Friday, January 23, 2009

Terere Lesson

All that you should know about 

How important is terere? When we came to country, on a Thursday, our first lesson, on Friday, was on how to drink terere. When there was a flood, disaster crews packed bags of yerba, from which terere is made, in with the rations for each family. When my friend comes over and says her boyfriend stopped calling and she wants to die, I say, “Come in, I’ll make some terere.”

There are several things you need for terere, the parts which collectively make up your equipo. 

1. Termo. This can be a thermos for travel or just a pitcher. Termos can be simple pl

astic, or leatherbound with your name engraved, like mine. They can be engraved with the name of a place or your favorite futbol team. High school girls carry equipo that’s purple or pink with painted flowers. 

Customer in the coop with his equipo

Every termo in Paraguay leaks when you tip out the water, no matter how expensive or leather-covered, no matter how the server unscrews and rescrews the top.

In the grocery store, there’s a sign that says it’s prohibited to bring your equipo in the store, with red circling and crossing over a photo of a leatherbound termo. You have to check it where ladies check their purses.

The guampa is the cup from which you drink terere, or t-ray as we sometimes call it. Many guampas match the termos, some of which have a leather harness for the guampa, which rides like a little sidecart. The best guampas are made from an endangered wood. Others are covered in leather.  Common also are ones made from cow horns. Again there are names, futbol teams or company names.

My new host mom with a guampa made of a cow's horn 

and printed with the logo of Western Union, which is 

the company most people working abroad use to send 

money home. 

The bombilla is a straw, usually metal, with a filter at the end that is inserted into the guampa. There are fancy ones that split into three tubes then come back into one. There are silver ones to match the silver guampas in the chuchi stores. In Uruguay, I just bought a bombilla made of a bamboo twig, with holes punched in the end to make the filter. 

Then there’s

Yerba is a plant that grows locally and is dried in huge brick over-looking things. It’s then chopped into little bits. Various flavors of yerba stock the aisles of the supermarket, and everyone has their brand, like cigarettes to smokers. Volunteers sometimes haggle with others who work with yerba cooperatives for some home-grown stash. I brought back from Argentina yerba that’s flavord in peach and apple as gifts. 

Juyos are plants that you can add to the water for flavor and medicinal purposes. There are juyos for everything -- your heart, your nerves, your insomnia. People go out in the yard and come back with a handful of something green and add it to the water in the termo. Brennan just introduced me to a good juyo lady in Villarrica, who dug through little bundles of green leaves to find the right ones for him. 

You can mash them up with a mortar and pestle, but I put them in my blender. There’s cedron, which tastes lemoney. And mint. There’s roots and leaves of all kinds. 

Ice is made here in long plastic bags. You fill them with water, tie a knot, and they come out huge and needing to be cracked over a fence post to fit in the termo. The plastic always gets stuck where the bag puckers to the knot, so as it melts people are pulling pieces of blue plastic out of their mouths.

Eric and Shola on my porch t-raying with my equipo

So it begins most likely with a retererese (You want to terere?) or with a jatererema (Let’s t-ray). Someone gets the guampa and the stash of terere. They fill the termo with water and ice. Everyone gathers ‘round as the server fills the guampa about halfway with green flecks. He shakes it to the side a bit, puts in the bombilla, adds water and waits. After taking the first guampa-full, it’s common to spit it out in the grass. They’ll also just spit it out if it’s warm or just not good.

Each person takes it and sips it until it slurps, then passes it back. The server is always forgetting who went last, and people sometimes pass it to the person next to them out of habit of beer-drinking, most likely. People are always holding out the guampa to someone who’s not looking, then making a little psst sound. Sometimes during the passing you'll get a little finger-touchy action from a guy trying to flirt. 

If someone reaches for the guampa, out of reflex but out of turn, people say they’re just playing the harp, as they pull their hand back in. If someone spills, it’s good luck.

Technically, it’s illegal to drink terere and drive. Really, it’s a bad idea to put a metal straw in your mouth while riding on bumpy roads. But people do it anyway. Some even on motos, with the back passenger pouring and passing to the driver.

When you’re walking by and someone’s drinking, they’ll just lift the guampa as if in a toast, and you’ll go over and t-ray with them. Sometimes someone’s looking a little nasty and you don’t want to drink after them. In that case, it’s polite to say you just drank some milk, best not to mix with terere.

And you better check on the bathroom situation before you go drinking that t-ray. Because you don't want to wait until your bladder is about to explode before you realize the outhouse without the door, right over there where everyone can see, is your only option.

You can drink terere with anyone. One volunteer in Ukraine told me that after a big purchase, they drink a shot of vodka. Here, we terere. Some people think it’s terere that makes Peace Corps service different in Paraguay. It’s an instant way to literally get in the circle with the people.

There’s something in terere that acts like caffiene, so the Paraguayans have a little snack, or terere rupi, beforehand, so they don’t get all shaky.

Some of my best moments have been right after a t-ray. I’ve been chatting with the people in the shade of a tree. The sun is shinging and I’m walking down the street, all hopped up on terere, and life is good. 


Jeri Jones said...

i love this post, you are so insightful. lots of fatigue lately, so i just got to it.your attitude is delightful and i think you are doing a fabulous job of living your life in Paraguay. i enjoy the quotes, many of them are my favorites too. go
love, jeri
p.s/ i see what you mean about the pig. yuck!

Jorge Galeano said...

Hi there, I just found and read your blog, thanks a lot for taking your time writing about my country, I'm from Paraguay (Asuncion) and I'm living in Connecticut for about 4 years, are you still living there? Hope you're doing fine and thanks a lot for work and help people around there.. God bless you always!
Jorge Galeano (FB)