In the center of the table lay the mesa. "Mesa" literally means "table" in Spanish, but in these ceremonies the "mesa" means the grouping of offerings. The mesa is a piece of paper that holds objects that represent your hopes and desires. Little sugar sculptures - brightly colored - symbols of your home, your work, your health, your love, and family. Little bits of llama wool, dyed in brilliant colors, encircle the offerings. Little bits of confetti sprinkled on. And, of course, coca leaves.
The workers from other departments were leaving, casually saying "See ya Monday!" as they walked by our conference table and smoky fire.
"Yeah, see ya!"
The boss portioned out the coca leaves, cigarettes, and beer.
They taught me that over the course of the evening we would each consume three small glasses of beer, three cigarettes and three handfuls of coca leaves. Well, you don't consume the coca leaves, you chew them. Well, you don't really chew them, you pixcha. Pixcha is a Quechua word, an Inka word. It might also be an Aymara word. My friend taught me her way to pixchar coca.
First you nip off the stems and put the leaves in your left cheek and you let them sit there for about five minutes. You think good thoughts for the happiness and wishes of everyone around you in the ceremony. Then you give it a couple of little chews and tuck it into your right cheek, and think good thoughts for your own desires and happiness. Then you split the wad and put half in one cheek and half in the other and think good thoughts for the happiness and desires of yourself and everyone with you, and contemplate how we are all one. Then after 15 or 20 minutes you spit the wad out. And you put some more in.
The feeling of chewing coca was very subtle. A big cup of strong coffee gives me way more of a jolt. I hardly noticed anything, except that hours went by and I was still not tired.
As we sat at the conference table consuming our ritualistic three handfuls of coca leaves, three glasses of beer, and smoking three cigarettes (the ritual cigarette with the smoke carrying our prayers into the invisible realm) over the course of five hours - we talked.
At first people just chatted and told jokes. The boss joked in Quechua. Very informal. After about three hours or so, slowly the talk came round to the concerns and uncomfortablenesses of the last month of being a tax collector. It came out in such an accepting environment of warmth and loving oneness. I thought, "O my gosh! This is healing!"