The Drink of a Nation
April 13, 2017. Coaches Across Continents Process Consultant, Charlie Crawford writes about working with partners at Futbol Mas Paraguay.
The first thing to stand out throughout Asuncion is the fact that a significant portion of the population always carries with them a small cooler accompanied with cup and a flattened looking straw. For those of you that have not had the pleasure, Terere in Paraguay could be considered a form of cold tea and more significantly, an icon and integral aspect of their way of life. In the cup is the supply of mate (crumbled leaves/botanical matter that I did not examine very thoroughly) which, when filled with the ice-water from the cooler and is filtered through the special straw, becomes far more than a refreshing drink.
Paraguay is hot. As one of this week’s participants told it, “The Devil once came to Asuncion, started to sweat, and has not been back since.” Terere is undoubtedly the principle solution to this heat. This ritual helps and continues to build a community of trust centered around a shared cup. And as with any social construct, there are rules and etiquettes to follow this ritual sharing of Terere. The first thing I learned is that the owner of the cooler is the one to pack the cup, and that there are preferred methods to this packing. Once prepared, it’s up to the youngest member of the group to fill the single cup, pass it to the most senior, refill the cup and continue passing it around. You will continue to be offered a fresh cup until you say “gracias”, signifying your satisfaction. After making the dramatic mistake once, I was informed of the most important rule, ‘don’t move the straw’. The depth, position, and angle of this flattened straw are part of the preferred experience of the owner and are not things to adjust as you will it.
As much as I wanted to dedicate an entire blog to this cultural drink, there is no possible way to leave this week without focusing on how incredible a program this was. After experiencing Futbol Mas in Lima the previous week, expectations were reasonably high for F+’s Paraguay branch. Participants here ranged from specialists in government organizations, special needs teachers, competitive coaches, competitive players, volunteers, students and more. None had ever experienced a training of this sort before and their earnest attitude, eagerness to learn, and belief in progress through problem solving were second to none. While most of the trainings were held on the National Secretary of Sport’s official compound, two of our days were spent in the local slum of Chicarita. This area is closer to the river than the rest of the city and, as such, suffers severe flooding on a regular basis. Unauthorized housing packs the area and social stigma closes it off from the rest of the world.
Learning that the vast majority of our participants had never even set foot in this part of their city was not terribly surprising. What was a bit of a surprise, were the attitudes that made clear shifts by the end of the week. It would be accurate to say that there was a feeling of being uncomfortable during the first trip into Chicarita. This atmosphere not only dissipated but was replaced by an opposite eagerness to engage with this world even more. By holding the training within this community, the barrier of prejudice that literally circled this neighborhood was crossed, discussed, and ultimately considered unnecessary by the participants.
The ritual of Terere remains strong. The ritual of avoidance and turning a bling eye does not. This is a great example of what our partners are able to accomplish. I am left with only appreciation for being able to work with both Coaches Across Continents and Futbol Mas.