Basile Samel

philosophy, writings, work

Why I Am Living In An Ecovillage

Jul 16, 2021

16 years of soul-searching led me to the Catfarm, an eco-community soon-to-be ecovillage in South-East France.

It began when I was 10. My Vietnamese grandparents died a month apart from each other, and I was faced with a terrible truth: my existence on Earth is brief and limited. I didn't know it yet but this realization would shape my growth well into adulthood.

I was raised in a relatively stable household in the countryside of South-West France. Both of my parents dwelled in art, environmentalism, volunteering, and van life. My mother was the family provider, a painter turned art therapist. She had been involved in syndicalism and the Green Party for decades. My father was an unemployed moviemaker with a taste for writing and colonial history. He had been the president of a Youth association for a decade. Every holiday, we would travel by van to Spain, Portugal, or the Pyrenees mountains for weeks at a time, visiting museums, art expositions, and small towns. Throughout my upbringing, I was exposed to different cultures and worldviews and alternative lifestyles.

Thanks to my parents' support, I became a great student and was free to spend my last hours of the days playing video games and browsing the Web. At age 12, I started learning image processing with Photoshop to create cool profile pictures for online role play games. At 13, I wrote my first computer program to build my own role play game. I became absolutely fascinated by the idea of creating entire digital worlds with a few words, and that's when I decided I wanted to become a software engineer.

I reached college with stellar grades and was accepted into one of the most prestigious engineering schools in France: the National Institute of Applied Sciences of Lyon (INSA Lyon). The cultural shock was so strong, I became more interested in hanging out with like-minded people than notebooks. I was expelled at the end of the first year for insufficient results. My dream of becoming an engineer was denied, and the traumas of my childhood resurfaced: one day, I'll die-what will I leave behind when that day comes?

I started getting obsessed with time and making the best use of it. I put myself back on track with the help of friends and family at the University of Bordeaux, in the Department of Computer Sciences. I became so good that the National Institute of Applied Sciences accepted me back at the department of Telecommunication engineering without losing a single year. There, I flourished.

Then I joined Stockholm University as an Erasmus student. I would spend a few weeks studying remotely to visit my then-girlfriend in Macedonia. I was becoming a digital nomad without knowing it was a thing. I only wanted one thing: to be with the people I love. It led me to discover movements and philosophies such as Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE), minimalism, essentialism, absurdism, and perpetual travel.

One day, I stumbled upon Tim Ferris' 4-Hour Workweek and decided becoming a nomad entrepreneur was the only viable option for me to reach my goal of being there for the people I care about. I finished my studies in Geneva, Switzerland as an intern in a software consulting company, where I learned that a traditional engineering career wouldn't suit my personality. I founded a limited-liable company with two partners, saved as much money as I could, and started my new life as a digital nomad.

Two companies and a dozen product launches later, I began making money online: my objective of becoming a viable business owner was within hands reach, but I wasn't satisfied with the digital nomad lifestyle and the global issues it participated in, such as mass air travel, neo-colonialism, overtourism, and digital bloat. I started investigating better ways to do things, and joining an ecovillage was one of them. In 2019, I discovered the Catfarm while attending an online hackathon about climate change.

It took me two years, a global pandemic, and another funeral to apply as a volunteer. In October 2020, I was dissatisfied with the projects I was managing. Working 10 hours a day every day for two years for very little monthly recurring revenue was starting to wear me down. The pandemic seemed never-ending and I was stuck at my parents' house with little hope for the future. Why do I work so much when a lot of things will probably go wrong in ten years? I needed new goals to challenge myself. I needed a new incentive to get me through my work days. I needed a new lifestyle in accordance with my values of sustainability, mastery, and nomadism.

After much retrospection and introspection, I decided that in 10 years, I want to be in a position to provide for my friends and family, no matter how bad the world can get. Not just money but also food, shelter, and love. I want to be the rock my people can rely on when they need it. I train for it every day and will continue to do so.

I thought at first that the best way to go about it would be to buy a plot of land in Sweden, with a small Thoreauesque cabin to sleep in and a workshop to create from. I required two things to reach this goal: cash and skills. The former I could get by creating a sustainable company I believe in while cutting down my expenses. The latter by constantly learning and putting the concepts I learn into practice. This is why I originally joined the Catfarm: out of curiosity and personal interest, nothing more than a stepping stone.

And then I fell in love with the place, and more importantly, with the people making this place. And it wasn't about me anymore. It was about others. The Catfarm became about hope and creation and destruction and change and inspiration. Living better is living together. I found people I want to learn from and grow with, and I realized there was a better way to reach my long-term goal.

The Catfarm is the perfect place for someone like me to thrive. Since I decided to commit full-time, I've been given complete creative freedom over my projects and my schedule. I learn something new and meaningful every day. I get to interact and work with amazing individuals, and each new arrival is like experiencing someone else's life. I can hike, bike, swim, sail, and walk in Nature whenever I feel the desire to do so. The region is highly dynamic and people are eager to make things together. More importantly, the Catfarm is entrepreneurial-minded by design and open to high-tech, which isn't the case of most ecovillages I've read about. Combined with low living costs (only $71 per month), you obtain a nourishing soil for indie creators.

The potential of this place is limitless, and I want to be an integral part of it while I can. Over the next ten years, I want to make the Catfarm the place to be to learn about new sustainable ways to live. And for me, it will be about helping more people use tech entrepreneurship as a tool to create a long-lasting sustainable impact on the world. More on that soon.