Mateo Askaripour

We've recently collaborated with New York-based MateOverMatter, a yerba mate website and community run by Mateo Askaripour. Mateo is a real great escaper, so we wanted to find out more about the inspirations and experiences that have led him from quitting a flashy job in NYC to living life on his own terms. He’s done everything from working at an orphanage in Nairobi to building a new university in Abu Dhabi and sleeping on volcanoes in Guatemala. Right now, he’s busy working on his first novel. Good job he drinks all that yerba mate!

Hi Mateo, so Great Escapers is all about us getting to know people who have escaped the ordinary in their lives and careers, understanding what inspires and moves them. You're behind MateOverMatter, a yerba mate content site and community that is trying to get more of us into drinking mate. Can you tell us what led to that, and the thought behind it?

Sure! First, thank you for featuring me as a Great Escaper. It’s an honor to work with people who are fun, truly passionate about mate and are making a difference.

MateOverMatter was born out of the desire to give a voice to those who love yerba mate. After falling in love with mate, I began to connect with a variety of people. Some were founders of large mate companies, others were people who consumed it since they were toddlers, and a few included those who never heard about the beauty of it all.

After speaking with many of these people, I realized that beyond a love of mate, or at least a curiosity about it, the one thing that unified all of them was story. The story of how they started drinking it, the story of what sparked their interest in learning more about it, the story of why they enjoy it so much. This was, and still is, the inspiration behind MateOverMatter. To educate the world about mate through people telling their stories, because it is these human stories that can truly motivate someone to becoming open to something new and picking up a gourd.

Do you have a 'first experience' story about mate, or were you brought up drinking it?

I wasn’t brought up drinking mate, and first encountered it when my older brother returned to the States from a trip to Argentina. At the time, I was studying in Abu Dhabi, and our schedules overlapped in New York during the winter holidays.

When I first saw him drinking it, I asked what it was and then didn’t think much of it. At that time, I was a bit close-minded, so I didn’t even take a sip. Then, when I returned to Abu Dhabi, I found myself in a whirlwind of stress from my responsibilities as a Resident Assistant, feelings of displacement and a lack of overall direction in my life. One night, I noticed that a documentary was scheduled to screen, and I decided to take a break from my hectic life to check it out. Lo and behold, the documentary was all about yerba mate! It was short, about 19-minutes, but I was blown away that the same drink I heard about 11,000 km away was featured in a documentary screening there, in the Middle East.

After the viewing, I spoke with the producer, and she said that there was a chance I could find some mate in Abu Dhabi. I set out the next day and found a low-quality gourd, thin bombilla and a 500g package of Amanda. I went home and prepared a gourd around 6pm. And wow, did it hit me! I didn’t go to sleep until 4am the next day, but what surprised me most was that I didn’t feel jittery or cracked out. Instead, I felt awake, focused and a warm feeling of happiness coursed through my veins.

That night was the beginning of a long and beautiful relationship with mate, which undoubtedly changed, and continues to change, my life.

Tell us about one of the most jaw-dropping things/landscapes/views you’ve ever seen?

This is a hard one! Over the last 8 years, I’ve traveled to about 27 countries, including places like India, Nepal, Tajikistan, Uganda, Guatemala, Cuba, Indonesia and more. There were almost innumerable jaw-dropping sights and landscapes along the way, but I’d have to say that the most beautiful thing I’ve seen was an orphanage I volunteered with in Kenya in 2009. It was amazing to witness the sheer joy that those children, who seemed to have nothing in much of material possessions, exuded. They rolled each other around in tyres, climbed bare wooden posts, played tag and hammered nails into all sorts of places. They didn’t have Xboxes, Nintendo Switches, Macbooks, iPhones or anything that children in the West often spend time with for fun. All they had were themselves, the set of circumstances they found themselves in, and they were making the best of it. That was the most beautiful thing I’ve been fortunate enough to witness. It’s an experience I take with me wherever I go.

Yerba mate is a social drink, traditionally consumed in a group of people who talk, laugh and share ideas while passing the mate in a circle. Who would you like to be in your dream mate circle?

Wow, another tough one. I suppose it all depends on how big the circle is, right? My favorite circles consist of about six people. That way, it’s large enough for a strong exchange of ideas, but small enough where people still feel a sense of intimacy. The types of personalities in the circle always mesh well, too. So, that’s important. I’d love to drink mate with:

Malcolm X because he was serious, but also knew how to laugh. And the growth he underwent as a human is inspiring.

Jean-Michel Basquiat because I’d want to see how mate would affect his personality, as well as watch him interact with someone like Malcolm X.

Walt Whitman because I think he’d truly appreciate a delicious gourd of mate, and I’m confident he’d get along with just about anyone.

Alan Watts because of his wit, humor and ability to connect with others no matter their background.

James Baldwin because I’d love to see what he’ make of Jean-Michel Basquiat, and how he, Alan Watts and Che would get along. Also because he never held back.

Nina Simone because like so many others on this list, she always spoke the truth. There was almost never anyone who could silence her. Plus, her and James Baldwin got along well.

Che because I’d want to see the look on his face when he saw a bunch of non-Argentines enjoying his favorite drink. He would no doubt get along best with Malcolm X.

Are you a risk taker, or do you like it to play it safe?

Risk taker, for sure. We’re all going to die one day, so I figure that I might as well take as many positive risks as possible, in an effort to serve others, realize my own goals and leave the world a little better than how I found it. As long as I’m doing that, I’m living with purpose, which is of the utmost importance to me.

Would you say you are led by your head or your heart?

Another great one. Today, I’m mostly led by my heart. If you asked me this question two years ago, it’d definitely be head. I’ve worked hard to rewire myself into paying attention to both, but I defer to my heart when in doubt.

Who do you think truly escapes the ordinary / or has escaped the ordinary? It could be an artist or performer, a political leader, someone you know…

My last response about the mate circle only concerned dead people (physically, at least), so I’ll stick with that trend. One of my biggest heroes, out of the people I listed above, is Jean Michel-Basquiat. By the age of 24, he became an international sensation, participating in art shows around the world, going from homeless to painting in $3,000 Armani suits and reconfiguring the face of art as critics, patrons and others artists knew it.

The fame, fortune and notoriety are all nice, but what makes me consider him someone who escaped the ordinary is that he didn’t try to fit into the mold of what others deemed to be “appropriate, normal and safe.” Instead, he embraced himself, his mixed heritage, and the rollercoaster of feelings he experienced on the daily, and channeled them through his fingertips; connected to the paint brush before touching a blank canvas. People don’t have to paint to do this. Our lives often start as blank canvases, and I believe it’s our duty to create our own masterpieces, no matter how much they don’t fit the mold.

And finally, what would be your perfect great escape - real or imagined?

The first one that comes to mind is traveling to a planet inhabited by aliens. I don’t know why this was the first adventure to come to mind, but it is. I’m of the belief that we’re not the only living beings in the universe, and that it’d be awfully self-centered and egotistic to think so. When I work from this thought, it becomes obvious to me that there are other forms of intelligent life (likely more intelligent than us, even though we are amazing beings) living throughout the universe. What do they look like? What do they sound like? Do they cluster in a family unit, like us? Do they eat? Do they die? Do they drink mate? I’m joking about that last one, but I’m sure they’d appreciate a frothy gourd. My great escape would be to have some of these questions answered in our lifetime.

Mateo's writing has been featured in The Straits Times, The New Paper, Matador Network, Outpost Magazine, GoAbroad, Black & Abroad and more. Regardless of where he is, he’s always working. To keep up with him, follow him on Instagram & Twitter at @AskMateo and read one of his elaborate stories at SwagPapi.com