The Importance of Community
I’m back in the Fundão area of Central Portugal for the third year in a row, this time with the possibility of buying land a little closer on the horizon. I’m not sure I’ll be in a position to buy anything until around November, but I’m keeping my eyes open and if something great crosses my path, maybe I’ll find a way to make it work. In the meantime I bought a rather glorious bicycle, I’m reluctantly on the lookout for a car, and I’m slowly accumulating tools.
Mostly, I’m just enjoying being back in the area working with Barbara from Mount of Oaks, this time helping a friend build an addition onto her house using cob and straw bales. I feel really comfortable in here and being back in this area has made me think a lot about community, what it means, and how important I think it is, at least for me.
My Experience So Far in the Fundão Area
I arrived in this area for the first time in August 2017 for a stint at Keela Yoga Farm as a volunteer. I have to admit to being a bit wary about what I was getting myself into. Yoga fills me with dread and unease and their website described a place of clean living with no drinking allowed on the farm (which also filled me with dread… I’m not sure what that says about me). I didn’t expect to find ‘my people’ on a dry yoga farm and I was really only interested in going there because I wanted to see what it’s like to set up a project from the early days. Plus the natural building they were planning was very interesting to me and so I put my apprehensions aside and decided to step a bit outside of my comfort zone and give them a shot.
I’m happy I took the chance because it was a glorious experience from start to finish where the yoga was optional and the wine flowed freely. I found myself back again in 2018 for three months and I’m planning a another visit for a few weeks in July. I made fast friends with Keela’s owners Kimberly and Laurence and I slowly wormed my way into their social life, making a few more friends in the area. I already feel quite connected to the people here and it seems like a nice community that I’m slowly becoming a part of, despite not yet living here year-round.
This part of Portugal ticks a lot of boxes, but it’s crazy hot the summer (maybe that’s everywhere?) and it’s a bit farther from Porto or Lisbon than I’d like, so I’m not 100% sold just yet. Though my gut is telling me that this is the area for me, I feel like I should at least check out a few other parts of the country first before making a decision. But then on the other hand, I’ve made some good friends so far and I feel like I have a strong support network already established, which is something I shouldn’t take for granted.
I know it’s silly to do anything based on other people because things can always change and people may leave (I say this as the person who always leaves!), and so on. But I really love the sense of community I’ve found here and, at the very least, it’s an awesome starting point to not only feel supported but to also feel like I can be helpful to others as well.
My Abysmal Community Involvement Up to Now
I grew up in Canada but left pretty much as soon as possible after I graduated university. I fully intended on going back home, I just wanted to see a bit of the world before the whole ‘settling down’ thing. But the travel bug caught me in a serious way and I haven’t lived in Canada since I left one way for Australia in 2001.
I’ve moved around a lot since I left Canada and it’s meant that I’ve been pretty crap at the whole community thing. Maybe it’s laziness, or getting too absorbed in my work, or maybe it’s the knowledge that I’ll be moving on soon and don’t want to get too attached to causes or to too many people. Who knows, but it’s something I want to change. Part of wanting to move to Portugal is about sticking with one place and making an effort to be an active member of the community instead of feeling like I’m just passing through which has been my experience so far, even when I’ve stayed in places for many years.
Finding ‘My People’
I recently saw this post over on Instagram talking about how difficult it can be to make friends and find community in a rural setting in the United States. Their initial post mentions that they’ve been in their area for six years and are only just now starting to find their people and to feel connected to the community as a whole. The comments echo their sentiments and it seems like, at least in rural USA, meeting people you connect with might not be such an easy thing to do.
I have to admit to not having been too worried about meeting people in Portugal. I’ve moved to plenty of new places without knowing a soul and it’s always worked out so far. It makes things easier that in all of the places I seem to move to, there’s always a large community of foreigners coming and going which makes everyone a little more open to meeting people. I guess the difference this time around is that I plan on being in a rural place instead of a city, so that throws and element of the unknown into the mix.
I suspect I’d have a lot more trouble meeting new people in my hometown in Canada than I would almost anywhere else in the world, actually. Many people at home have had their same group of friends since childhood and that’s a difficult thing to break into if you’re new or looking to meet new people. Anywhere else I’ve been, there’s a good number of people in the same boat as me so it’s just a matter of tracking them down and stalking them until they like me. (Joking.) (Or am I… ?)
So, while I’m reasonably confident that my stalking skills are still on point and that I can find a group of friends anywhere I end up in Portugal, I happen to like the fine folks I’ve met so far in the Fundão area.
Why Community is Important
I’m not going to reference any of the loads of studies that say how important it is for people’s well being to have a sense of community in their lives. But even if you ignore what scientists and the ‘how to be happy’ gurus out there may say, it really does just feel good to be surrounded by like-minded people working towards the same goals in some form of community. Whether it’s thinking of the bigger picture of being involved in some way in your local community as a whole, or whether you’re talking about things like living on the same piece of land as others and sharing work and resources as part of an intentional community, I think feeling like you’re connected to something bigger than yourself is good for the soul.
For me, feeling like I’m a part of a larger community of caring and like-minded people is key, especially since my plan is to buy land on my own. Though I’m comfortable in my own company and could spend days happily working alone on whatever my latest obsession happens to be, I’m also social and I’d go insane if I didn’t have people around me to hang out with from time to time. The one thing about this whole plan of mine that fills me with a bit of doubt has always been the possibility of loneliness. Being a lone person working on a project on my own piece of land could potentially be quite isolating. I have this overarching dread of becoming the weird lady on her creepy farm who lives with 17 cats and a llama and so I’m conscious about making strong social connections wherever I end up. Ain’t nobody needs 17 cats, yo.
Getting Involved in My Community in Portugal
I haven’t found a place to call home just yet so I’m still in laziness mode as far as community involvement goes, but I’m starting to feel very attached to the Fundão area. There are plenty of small markets with lots of locally-produced goods, there are some interesting things happening in this area relating to refugee resettlement that maybe I could become involved with in some way, there’s a free intensive language course for immigrants, lots of local festivals to attend, and there are plenty of interesting community events and causes to support, too. Plus, since I make maps and websites, I’m always in search of how to incorporate these things anytime I go somewhere new. I’ve got a couple of ideas and even starting this website is a way to reach out to other like-minded folks in the larger ‘new to Portugal’, off grid living, and natural building and permaculture communities.
I’ve learned, though, that being an active member of the greater community isn’t really something that comes so natural to me so I’m going to have to make a big effort to commit myself to a few things. Or maybe just find one thing that I get involved in more deeply. I’m not sure yet what my plan is, but I do know that step one is learning Portuguese. Step two is probably actually being present in Portugal more regularly. I spend a lot of time travelling back to East Africa for work and home to Canada to see family and friends plus trips here and there to visit friends scattered around. I need to make a big effort to actually be in Portugal, though I wonder if I’m still a bit too nomad-y to make that commitment just yet.
Living in an Intentional Community
I’ve always been a bit fascinated by the world of intentional communities. Some might call them ‘hippie communes’ and others might go so far as calling them cults. I seem to remember that my dad has always had this irrational fear of me joining a cult so, of course, a part of me sort of wants to do it just to be annoying. But, alas, I’m not sure that a structured community life would really be for me. But I do love the idea of helping and looking out for each other, sharing tools and appliances, having a communal cow (because, what is a community without a communal cow, I ask you?), cooking and eating some meals together, working with each other, teaching each other new skills, bartering, and all of the wonderful things that come as part of living in a community like this.
I’m not sure I’d be up for joining an intentional community, though. I think I’m too eager to set things up for myself from the ground up, or at least to give it a good try. The thing that excites me most about this possible new life of mine in Portugal is taking a piece of land that’s essentially a blank canvas and designing and creating something out of nothing. Joining an existing community of some sort would mean that many buildings would already be built and systems already established. Or if I wanted to be the overlord of my own new community, that would mean a lot of time spent on mission statements and people-related things. I just want to chisel, man. Maybe one day I’ll end up in an intentional community because – cow! But for now I’m pretty set on doing my own thing.
However, I think some sort of a happy medium could be found where I live close to friends and future friends who are doing something similar to what I hope to do. I would love to be close enough to a group of people to share some meals, tools, fun times, animals, and to be able to help and learn from each other without actually being connected as a formal community. Everyone on their own piece of property doing their own thing their own way, but with something overarching that brings us together in various ways that are helpful for everyone involved. Something like that would definitely be on my radar and wherever I end up I think I’d be the annoying neighbour nagging everyone nearby to buy a communal cow.
Wherever I end up in Portugal, I’m going to be giving it my best attempt to get involved in at least one thing in the larger community and to find a way to work with neighbours close by in an attempt to get people to think in a more communal way about how we use our resources, pool our skills, and work together.
I haven’t actually seriously started looking for land so who knows where I’ll end up and who knows how all of this will play out, but I’m excited to see what happens!