Category Archives: Uruguay
I wanted to talk about something totally different than anything our trip has written about before. There’s a really cool, completely different cultural experience than anything we have in the United States. Almost all members of Uruguayan society drink a bitter tea called Mattae. This wouldn’t be so different, except that in order to drink it you need a hollowed out (usually designed) gourd, and a thermos full of hot water at all times. They fill the gourd with the Mattae leaves (which are basically tea leaves without the bag) about 3/4 full, and then you pour the hot water into the gourd. It usually only fills up enough to get a few sips in, but the mattae leaves are good to use throughout the whole day. The other cool thing about this is that the “straw” they use is a metal straw with holes at the bottom to sift out the leaves while you sip. The tea is pretty bitter, but we were told that you can fill your thermos with sugar water so that it sweetens the tea when you pour it. It’s extremely rude to not finish your cup if someone pours the mattae for you.
Ok, so now that I’ve explained the mechanics of drinking mattae, I wanted to mention a couple of other cool things. There are really no distinctive marks on the mattae cups or thermos that would distinguish a mattae cup of a “rich” person versus a “poor” person. You can walk down the street and see a business person and a beggar who both have mattae in their hands and the thermos under their arms. When we went to build our houses with un techo para mi pais, our family offered a cup of mattae to every person who was working on their house. These people, who literally had no roof to sleep under, wanted to share something so culturally embedded in their society, no matter how much it cost them. I also saw a police man driving his car and drinking mattae, a shop owner ringing in merchandise and filling his cup with hot water, and professional looking woman walking to her car with her mattae packed and ready to go.
It doesn’t matter who you are, as long as you like mattae, there is nothing in the drinking of the tea that differentiates you from anyone else. We feel cool to drink mattae like the locals, but it’s also really cool that actually ALL the locals drink mattae, not just the poor, rich, young, or old. In a society that is so stratified, it is refreshing to see a practice that transcends socioeconomic status.
I’m really sad to have to leave tomorrow, but I am looking forward to bringing mattae home and sharing it with my family and friends. I think that this simple practice of drinking hot tea (in 80 degree weather no less!) can create a more unified society than anything we in the United States might understand.
Look forward to our phone calls!!! We get on the plane in 19 hours!
Growing up as an American Jew, I experienced Zionism in my community– but nothing compares to the incredible desire of the Uruguain Jewish population to make aliyah! Uruguay has the highest rate of Aliyah of any country in the world. The same amount of Uruguain Jews in Uruguay live in Israel – 15,000 people in each country. Everything that the Jewish community does here revolves around solidarity with Israel. No matter what type of Jew you are – religious or secular – the Jews of Uruguay feel a constant connection and longing for the land of Israel. The majority of the younger generations make Aliyah on their own and are supported and encouraged by their community and families. Two of our young Uruguain Hillel leaders are making Aliyah in the next year. In addition, most of the Jews here are fluent in Hebrew. If we find ourselves unable to communicate in Spanish or English, we rely on our Hebrew!
Today we spent the day in a poor neighborhood in Uruguay. We witnessed poverty that most of us cannot fathom. Amongst the dirt, garbage and poor conditions, students began to build the foundation for 3 homes. It was an amazing experience and after the initial shock of our surroundings, we quickly got to work on building a home for these families. These homes will provide 3 families with shelter and dignity.
The families that we are building the homes for are working alongside us and welcoming us into their lives. We are sharing hugs, kisses, playing with their children and using what little spanish we have to communicate.
Tomorrow we finish building the home and we will have welcome home parties for all of the families. My group took pictures of the family, had it developed and framed and will give it to them tomorrow to display with pride in their new home. They told us that this will be their first family photo.
After we complete the homes tomorrow, we will spend Thursday with the Jewish community and Friday will be spent working on a farm that helps families feed and sustain themselves.
It is truly an unbelievable experience, however, the poverty and conditions were are witnessing are tragic and disturbing.