Presita el Usona Esperantisto № 2023:5–6 (sep-dec)

My take on TAKE

Lasta ĝisdatigo: 2023-12-30
Jonathan (at left) with some friends in Fortaleza.

When I heard about TAKE—the Tut-Amerika Kongreso de Esperanto, or the Pan-American Esperanto Congress—I knew I had to go. I had already been to several Esperanto events, such as NASK and the Montreal UK, so a pan-American congress seemed like the next step.

However, it was taking place this year in Fortaleza, Brazil. The price for a flight was high, but I saw that Esperanto-USA was offering stipends and assistance for travel. I was a bit afraid that I might be taking an opportunity away from someone more eager to go, but at the same time, I recognized that many people would be thinking the same thing, which ultimately means nobody else would be asking for financial support. I decided to at least try—I said I would pay for all other costs, as long as I could be reimbursed for the plane ticket. If I was told no, that would be a sign it was not meant to be, and I would just wait until the next TAKE.

Luckily for me, my request was approved. The only condition was that I do something in exchange for Esperanto-USA, but the joke’s on them, because this it’s something I would have done regardless. Normally I would be planning a trip of this scale for months, but I had only two months to get everything into place, including getting a new US passport. On Halloween, I woke up at 2 a.m. and left my apartment in Utica, New York by 2:30 a.m., headed to New York’s JFK airport, where I would soon be departing for Brazil.

Two layovers and a day later, I finally made it to Fortaleza. Fortaleza is in the northeast part of the country, in Ceará state. The city is renowned for its beaches and, given its proximity to the equator, the warm, sunny weather certainly was a welcome relief from the gloomy cold, rainy weather back in New York. As an added bonus, I was able to share an AirBnB with Brandon Sowers and Alex Miller. It was certainly unique sharing an apartment with two of the most prominent American Esperantists in our movado.

So what actually happens at a congress? I remember being a beginner and wondering about that but being unable to find solid information. At least with TAKE, there was an official program of lectures, round-table discussions, and presentations of local culture.

I participated in a few of the formal presentations, including a discussion where we went through La Espero line by line, such that it made clear sense. While the process was extremely exhaustive, it clarified the meaning for me, because the word order of the poem sometimes obscures the meaning. Likewise, there was a round-table discussion about creating Esperanto events, and bringing up the point of finances, including stipends and financial support. I mentioned that I had received financial support to go to TAKE, and the people leading the discussion pointed out that without participants, there can’t be events, and financial support can be a means of promoting events as well.

My favorite part of the program was the cultural presentations. I especially liked the presentation of maracatu, a local traditional performance that fuses African and Brazilian cultures dating back to the African slaves brought to Brazil. A band using traditional instruments would play and sing while actors dressed in elaborate garments would dance. I received clarification from a Brazilian I met that the veiled women represent the authority of God, and from what I could gather, the man and woman represent the King and Queen of the slaves. The music sounded like it was from another world to me, and I was severely disappointed they were not selling CDs.

However, much of what I enjoyed were the informal conversations and cultural exchanges I had. Before my trip, I had read that walking down the street with an alcoholic drink is perfectly legal in Brazil. In the US, this would run afoul of open-container laws that exist in most of the country. I was able to ask: is this really the case? I received confirmation that yes, you can indeed do so, and it was interesting that they wondered why we would bother criminalizing such a thing. I had never really thought about it, and it was interesting to try and explain why we have such laws. Similarly, they had questions about things like US healthcare—it was hard for them to process that healthcare isn’t completely free and available in the US. For me, it was just as hard to process the idea of an entire country where you can legally walk down the street drinking a beer.

In a city where most people do not speak English, Esperanto does have its practical benefits. I was in the Mercado Central, the main market, buying some souvenirs and gifts for my girlfriend and her family. I had an extremely large bag on my back and was negotiating my way through a crowd of people, hoping to somehow find a spot where I could grab an Uber amid the chaos of traffic around the market. On my way out, I saw two people wearing Esperanto t-shirts and I said “Saluton!” They stopped and were glad to see me. I asked if I could accompany them, hoping to at least talk, as it’s not every day I have a chance encounter with other Esperantists. They were planning to leave as well, and were gracious enough to offer me a ride in their car. They were a husband and wife from Brazil who had driven two days to get to Fortaleza, and the wife was a beginner. Aside from the practicality of not having to take an Uber, it was nice to have a pleasant conversation with Brazilian samideanoj.

By Saturday, the congress took on a somber tone. Amarilo Hevia de Carvalho, a prominent and somewhat colorful Brazilian Esperantist, had passed away at the age of 91. Remarkably, he was at the congress, very active, selling Esperanto t-shirts je la prezo de banano (“for the price of a banana”). The night before he passed, he presented a dramatic sketch where he dreamed he was at the Gates of Heaven and asked St. Peter whether Esperanto is spoken in heaven because it’s the only language in which he can truly express himself. St. Peter confirmed that Esperanto is used and loved in Heaven, and Amarilo was joyous to know that he could rest in verda paco. Saturday there was an informal service in a local park, which happens to have a bust of Zamenhof, where we paid respects to him. While I am not particularly religious, it was very touching to hear the Lord’s Prayer recited in Esperanto. Likewise, Zamenhof’s Preĝo Sub la Verda Standardo was read, and that is something I will never forget.

This is only a fraction of what I experienced. I got to meet a lot of new people from Brazil, other parts of South America, and even Lithuania. I even had a chance to meet some people I had seen only online at virtual events I regularly attend. All of this was possible largely in part to the generous support of Esperanto-USA—and all because I decided to ask for support.