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!