Since I am a new writer for RAXA Collective, here is an introduction. My name is Kayleigh Levitt and I am currently a Sophomore at Soka University of America in Southern California. My major is in Environmental Studies with a focus in urban sustainability. I am an avid gardener and biophiliac. I believe in the transformative power of community.
I love when I meet people who show me that there are different ways to live than what is expected of us. Guisepi Spadafora serves free tea out of a mini-school bus that runs off recycled vegetable oil and biodiesel. There is a solar panel on the roof of his bus that powers his refrigerator, lights, outlets, water pump and anything he needs electricity for. He gets herbs for his tea donated on a continual basis, so he is able to have a steady menu. The companies give to him freely because they believe in what he does and he believes in what they do.He travels the land, and during a tea party, he opens up his bus and sets out chairs and rugs and serves tea for people.
The way he got started serving free tea for people was not actually on purpose. He honestly started because of loneliness in a big city. He was living in Los Angeles, in his pick-up truck, working full time and did not really have friends other than the friend he was working for. He started going to Hollywood Boulevard and would open up his tailgate, pull out his camp stove and cook a bit of dinner. He would cook a little bit of extra dinner because inevitably someone would say ‘What are you doing?’ and he would say, ‘Oh, I’m cooking dinner, would you care to join me?’ and people would then sit and eat with him, and to keep those interactions going he would just make tea for hours. Every walk of life would sit down with him, from street performers to Japanese tourists to television producers. He got really excited about the actual genuine human interactions he was having.
He had tried to go to the bars, one of the only places where you can know no one and meet people. Girls would come up and talk to him and ask him to buy them a drink, which he considered as the least genuine type of interaction one could have because the only thing they were looking for was his money.
He realized so many of his interactions with strangers were over money. He noticed that there were always barriers and expectations when money was involved in interactions and he found that taking money out of the situation by serving free tea had actually liberated people from those boundaries and expectations and allowed the interactions to be more genuine.
People started knowing him as the ‘tea guy’ and although he did not really care about tea, he did not mind taking that on. A lot of the other aspects of his life today, having the technical mind for building the bus and creating space for people to interact, were present before the tea. The tea was just the topper to tie it all together to create the vehicle for something more. Now he has been traveling the land for eight years and is well-established. At this point he has served around 22,336 cups of tea.
I found his philosophy around money truly refreshing. People often ask him how he makes his money to pay for necessities because obviously there are some things one still needs to pay for such as registrations, insurance, and some food. When he first started serving tea he was working full time as a video editor, which has given him the skills he needs now to shoot and edit video as he travels. He also is able to work as a handyman and can help people build things. It also helps that he reduces the amount of things he needs to pay for in his life.
Guisepi always says he works every single day of the week, just usually not for money. Work, to Guisepi, is being productive. Work is doing something to better himself, the community, the planet. He knows when he invests in the community, when he is giving and sharing with people, that he is building a resilient community, which in return is actually good for everyone including him. He realizes that resilient communities make resilient people and resilient people make resilient communities. He wants to live in a culture that is less selfish; in order to help create a culture that is less selfish he actually does it and gives freely. 180,000 years before the invention of money, people knew that contributing to the community meant contributing to their own personal success, and because people lived in smaller communities it was easier to see the direct impact.
In his work he does what he calls flexible compensation, which takes the financial standing of both members of the bargain into account. He explains what he expects to make and what his needs are and then if they can afford more and he needs more, he accepts that and if they can afford less, he accepts less. He also does not need to get paid fully in money, but instead can take food or benefits to the community: the indirect flexible compensation which would be investment in community at large. Flexible compensation allows for him to consider all the different aspects of the exchange. He notices when he talks to people openly and shares what flexible compensation is, people are a lot more open to it.
His way of life reminds me of Charles Eisenstein’s talk about his book Sacred Economics. The basic premise is to understand that money is an agreement and does not hold value in itself and that we can reevaluate that agreement to create a better system, such as a gift society, that works for everyone. Gift societies are based on the same principals of flexible compensation that Guisepi practices. In living this way, we are able to create community and help remove the unnecessary barriers that separate us and live together in a more fulfilling way.