We met Mauricio at the Howard station on a really hot afternoon. I didn't even get a good look at him before Mariam was walking towards him and telling me to hurry and follow her. He was across the platform and walking away from us. He was carrying a funny thermos, that looked like it was wrapped in leather with a small gourd strapped to it's side. The thermos was in a tricolor pattern with some stitching that we couldn't read from that far away.
As I ran after her, I told Mariam that the gourd was for yerba mate. I was failing at trying to explain what the gourd was for and how you would slowly steep the leaves, but gave up and just told Mariam to go ask the guy what it was for and he would explain it...
Mauricio hails from Paraguay and is studying math and philosophy at Northwestern University. Given such a peculiar background, talking Mauricio was a rather profound experience -- part rumination, part introspection, and part frank dialogue.
It turned out that while everyone was trying to stay out of the heat, and most people stayed in, Mauricio and a bunch of friends decided to get together and play baseball in Lincoln Square and carried water to brew a Latin American drink in the gourd.
Mauricio explained that the thermos was full of water, and that you brewed the yerba mate in cool water (in true Paraguayan fashion). You only add a small amount of water at a time (enough for a few sips), to keep the drink from becoming too bitter and strong. And then you drink it out of the small gourd or horn that the drink is brewed in using the metal straw.
Mauricio hopes to one day become a political philosopher, because he felt that that was the most relevant type of philosophy today. Especially, given the fact that it's becoming harder and harder to distinguish between reality and propaganda (from countries and even corporations). He is particularly inspired by a philosopher named Spinoza who famously structured his arguments like a mathematical proof. Though it makes for a dry read, Mauricio says it's logical and easy to follow, especially because he has experience in both math and philosophy.
In his daily life, Mauricio is inspired by people who fight to improve their lives, which is why he is currently spending the summer encouraging high school students to stand in solidarity with inner-city school teacher's and unions protesting.
Naturally, because Mauricio is Paraguayan, I had to ask him what he thought of the recent impeachment of the Paraguayan president and protests in Paraguay. I jokingly suggested that they caught the revolution fever from the Middle East and North Africa. Mauricio charmingly laughed it off and said that the struggle for independence definitely rings true with the Paraguayan people. His family is of Lebanese heritage, so they are especially proud of the Arab people who stood up for their rights in the face of hugely corrupt leaders and dictators.
Finally, we asked Mauricio about any interesting dreams he has. He told us he dreamt that he was on Mars with his girlfriend, where he noticed several interesting details. First, everyone there was Indian and there was a cage there with thousands of bananas in it. The human mind is definitely bizarre!
Thanks so much for talking to us Mauricio. It was a blast talking to you. I hope our paths cross again!