, but instead I watch the residents in close physical contact – all kissing and hugging. I feel alone and I want in.

Seed Garden

It doesn’t take me long to procure my hugs. By day three I’ve built bridges and secured the physical contact I need to be in balance with the atmosphere of the community. But I’m a flirt and a socialite; for others is wasn’t quite so easy. Despite all the talk and theory, Tamera was struggling to make visitors feel welcome enough to participate in their lifestyle. Language and logic don’t build community. It’s takes trust, a trust which comes from feeling the human in others around you.

It’s the fifth day and our seminar leaders offer some of us the chance to lead a group meeting. It is clear what needs to be done. For days we’d been asked to reveal our deepest emotions in a circle of isolated individuals, but our ‘real-world’ barriers are still unbroken: we needed to touch. The question was how. One girl wants to provoke, she wants to facilitate intimate drama games in which people roll over one another in group massage. Another man feels that such a game would be too intimidating for some of our more introverted members. We compromise by starting slow: lots of movement but no physical contact. Within half an hour, and without enforcement, people are clasping each other’s hands, holding eye contact and spooning each other in a caterpillar train of unabashed massage. By the next morning, we’re sharing our stories with no holds barred.

And so we lived happily ever after? Not quite.

Aula on Lake