Years ago, when I was a Little girl growing up in cold, stiff New England, in my church there was an old retired missionary who had spent some 40 years living here in Argentina. And he was this crazy character, who maybe after so many years of living in Latin America had no sense of personal space, but he was loud and over-friendly and would walk around with this bizarre gourd thing with a silver straw filled with some crazy mix of green plant matter. And in his overly-gregarious way would shove it in the face of all the formal church elders insisting they ‘try it! TRY IT!’ and we all wondered what sort of crazy drug he had learned from the ‘natives’ down there making him like that.
That was my first introduction to mate (www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mate_%28beverage%29). At 12 years old, I really had no idea that years later mate would become such an important part of my life here in Buenos Aires. Mate is not just a drink here, it is a cultural art. It is something to share with the people in your life as a way to develop a connection, symbolizing the friendship if you will. Unlike going out for drinks or to a café for coffee, mate is exclusive to home, or a park, or for sharing in the office. Which is to re-emphasis its role in developing intimacy.
For those of you who are completely lost, mate is essentially a loss-leaf herbal tea. To me it tastes sort of like a strong slightly bitter green tea. You drink it out of a specific sort of traditional cup, which can be carved wood, ceramic, or a dried gourd, but always with that particular silver straw.
But what is notable is that if you are drinking mate with other people, everyone shares the same mate, which is why it is such a act of relationship-building. And you don’t just drink one cup, but whoever is serving keeps refilling the mate until either the leaves loose all their flavor or you use up all the water in your thermal. So it really is about creating a space to sit and share and connect. You invite someone to mate just as an excuse to sit and chat with them for an hour or two.
I’ve completely fallen in love with the tradition of mate. I always welcome an excuse to be able to sit with someone and be able to share a bit of their life. And when they’re passing around the mate during class and someone makes a point to include me, well that’s the best thing that could happen to me that day, because I know that me, the odd foreign girl, is being just a bit more accepted into Argentine culture.
All this to say, I can see it coming, I’m going to become that crazy person with the strange brew of herbs trying to convince the rest of the world to love it too!