Let’s go back in time back to 2001. Why? That was my first Esperanto meeting, in August 2001… To put things in perspective, I first heard about Esperanto in January 2001, then started learning Esperanto the next month, and founded the Esperanto Wikipedia in November 2001. Busy year! Well, I wrote an article about that first adventure which has since been lost, but now I’ve dug through my hard drive for your reading pleasure. So, enjoy the tempvojaĝo [time travel]!
Waiting at the Harrisburg Greyhound bus station, I meet a Japanese traveler who doesn’t know a word of English and I’m asked to help him since we have the same final destination: New York City. Even though I know five languages, I have great difficulty helping him, because he doesn’t even know the word for “language” in English and I am once again reminded of the world language problem. We can’t even talk to our fellow man across borders even though our own animals have no trouble communicating.
After arriving, I don’t know what happened to my new-found Japanese friend, but I found myself at gate 26 of the Port Authority looking for a phone. I call Jim Medrano and ask him to meet me by the stairs outside. In the meantime, I’m sitting in Time Square calling Kevin Joyce, another Esperantist, in Jersey City to set up my stay when I return from Oakland.
“Saluton!” I look up to see a smiling face with an outstretched arm welcoming me to the big city. I quickly finish my call as he offers to carry my bag, and we’re off to the Empire State Building via Time Square. “Ĉi tie estas la mezo de la universo.” (Here is the center of the universe.) He told me things I would never have learned from simply arriving and checking into a hotel for the night. I learned about his childhood growing up in New York, on which streets were safe to walk, how to calculate how long it takes to get somewhere in the city, etc.
But, we weren’t speaking English. All this was done in Esperanto. I was still marveling at the fact that after only six months of taking free lessons on the Internet, I was able to pretty much understand all of what he told me. After deciding not to go up the Empire State Building (how many people can say they’ve only been to the bottom of the Empire State Building?), we ate at a Korean restaurant and headed back to his Manhattan apartment to get some rest. Jim’s way of using Esperanto is to let the world come to him as he’s had guests from many different countries stay with him.
Beep, Beep, Beep. I wake up to the sound of my cell phone’s alarm clock going off to realize I had to rush to grab a taxi for the airport. After the usual close calls on a NYC taxi, I got on my flight for Oakland. I was completely taken aback by the beautiful scenery and mountains when I switched planes in Phoenix. This east coast boy almost didn’t know how to handle himself. After arriving, I took the airport shuttle to the BART subway, to a free bus called the Emery-Go-Round and after walking several blocks, I start looking for the central office of ELNA (Esperanto League of North America). [Editor's note: This organization is now called Esperanto-USA.]
I was greeted with a wealth of “Bonvenon” and “Saluton” from my samideanoj (people of the same idea). I gazed at the shelves and shelves of books lining one entire wall of the office. I had never seen so many Esperanto books in my life. Hung on the far wall was the large green Esperanto flag along with a map of the world beside it. When I was finished drooling over their library (or, ahem, bookstore), four of us left for lunch to head back to the house.
While I expected more of an urban adventure (considering none of us had cars), we found ourselves in a house in the midst of a forest on top of a mountain. At this point, we were very hungry, so amidst our international food choices, we finally decided to eat tacos, which Amanda made for us. With full stomachs, Amanda, Brian and I went for a walk. We enjoyed seeing the rich variety of houses built on the sides of the mountain, although Brian did not enjoy seeing the rich variety of dogs along the way, “Stultaj hundoj” he yelled. Of course, we had to wonder whether the dogs spoke Esperanto…
When we returned, we talked, laughed, listened to Esperanto music, and explored Govind’s interesting collection of books. We were fascinated by his books on language as well as his Esperanto books. It wasn’t until then that I realized that although we spanned across the country, we shared the knowledge of many books, websites, music and culture. With this, I also realized that these were also shared with our Esperanto friends scattered throughout the world. Also, since we were spread across the country, we were tired from the day’s journey and had a good night’s sleep.
The next morning we awakened to the sunlight pouring in the windows between the trees outside. We enjoyed our pankukoj together and saw how well each of us could speak Esperanto in the morning because of our tired state. Now, I’m mainly speaking of Brian and me, since we were the beginners still struggling with the language, but seeing great improvement even after only one day. After breakfast, we headed out to the office to help.
That day was a bit frustrating for Brian and I, since we were given tasks to complete in Esperanto, but in the long run, it has helped us considerably. Well, at least once I figured out what a skatolo was (a box). “Kio ili volas, ke mi faras kun la boxoj?” (What do you want me to do with the boxes?, the right word would be skatoloj), I asked Amanda who quickly helped me realize that box was skatolo and then things clicked and I remembered how much easier it was to learn a language in an immersed environment rather than a classroom.
We all rejoiced to see Ĵenja arrive, Amanda’s friend from college and I might add the only American with an undergraduate degree in Esperanto. Then, I met Don and Angela Harlow which really excited me because I had read Don’s online book, The Esperanto
Book.. I was truly astonished to hear people all around me speaking this “artificial” language as though it was just another language to them. In fact, I don’t believe I ever heard Ionel say a word of English the entire weekend. Of course, Ionel and Joel have been using Esperanto as their main language for the past 16 years, so I guess that should not have surprised me.
After our day of volunteering was finished, Amanda and I headed off to a salsa dance club while the others went back to the house. On our bus ride, Amanda asked me to speak Esperanto with her when we were in public, because that was what she was used to during her 16-month excursion through Europe. It was quite an exhilarating feeling to be speaking a “secret language” even though we were natives to the land. After enjoying a night of listening and dancing to upbeat Spanish language songs, we enjoyed the same luxuries of our language on our taxi ride home.
The next morning we went into the office again to help. Even though you would think it would be boring sorting contents from disorganized clutter into periodicals, archives and other things, the materials we sorted through were incredibly interesting. These included invitations to come to the 1905 Esperanto conference in Boulogne, newspaper clippings, personal letters from all kinds of countries throughout the world, pictures and audio records. We were pleased to look at the neatly stacked boxes on the sides of the archive room and remember what they looked like just the day before.
With our work complete we had a toast to Zamenhof, “Al Zamenhof!” Amanda whipped out her mini-guitar and we sang Hejm’ sur la Step’ (Home on the Range) followed by Descendu, kara ĉaro (Swing low, sweet chariot). After this we celebrated by going out to an Ethiopian restaurant. When we were ordering, we got into an argument about how much food to get and then we realized we were speaking English (no wonder we got into an argument)! After our order was settled, we enjoyed conversation and decided to list the languages in which we could hold at least a five-minute conversation: American Sign Language, Dutch, English, Esperanto, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Kannada, Russian, and Spanish. Then we got a little bit carried away and listed all the languages we knew at least one word of:
Amharic, Basque, Bengali, Catalan, Cantonese, Danish, Finnish, Gaelic (Irish), Gaelic (Scots), Greek, Haitian Creole, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Ido, Klingon, Korean, Latin, Mandarin, Portuguese, Sanskrit, Swahili, Tagalog, Tamil, Telugu, Ukrainian, Volapuk and Yiddish.
When we returned, we took some pictures and continued to enjoy each other’s company, now speaking almost entirely in Esperanto (even us beginners). Even with as much fun as we were having, nothing could have prepared us for the party the next day. So, after making the necessary preparations, we fared each other “bonan nokton” and anticipated our last day together at JES. [Editor's note: then JES was known as Junulara Esperantista Semajnfino. Now it typically means Junulara Esperanto-Semajno. It is, however, also the Junularo Esperanta Svislanda!]
Our final day together began with us splitting up into two groups: one to see San Francisco and the other to stay back and relax. We enjoyed the day by playing Mamma Mia (an English translation of a German card game about making pizzas) with our new-found friend Jouko (from Japan). Jouko surprised all of us by completing 7 of her pizzas while the rest of us only completed 5, 4, and 3. After this, we cleaned up our stuff (which was scattered about) and got ready for our guests.
The San Francisco Esperanto club decided to join us for the night and my ears couldn’t believe that they were hearing fifteen people speaking Esperanto in the same house (thankfully not all at the same time). We also had some non-native English speakers, namely one from Russia, Jouko from Japan and another from China. Just try to imagine Esperanto speakers eating and hearing Russian spoken on the phone in the background. Of course, all of this is just normal activity in Esperantoland. We teased him about his krokodilemo, (tendency to speak his native language when Esperanto is more appropriate), but we understood that he was just speaking to his parents.
The night ended with games. To Brian’s delight we finally got around to playing Ridigilo, a hilarious game of questions and answers to which the best exchange I remember was when Don Harlow asked Charlie, “Ĉu vi ofte krokodilas?” (Do you often speak your native language when Esperanto is more appropriate?) to which he silently read his card, “ĉiam kaj ĉie” and said aloud, “All the time and everywhere!”
After a few rounds, most had to go home, but a few remained to play the german card game 6 Nimmt! (Take 6) I felt bad because it was my first time trying to teach a game solely in Esperanto, but everybody caught on fairly quickly. The winner of the game is the one who gets gored by the bulls the least (those silly Germans). After a wonderful game and hearing some trilingual cursing from those who suffered the fate of the bulls, we wished each other “bonan nokton” and “bonan vojaĝon” and headed off to bed.
…But my adventures in Esperantoland were not over! Waking up at 4am the next morning, Charlotte drove me to the airport for my flight back to New York City (Redankon, Charlotte). After a nice sleep on the flight, I connected up with Kevin Joyce and he started to show me the city. After eating dinner at a Cuban restaurant, we got dessert at Haägen-Dazs and then walked to the Brooklyn Bridge. What a view! Finishing the night with a beautiful view on all sides of monstrous skyscrapers was a great way to end the night.
The next morning, I took the PATH train back to Jim’s house and discovered that McDonald’s delivers in Manhattan! That’s a far cry from the memories of calling Pizza Hut and Dominoes Pizza in London only to be shocked to find out that they didn’t deliver (though we did eventually get some pizza delivered from a place called Joe’s Fish Bar). But anyway, I enjoyed a relaxing afternoon hanging out with his kids playing Kirby’s Dreamland 64 before having to take a taxi back to my bus.
So that, miaj amikoj, is my rakonto of my adventures in Esperantoland. After all of that it is nice to say as a famous Esperanto writer once said, “Mi estas mondcivitano!” or in English, “I am a citizen of the world!” Now, I just have to wait two weeks until the JES in New York City…
Be sure to catch my next article in the 10 years ago series about my first Esperanto event abroad in Germany!