“Though I cannot flee,
From the world of corruption,
I can prepare tea
With water from a mountain stream
And put my heart to rest.”
– Ueda Akinara –
We drive around the block a few times, looking for a good parking spot. A
wide space opens up beside a bank, perfect. We’re in my good friends home
– a half-size school bus painted white, with beautiful woodwork on the
interior, bench space, bookshelves, and a bed that rests up on pulleys
against the roof when not in use. It’s a cozy place to live, but
importantly, it’s a cozy place to drink tea too.
For the last 5 years, Guisepi has been serving free tea out of his
vehicles, up and down the West Coast, creating a warm, welcoming
environment for passers by. When asked how he got into it, he’ll tell you
“I didn’t even used to like tea!” but while in LA living out of his truck,
discovered that a warm cuppa was the perfect way to connect with people
walking past. Tea became the magic ingredient, facilitating a friendly
open connection between a huge diversity of people. College students,
business suits, homeless folks, artists, musicians, politicians – all
sitting in a school bus, sipping tea and telling their story.
That was the ideal anyway, and having never been to a ‘tea party’ before,
I wasn’t sure how close it came to achieving it. Now, having just finished
a week long tea-tour from the San Juan Islands down to San Francisco, I
can speak from experience.
There’s five of us in the bus already, warming our fingers on our hot
mugs, and someone is talking about the uniformity of people in Portland.
“This city is full of middle class white folks, you hardly ever see any
Africansor Asians.” About 5 minutes later, a tall Kenyan man, having seen
the ‘Free Tea’ sign, pops in to share the space. We talk about the
comparisons of life, food and communities in the USA and Kenya. He
describes the mangoes and papaws making us all salivate. We all laugh
together, sometimes just sit in silence together, and there is love
radiating from us all.
In another city, on another night, a homeless fellow ‘Chris’ stops by the
bus, explaining that he needs 5 Dollars for a place to sleep tonight and
asking for some help. We invite him in for some tea. He sits down, and we
share stories. He opens up, telling the 7 of us about how his wife and
child died 2 years earlier, his following depression and alcoholism, and
now his efforts to get his life back. One of us gives him a hug. He cries.
He explains that he is rarely treated like this, like a human – looked in
the eye and listened to. Once his tea is drained, he gives a heart felt
thanks and begins to leave. Guisepi tells him about the ‘give-and-take
jar’ which he keeps hidden to limit any monetary association with the
freeteaparty, but which exists for people to put in and take out of. Chris
can’t believe it, and doesn’t quite know what to do. We tell him we’ll all
look away while he takes whatever he thinks he needs. He grabs a few
crumpled notes, gives us all hugs again, and steps back out into the
world, his footsteps a lot lighter.
Stories like these happened every night, with every cup of tea, with every
new friendship. Tea, the bus, Guisepi, the space, whatever it was, brought
people together. For hours at a time, tea would be brewed, mugs filled,
smiles shared, cups washed, more tea brewed, and on and on until well into
the darkness of the night. It was an energy intensive way to spend an
evening, but so rewarding. By the end of each tea party, we would sweep
out the bus, clean the dishes, and then spend a moment reflecting on how
much love and gratitude was shared amongst strangers. Free tea parties
really do change the world.
“Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the
sordid facts of every day existence. It inculcates purity and harmony, the
mystery of mutual charity, the romanticism of the social order; it is
essentially a worship of the imperfect, as it is a tender attempt to
accomplish something possible in this impossible thing we know as life.”
– Kakuzo Okakura –