After traveling the world, finding community at home
Tamer Hassan ’11 spent his entire junior abroad in four different countries (India, Tanzania, Mexico and New Zealand), a year that he describes as “life changing,” which is probably the most anyone can say about something so profound that it is almost beyond words.
His program was entitled “Rethinking Globalization,” and took the students to different communities within these countries. Tamer learned about cotton farmers in India, enticed to buy genetically modified BT cotton developed by Monsanto with the promise of high yields, but left indebted by the costs inputs (e.g. fertilizer, pesticide) and yields way below the promised number. Many farmers commit suicide, so ashamed of being unable to support their families.
But he also learned about the Zapatistas in Mexico, who waged a war against the state in order to win an autonomous municipality. The model of consensus the municipality practices meets the needs of the community in a way the Mexican government could not.
Coming back home so profoundly changed, Tamer said is “unsettling in some ways, but it makes me understand who I am and what I value when I’m put back in the same spot.” Being back in the United States also made him realize that there seemed to be no alternative forms of community, like the Zapatista municipalities, within the United States.
Along with his friend Armand Tufenkian ’10, Tamer embarked on a search for such alternative communities and spent two and a half weeks at Twin Oaks, Virginia shooting footage for a documentary. This became the first in a series entitled Finding Community. The series explores intentional communities, communities which engage in alternative living practices that stress a communitarian ideal. Twin Oaks is a farming community that engages in sustainable living and economic practices. Tamer and Armand’s film on Twin Oaks has had a public showing at Colby, but more often Tamer shares it on his computer. “Most people see it sitting there” he said motioning to his desk. This is how I saw it, using headphones Tamer told me he found in the trash.
In the film, residents of Twin Oaks describe their community as one in which they live in “radical cooperation.” One resident said he used to describe Twin Oaks as “an income sharing, egalitarian, intentional community” but went on to say he now describes it as a place where people don’t have watches, wallets or keys. Twin Oaks focuses on sustainable living practices, which include growing their own food, creating alternative business and labor practices and fostering more human ways for people to interact and relate to one another.
After watching the film, I told Tamer it made me “warm and fuzzy,” a sort of inarticulable good will that I attribute to the community’s genuinely selfless values. Everyone living there understands the larger ramifications of their actions. Rather than letting this be paralyzing knowledge, they use it to motivate and inspire, whether in their interactions with each other or in their understanding of the larger world.
Recently, Tamer won a $10,000 Project for Peace grant, so he and Armand can continue their Finding Community series. The Project for Peace challenges young people to envision and implement programs that contribute to a more peaceful and understanding world. The next leg on their journey will be Seattle, Washington, where they will stop at the Emma Goldman Finishing School, an urban anarchist collective. They will also be stopping at communities in Missouri, North Carolina and Virginia.
Tamer said there are important lessons to be taken away from these forms of community: they highlight the things we are not doing in mainstream living practice. By providing alternative modes of interaction, intentional communities promote “a culture of peace,” and offer ways of tackling structural violences in which we are complicit.
When Tamer isn’t globe-trekking, you can find him making videos for insideColby, where he first learned the technical skills for becoming a videographer. He also helped to initiate the weekly Coffeehouse event, so people can just relax and hang out in a historically student-run space.
The rest of this article will be Tamer in his own words, since they capture his idiosyncratic and wonderfully thoughtful personality in a way a summary of his remarkable accomplishments cannot.
On intentional communities
“It can be as little as people who are living together with similar intentions…You could say we’re living in an intentional community in our room [referring to himself and his roommates]. It’s just people who are very consciously making decisions about how they want to live their lives, and [making those decisions] together…rather than everyone doing what they want to do individually, regardless of what the people around [them] are doing.”
“Individualism is a pretty huge value in our culture, but it really breaks people apart: you aren’t really conscious of how your choices are affecting other people.”
“I love it [laughs]: cutting [footage] in the right spot, especially to music. Like cutting it right there, when the beat drops. It’s like ‘Nailed it!’ It’s a really visceral excitement for me.” His laughter punctuates this last admission, and it is endearing.
“It’s really distancing from the subject though,” he continued more seriously. “It’s weird to be both the filmmaker and the editor, because I’m always referencing that event when it actually happened, and it’s hard for me to separate that and look at what it will be like for an audience member.”
“But eventually [I] forget the actual event, and [I] become so wrapped up in what was on the screen that that’s the reality, and I forget how things went down. The reality is just on a screen.”
“[Finding Community]…is developing a culture of peace, and rethinking the ways we relate to other people—the way we structure our economic system, the way we work, the way we live on a daily basis—is working toward peace. There are so many embedded structures [in which we are complicit], that we passively participate in a lot of violence in the world in our daily activity: the clothes we wear, the food we eat. Addressing that violence at the fundamental level is what [residents at Twin Oaks] are doing.”
“And that’s the way I see it: The best way to work toward peace…is to work at the cultural level, and the way we perceive ourselves and the world around us. And that’s the way I feel like I can make the most change: by working on myself and the people I can have direct contact with.”
On Passions “I was thinking about [professional artists] when you asked me if filmmaking is something I want to do. I’m trying to avoid professionalizing myself, because I feel like on a theoretical level, that is me participating in capitalism or the same imperial structures [that perpetuate] me getting a job, entering the wage system, blah blah blah.”
“But on another level… I have a lot of passions, and I want to be able to pursue those, and not be stuck to my career. It just seems unnatural to me: I don’t think we’re made to be professionals. I think that’s why people have mid-life crises and hate their jobs…they get stuck. They’re not doing what they love.”
“I like music. I like food. And growing food and playing in the dirt is awesome. It’s necessary for my mental health. Yoga. Dance. Dancing. Live music.
“I draw. I’ve been really into the skeleton recently. My dance class has got me really investigating the little bones in my feet,” he said while feeling the joints in his feet.
“And my shoulders. I have this thing where I roll my shoulders forward instead of resting my shoulder blades on my back,” he said while demonstrating the different postures.
“I think a lot about that now [laughs]. I draw my pelvis a lot. That’s what I’m into right now. It changes.”
“I was having the most vivid dreams when I was [at Twin Oaks], of the most beautiful things. I had this one really vivid one, where I was walking through this field and I came to this house and there were these beautiful people, and they took me by the hand and kissed me on the cheek and showed me this beautiful landscape and it was so…amazing! And I woke up and I was so happy.”
Recounting this dream, he actually was. Imagine the kind of happiness that glows and emanates from a person, until it becomes a palpable presence—warm and fuzzy.