If I had to describe Paraguay in one word, it would be tranquilo. It’s a hard phrase to properly define in English, so here’s a few expressions that encompass its essence: everything’s chill. Relax. No worry, no hurry. Be at ease. Hakuna Matata. Tranquilo is not just a word; it’s a state of being.
Through my 18 months of living in Paraguay as a Peace Corps Volunteer, this tranquilo lifestyle permeates all aspects of Paraguayan culture. Perhaps it’s because many campesino (typical) Paraguayans spend their days hanging out on lawn chairs with friends and gossiping about the latest news, or because there’s not a lot of hustle and bustle in a town of 8,000 people. But I like to think that it all starts and ends with tereré, a drink that is as concurrent in Paraguay as is breathing.
Tereré is made of yerba maté, the leaves and twigs of a tree grown in South America. It’s always served out of a guampa (a small, special rounded-out cup or bull horn) and with a bombilla (a flat, metal straw with a filter that ensures you aren’t actually drinking said leaves or twigs). Tereré is always provided iced cold, and accompanied by a thermos or pitcher to pour into the guampa. The server will pour water into the guampa and pass it around in a circle to any visiting participants. There is no issue or hesitancy to sanitation here; everyone all shares from the same straw. While Paraguayans drink Tereré, they hang out and visit with each other.
Like choosing a fine bottle of wine, Paraguayans like to pick their own special yerba maté blends and yuyos (herbs) to add to their Tereré. Popular picks are mint and lemongrass, which Paraguayans will usually pluck out of their backyard to put into their drink. There are also all kinds of herbs that Paraguayans claim to cure every medical issue possible, ranging from stomach indigestion to preventing pregnancy.
So what’s the deal with Tereré, and why is it such a staple down here in Paraguay? Honestly, there is something about the summer heat here (which can top 115 degrees) that zaps you completely of energy and can put you in a coma during the siesta (lunchtime) hours. Tereré is the answer to all of your troubles: it is the most cool, refreshing drink you will ever taste in your life. The caffeine is stimulating and energizing, and the best part of my day is when I finally get to chug tereré after trudging through dusty roads and scorching, ruthless sun rays in the summer heat on my daily walk to work. Think of Tereré as Gatorade and Red Bull, except super-charged.
Tereré promotes the tranquilo lifestyle because it is a ritualistic experience and communal activity. It doesn’t matter whether you are old or young, rich or poor, Paraguayan or foreigner–Tereré is shared with everyone. It links friends, family neighbors, colleagues, and even strangers. Everything’s chill. Relax. No worry, no hurry. Be at ease. Hakuna Matata. When you have Tereré, life is good.
Brittany Boroian is a current Peace Corps Volunteer in Paraguay, living the tranquilo lifestyle and drinking Tereré every waking moment. All opinions are of her own creation and do no reflect the positions, views, or intents of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps. For more on life in Paraguay, visit http://brittanygoesglobal.com.