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Most likely the first thing that comes to mind when you read mao is Communist China's late Chairman Mao Zedong. He would no doubt be celebrating right now as well, especially since he was born in a mao/aasta (year of the snake). Is that how he got his name?!... According to Chine-se astrology, people born on the year of the snake are said to be keen and determined. They know how to maneuver themselves toward their own destinies and destinations. (Mao tee (written as two words) also happens to mean the path of the snake. Tee is thereby a true-blue homonym, meaning both tea and road/path.) People born in this year are also said to be sophisticated, calm and not outwardly emotional, but they might have a touch of paranoia at times.

English-language media seems to refer to it simply as the Year of the Snake, while it's interesting that in Estonia, the creature's other, more specific attributes are also mentioned – we have currently begun the year of the must vesi/madu or black water snake.   MADU or uss = snake Uss is the word most people first learn for said slithery reptiles (roomaja(d), literally "crawlers"). Vihma/uss is earthworm ("rain snake"), pael/uss is tapeworm, the rather nasty mao/parasiit (stomach parasite). So why isn't it called mao/madu (stomach snake)? The difference lies in the fact that madu is usually reserved for larger members of the family, such as lõgismadu (rattlesnake), püütonmadu (python), lohemadu (dragon) and the star of the newly arrived Chinese New Year. Another slightly more uncommon word for snake, which mirrors its movement is SIUG, from the verb siuglema, to slither. Maotee siugleb nagu mao tee sinu makku. – Stomach tea snakes like a serpent's path into your stomach.   MAGU or kõht = stomach While one's entire (sometimes verging on large) frontal midriff area is called a kõht (suure kõhuga jõuluvana – large-bellied Santa), and a stomach ache is kõhuvalu, the actual organ in which you digest your food is called the magu. Mao/mahlad are digestive enzymes ("stomach juices"), maohaavand = an ulcer ("stomach wound") and cancer of this organ is maovähk. (Vähk means crab as well as cancer. Ah, the joy of homonyms.) Whether and how well taimsed (botanical) maoteed will help alleviate discomforts of the magu depends on a range factors, but people seem to rely on them in good faith and they can't hurt, or they wouldn't be sold in pharmacies. Kubja Ürditalu's (kubja.ee) tea is made up of kassi/naeris (mallow), kummel (chamomile), raud/rohi (yarrow), pipar/münt, pune (oregano) and vareme/rohi (comfrey). Vadi Ravimtaimed (vadigild.ee) have included just kanarbik (heather) and lina/seemned (linseed). It was a banner week for holidays and rituals this past week: Hiina uus aasta (Chinese Lunar New Year ) was followed by vastlapäev (Strove, Pancake or Fat Tuesday) and sõbrapäev or "Friend Day" as Valentine's has come to be known in Estonia. The siuglemine (slithering) of snakes and liuglemine (sliding) of sleds – the latter is part of vastlapäeva day good luck rituals and Eesti definitely had enough snow for big time sledding. Unfortunately it sounds like a lot of places in eastern North America had their load of snow melt by Tuesday; luckily consuming pea soup with smoked pork, salted beans and Lenten / Shrovetide buns filled with whipped cream is not dependent on the weather. This day used to be the feast before the fast and you can see the "ghost" of the word fast in vastlad. And following the feast – some maotee.   Riina Kindlam,  Tallinn  

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