TPJ-1 Day 5: Dividing Walls and Welcoming Couches

Day 4: Conor is working on

Day 5: Tempe, AZ by Josh

A didgeridoo blew; drums clunked and thudded; guitars and mandolins strummed; in between, an assortment of other obscure instruments and their various noises vibrated around the crowded room. About ten people had gathered in a living room on a warm Arizona night, and with various backgrounds and talents, merged into spontaneous symphony.

The house that was filled with an array of sounds that night was vacant when we arrived after a long drive from San Diego. Crossing the border from California to Arizona, the serene desert landscape was interrupted by border patrol vehicles every dozen or two miles along the roadway and an occasional trooper walking the mountains. Salam began to tell us stories of life in occupied Iraq as the green vegetation faded into sand and as the state of Arizona became more and more like the war zone we all had left.

Conor and I recalled the checkpoints we had monitored during our deployments and were taken aback when traffic slowed to a halt for an immigration barricade. “Are you a legal citizen,” the immigration officer asked each of us when we had stopped, as another officer led a dog around our van. Somehow guns, checkpoints, mountain patrols, and dogs seemed as odd representations of democracy as did our tanks, raids, helicopters, and prisons in Iraq. I’m no expert on immigration, but the fact that most of the only real natives of this land are on reservations brought to mind sayings like “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. And if illegal immigration is unhealthy for the people involved, perhaps deeper questions should be asked about resources and wealth.

Describing these scenes a few days later to a new friend, Paul, in North Carolina, he wisely noted, “Isn’t the motto of the Statue of Liberty ‘give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free?’” He continued, “When I talk to folks who want to put up a wall or send troops to the border, I ask them if they’re Christians. Most usually are, yet are still shocked when I say that ideas like that are the exact opposite of what Christ taught about welcoming all with open arms.”

Speaking of open arms and faith, for every person thinks that a wall is a solution, there is somebody who will let complete strangers into their home and welcome them as old friends. I’ve been received in such a manner by people all over the country, and am now hosting strangers of my own through

Couchsurfing is an online registry of people all over the world who will allow travellers to stay at their homes and learn about the people of a particular place, sparing them not only the expense of a hotel, but also the isolation. Couchsurfing is how we came to stay with David, a jubilant restaurant manager in Tempe, AZ. This program is more than a free place to sleep; it’s an opportunity to meet fascinating people and to share stories, talents, and conversation. David shared delicious pitas and hummus from his restaurant, Salam shared his talent for fixing hukkahs, and Conor and I shared stories of our adventures on the road.

Before long, more and more people joined us around the shaded table in David’s small oasis of a backyard. A housemate of his had just returned from New Orleans, another housemate had just gotten back from site-seeing with another couchsurfer from Germany; then a student from the local university came, as did a man from Conor’s home town; a man who worked in a hardware store, and throughout it all, a shy, white German Shepard warily befriended the many guests. We crowded around the dinner table for a smorgasbord of conversation and food, filling our stomachs before our jam session began.

As I sat on the floor, tapping my hands on a drum to the beat of rest of the instruments, the music played a song of hope that can be easy to forget after seeing a road on lock down, whether in Arizona or Iraq. We live in a world where a person can be torn away from their family for having entered the country illegally, all while this country’s military and government enters other countries illegally; but we also live in a world where people will share what they have with complete strangers. Too often we scoff aside the importance of friendship and sharing, but as we are confronted with the effects of division and selfishness, perhaps we should remember the beauty of our different talents and the song we can make when brought together.

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