Mate and Me
In 2008, I packed my bags and ran away with the circus. I had scored a coveted job with the internationally acclaimed touring group Cirque Du Soleil . A 23-year-old struggling singer living in New York City, I was now on my way to London where I’d join the rest of the company at the Royal Albert Hall. Never in my wildest dreams did I think a CIRCUS would take me to 72 countries, allowing such a deep-dive into culture where I’d make lifelong bonds along the way.
Buenos Aires, Argentina 2009.
Some may think tour-life quite glamours. It does have its perks now and again, but quite honestly it can also be a lonely road. The world is vast and although I had traveled before, nothing seemed to take away that longing to be with family. One rainy afternoon I met a young fellow drying off his clothes in a small café in Palermo. During our city-run in Buenos Aires, I would befriend a local artist Ramiro who took me into his home, his heart...and believe it or not... it all started with Mate.
On the river of El Tigre (The Tiger) just outside of Buenos Aires, I took the train to meet Rami in the plaza with his friends. The riverbank adorned with locals, Rami mentioned we might take tea before exploring the city. I was surprised not to see any cups or spoons, similarly to an afternoon “high-tea” in U.K. Rami pulled out a dried gourd from his bag, hollowed and shaped perfectly in the middle, a guampa (or drinking gourd). The old leather that wrapped around the gourd matched the bag that held his shiny thermos.
A long metal straw was laid out next on the blanket, followed by a heaping bag of mate. With a sprinkle of the loose-leaf tea in center of gourd, Rami slowly poured the piping hot water over the top to steep. “Now, we wait just a bit”. It is customary to pass mate in a circle with friends to converse and not only share tea, but share in thought as well. The flavor was unlike any tea I had ever tasted before. Rich, earthy and of course I could soon feel the effects of the high levels of caffeine. What a buzz! What a spark and what a glorious afternoon basking in the sun with new friends. The bold flavors of course of the mate, but more so of the culture. Suddenly, I didn’t feel quite as alone.
Rami and I formed a solid bond my last four months in Argentina. I was invited to his home where I tried the many variations of mate with his family. His mother Judith prepared hers with hot orange juice instead of water. Tereré it is called, a calming citrus pop for the tongue that rounds out the earth tones of the tea. His Grandmother “LaLoli” just adds a heaping spoonful of raw sugar on-top before letting hers steep. His Father Adrian, a purist, would even chew the tea-leaves after for an “extra dose of diarrhetic” he said. The possibilities of mate were endless, and I was endlessly in love with these people and this place.
Rami’s family had really become like my own over those months. Days of sharing mate by their outdoor parilla (BBQ pit) and enjoying life. Often laughing and comparing our cultural differences and similarities. I knew too soon the tour would be moving on to its next location, but Rami and his family would always stay close to me. My parting gift from them was of course, my very own Guampa that I still carry with me today.
For me, mate was not only about discovering a new deliciously exotic tea, but it was about rediscovering connection. It offered people the opportunity to really take a pause and check-in with one another. There is a stillness in the time between each pass of the Guampa to a friend.
There are moments to chat as the tea steeps with each fresh batch prepared. It’s a ritual, and I am so grateful to be able to still partake in that ritual today. A moment by myself as I make my tea to reflect on the many wonderful stories, places and faces I have seen in the great wide world. A world not so lonely, thanks to mate and boy from Buenos Aires.