Welcoming the unexpected

By Viet Quoc Hoang SVD

Paraguayans visit one another often, usually without calling or announcing a visit ahead of time. Tereré or maté are traditional drinks offered to unexpected visitors. While fulfilling my cross-culturing training program (CTP) in Paraguay, I learned how to share maté or tereré in a hospitable environment.

Maté is a caffeine-packed beverage that is always consumed hot and is one of the most popular drinks in the region. It is made from yerba mate—green, finely chopped leaves that infuse the tea water with an earthy and slightly bitter flavor like that of green tea. Some drinkers add sugar to cut the taste as they would with coffee. It is often served in a common guampa, a container made of wood, cattle horns or gourds, and sipped thorugh a bombilla, or metal straw. The preparing, drinking and sharing of maté are an integral part of daily life in Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia and Uruguay.

Guampa and bombilla
Guampa and bombilla

Tereré is a traditional cold drink, made from the leaves of the yerba mate plant. The Paraguayan cultural tradition is to carry these drinks in a thermos, usually wrapped in tooled and stitched leather that also holds an attached cup holder and a metal straw with a series of fine holes that serve as a filter.

When either maté or tereré is shared, the host passes it to one person, who drinks and returns the container to the host, who then  makes another portion for the next person.

The guampa (cup) is completely emptied by each participant before refilling it from the thermos and passing to the next person. Whenever, a participant in the circle of sharing is full or does not want to drink anymore, he or she will say, “Gracias.”

It is a signal to skip that particular person as the circle of sharing continues. People of all ages drink maté and tereré at home, with family or while spending a relaxed afternoon with friends. For many, maté and tereré are the beverages of choice for staying alert during the workday, as they sip on it at their desks. These teas have been part of the Paraguayan culture for hundreds of years.

CTP in Paraguay was indeed a special time for me. I had many excellent opportunities to integrate what I learned into missionary life. I have learned, struggled, affirmed and grown in faith. Although there were moments that I thought it was tough and frustrating, the experience affirmed the vocation to which God calls me, to witness the Good News.

My experience in Paraguay carries on a rich tradition. For more than 140 years, Divine Word Missionaries have been learning and adopting cultural rituals of the communities in which we serve.

All of us are called to love God with all our hearts, souls and minds, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Appreciating the ways of others—such as the tea ceremony of the Paraguayan people—is a form of that love.

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