Comments, In Focus

Deception or seduction

When I was a child and my grandmother wanted to talk about “grown up” things with her friends, she sent us to my mother, she told us, “Go and ask your mum for a twig of temboruco”.


Mabel Encinas


I asked for the small branch and my mother knew that I had been confused or mislead. As I discovered when I was no longer able to be misled by my grandmother, the verb “temborucar” in Spanish means to distract or entertain someone so that you can be free of their presence.

The task of asking for the twig surprised me and aroused my curiosity.

Maybe it was a type of a fragrant and sweet tea, the unknown “Tea-Emboruco”, or branch that could be used for play. When I grew a little older, I also used the trick with my younger brothers and cousins.

However, “temborucos” are not my grandmother’s invention. Every day tonnes are produced by the free newspapers we are given on the morning and evening trains.

They are also produced by other media sources, in workplace corridors, and on neighbourhood pavements. The “temborucos” are like “brain pigs”, the stories of my aunt are like worms that eat our brains.

In English, “temborucos” are called “red herrings” and they are designed to manipulate.

What is interesting is that adults, knowing they can be deceived, go in search of “temborucos”, and neglect the important things.

Maybe this has everything to do with the seduction of our curiosity, perhaps because they appeal to our emotions as distractions in our unchecked areas.

Cases of abuse or collective death not only awaken our empathy, but also appeal to our fears of loss and, ultimately, our fear of death. Problems arise with the other and not us.

Moreover, the news of success or “miraculous” change, appeals to a projected realisation that compensates for our frustration against the crushing routine and the battles we face in everyday life.

Perhaps the “temborucos” cover us in a kind of reassuring veil, hiding things that we do not want to see, such as child trafficking, the situation in Syria and the effects of climate change.

Maybe they fuel our lack of time to think calmly about problems, or justify our lack of participation in the solution of urgent social problems, both at home and farther afield.

The “temborucos” are reassuring or cathartic functions. But in any case, they are temporary remedies: they do not cure sickness; they only numb us from pain.

This is not to deny celebration in our day-to-day lives, or to avoid participation in major events. On the contrary, without pain killers we would live together in heart and mind.

What if the next time we are tempted to self-distraction, we instead consider the possibility of participating more actively in family life, community, and social networks where we can learn and seek to transform the world in which we live.

They say curiosity killed the cat and  “temborucos” –which allowed my family to understand more about the stories of my grandmother- makes adults function without stopping to think about the most important issues in their lives.

(Translated by Grace Essex – Email: – Photos: Pixabay

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