I spent about a week in the Esperanto festival JES in Naumburg, Germany. (Jes means and is pronounced “yes”. It’s also an acronym meaning Young People Esperanto Week).
It was… pretty amazing Just having so many idealistic, non conformist people shoved together under one roof is cool enough in itself. Add in some interesting workshops and events, talking in Esperanto and LOTS of festivities and you have a pretty cool mix.
The Esperanto Culture
I love the Esperanto culture – and Esperanto does have a culture attached to it, much like natural languages are bound to cultures. Influenced a great deal by the creator Zamenhof’s joyful spirit, Esperanto conventions have a 125-year-long history of being full of dancing, hugging, cultural exchange and generally good times.
(I read in “In The Land Of Invented Languages” that certain people took particular exception to the Esperanto culture’s festive nature and made a derivative of it called “Ido” that would be focused on facilitating international business and relations. Their motto: “We Have Come Here To Work, Not To Amuse Ourselves.”
Esperanto spread rather better than Ido).
A lot of the stuff we did there was only indirectly related to Esperanto, or not at all except for the fact that most of us spoke in Esperanto while doing it. It didn’t seem to matter. A large number of people I already knew were there – I’ve already got quite a web of connections in the Esperanto world, it seems – and it was easy to make friends. There were a lot of romantic arrows flying here and there as well. (Me and my partner are polyamorous and so were quite a few people in JES. That made for quite an emotionally intense experience sometimes, but it was also pretty fun).
One particular highlight was the music. Esperantoland has some great bands in it. Pretty much every day there were one to three bands playing at night, and the quality was amazing. I was particularly in love with La Perdita Generacio (The Lost Generation) which is both great at creating amazing, meaningful songs and at performing them. The lead male singer, Tomio, shone with passion as he delivered his work. An amazing and sensitive guy, he seems low-key when you talk with him but his eyes are like slow-burning embers of joy and lust for life.
It seemed pretty amazing that I could enjoy La Perdita Generacio’s concerts for free and in a small venue rather than paying and having to be crammed into a space with thousands of other people (an experience I find very hard to enjoy, even if I love the band). It was also pretty cool to be able to make friends with Tomio. In anywhere else but Esperantoland, I feel, such amazing artists are usually much harder to reach.
My partner was helping out in the gufujo (lit: “owl container”, or night café) where we hung out a lot. It was a place of nearly free biscuits and tea of very many sorts, and darkness lit by only a few small candles on each table. Combined with live, low-key music, it had a wonderful ambience.
We also had a chance to swap clothes, buy Esperanto books, do language exchanges, play board games, try international food, learn to sing Esperanto songs, go for a walk around the historic town where the venue was located, and loads of other stuff.
And I learnt Esperanto: I was mildly surprised and pleased when I noticed that I could follow a conversation in Esperanto much better after the event than I could before.
It strikes me as pretty amazing how easy Esperanto is. Sometimes it’s easy to forget the importance of that: “Oh yes it’s easy, of course it is, it’s a grammatically simple constructed language. Of course it’s easy.” But then you realise people are communicating in that language. People who often could not communicate without it, or not as well. It’s so simple it could seem almost silly even until you realise… it works.
In answer to my curiosity, I met three and I think even four people who did not speak English but did speak Esperanto. But I also met rather a lot of people who spoke decent English but really good Esperanto. Esperanto yields so easily to study that I think it doesn’t take long for it to overtake a basic knowledge of English.
I’m mostly outlining this because I think what a good thing it would be if we all learnt Esperanto. But ideology aside, I think it’s even good in practical terms for some people who want to travel and experience a cultural exchange (e.g. through Esperanto events or the Pasaporta Servo, an Esperanto-speaking Couchsurfing type service). If you want to improve your English from moderately good to very good, you could aim for very good Esperanto instead. I am convinced that it would take less effort for most people.
I’m liking Esperanto events a lot, and am happy that I’m going to tag along with my partner to several in different parts of Europe each year.
I believe in Esperanto’s promise, but the wonderful thing in the present moment for me is what it makes you a part of. It’s a beautiful community, just the sort of vibe which makes me feel at home. It also gives you a great excuse to travel and an assurance of a welcome from the locals when you get there.
What do you think about Esperanto? I dare you to try learning some!