Jakay’u- Let’s drink mate. Not to be confused with jaka’u (let’s get drunk).
Oga Ita, Itapua, Paraguay
What seems like a very long time ago, I wrote a post entitled Daily Rituals. It was about the ins and outs of terere and mate, two of Paraguay’s greatest cultural treasures. I described how to make it, what the differences were, all the equipment necessary, and the general process (go ahead and read it if you haven’t yet!). It was informative. I was new to yerba. I was fresh out of training. I wanted to share. I was naive. Things were different.
I’m an addict.
I need yerba.
Those little green flecks and small brown stems, looking like lily pads and sodden logs in a clear pond, have become more than just a daily ritual. The taste of tin on the tip of that straw before the burst of bitter leaves and sweet petals and refreshing herbs is what I appreciate with rigor in an almost hourly fashion of my woken state. Mate at 5, terere at 9, again at 2, mate again at 5 like clockwork, unless it’s winter, in which case I refill my termo with hot water every hour on the hour. Or in the summer when I wake up sweating at sunrise and the only answer is a brick of ice, a pitcher of water, a horn of bitter herb, and a perspiring straw. Pour, drink, sweat, repeat. I don’t see it as a problem. Only a solution to my problems. Hot? Terere. Cold? Mate. Bored? Terere. Tired? Mate. People on your patio that most certainly are overstaying their welcome? Terere. But I never need a reason. The handle to a pitcher or termo form-fits perfectly in my left hand and the guampa seems to have fused to my right. Give me Yerba normal, in its beautiful paper packaging, bird or blonde gracing the front, dusty, dry, pure yerba on the inside. Or give me compuesta, mint and boldo and burrito and moringa and rosemary and amaranth and dill and anis and chamomile and coconut and eucalyptus all making appearances throughout my day; not all at once, but in all the right combinations. Give me my sleek, blue plastic, red-spouted, black-capped, steaming-hot thermos. Hand me my brown leather, cowhide wrapped, stitched up, wide-mouthed, artisanal cold thermos. Pass me a pitcher, perspiring clear glass, simple yellow plastic, tall and thin, short and wide, smooth or patterned, normal or shaped like a pineapple, filled with water, clanking with a large brick of ice, sweetened with the taste of tall green lemongrass and wide-leafed, stubby rooted tarope and fairy flowered Santa Lucia, all mashed up and mixed together until you can no longer see your hand through the glass and swampy water of the sweaty pitcher. Give me a tin cup, a wooden cylinder, a wide mouthed gourd, a long cow horn, a silver chalice, a tooled leather Recuerdo de Paraguay, a handcrafted, sweet-smelling piece of Palo Santo. It’s what matters on the inside, what flavors the water, is filtered and flows up the straw, ultimately ending up on the tip of my tongue and swallowed with satisfaction.
I’m an addict. It’s more than a cultural tradition. It’s a ritual I crave. For the taste. For the feel of the guampa in my hand and the straw on my lips. For the satisfaction of icy cold on a hot day or steaming hot on a cool one. For the sound of sucking the last drops out, the clank of the ice, the chatter and laughter of conversation that passes around the circle faster than the guampa. For the gossip and news. For the company. For the feeling of inclusion. For the permittance to partake in a piece of Paraguay.
I’m addicted to Yerba. I’m addicted to tradition. I’m addicted to Paraguay.