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Remember this? "The King and I"? Came out in 1956. If you do remember then chances are you, too, are an old fogey. Likely not as old as I am, 92, but well on your way. Maybe you, too, ramble a lot.  4

We are now deep into the Covid-19 pandemic, pushed climate change onto some backburner of the mind. Just like that. No integrated thinking that spans climate change, pandemics, livelihood. Nor education, nuclear threats, social Darwinism, governance. How about a thought about understanding our fellow man—really getting to know him?  5

Social Darwinism? That is, Wkipedia tells us, "the theory that individuals, groups, and peoples are subject to the same Darwinian laws of natural selection as plants and animals. Now largely discredited, social Darwinism was advocated by Herbert Spencer and others in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and was used to justify political conservatism, imperialism, and racism and to discourage intervention and reform."  6

Not many years ago, a Canadian senator proudly proclaimed the superiority of his class. It's in the Hansard somewhere. But even today our senators are not known for mingling with the hoi polloi. They should, I believe, but ... ah well.  7

I watched a movie the other day. "Sergio," recently released by Netflix. Sergio Vieira de Mello was a Brazilian career diplomat employed by the United Nations and tasked to resolve humanitarian and political issues. I like to report on three interrelated episodes from that film. But first some background, about East Timor.  8

Timor is an island divided in two halves. The western half is part of Indonesia, the other side is the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste. The eastern part used to be a Portugese colony from the middle of the 17th century until it declared its independence in 1975. Then, within weeks, it was invaded by Indonesian forces and another struggle for independence began which lasted for more than two decades at a cost of 100,000-plus lives; perhaps close to double that. In 1999, following a United Nations resolution, a peacemaking taskforce was deployed to end the violence and Sergio became East-Timor's UN transitional administrator.  9

Quoting Wikipedia: "The languages of East Timor include both Austronesian and Papuan languages .... The lingua franca and national language of East Timor is Tetum, an Austronesian language influenced by Portuguese, with which it has equal status as an official language."  10

Back to the movie now. The first of those three episodes: Sergio is having a conversation with an elderly native lady:

      "Sinhorina?" [in Portuguese:] "Good morning. How are you?"
      "Good morning. I'm well."
      Sergio introduces himself.
      "Hi Sergio. Are you Portuguese?"
      "No, I am Brazilian."
      "Why are you here?"
      "I'm here to administer Timor, but for a short period."
      "Welcome."
      "What do you want for your future?
      "If I tell you what I want ... I don't think you would understand."
      "Really? I can make an effort to try. I really want to know."
      "My whole life ... I worked the land. Today, my land, my family, they are all dead. I don't have anything. You know what I want? I want to go up in th sky ... and become a cloud. Then travel through the sky to the place where I was born. And when I get there, fall like rain. Then ... stay forever on my soil, on my land."
      "I completely understand what you want."
      "So, tell the world. We want to be seen the way we are. We want to be seen. All of us."
      "You want to be seen. ... Can I give you a hug?"
      "Thank you, thank you."
      "How beautiful what you just told me."  
11

Next episode: Sergio wishes to convey a demand by an East-Timorese leader to Indonesian's president, Abdurrahman Wahid, and known as Gus Dur. Having requested a meeting:

      "Mr. de Mello ... you asked for this meeting."
      "Yes. Yes, I did ... Mr. President, um ... I'm here ... because te people of East Timor, in a plebicite, chose to be independent.. This is how they want to be seen by the rest of the world. And for the 24 years of Indonesian domination and the 200,000 lives lost ... they want you to apologize."
      "Excuse me?'
      "Yes."
      The president gets up: "I'm sorry to deny you a diplomatic breakthrough, but the world is not that simple."
      "Sometimes it is. The age of occupation is over, Mr. President. They just want to be ... acknowledged as what they are. Because the way you look at them ... will determine the way the whole world will look at you."  
12

Episode 3: Carolina Larriera, Sergio's girlfriend:

      "So the Indonesians are going to apologize?"
      "It seems so, yes."
      "Timor will be free?"
      "Yeah. Our work is done here. It's almost complete.  
13

And heard, I presume. Understood. "... stay forever on my soil, on my land." What about mother tongue? Hers was and remained Portuguese or sort of. But for most aboriginal peoples around the globe such is a rare instance. 15

I understand that in Canada many indigenous land claims are still to be worked out, as are issues of industrial pollution, water quality, and natural resources. As for indigenous languages, after a long period of hard-bitten suppression, policy made an 180 degree turn to encourage the florishing of native tongues—about seventy in our country.  16

But still, if the peoples of our First Nations, the Metis, and the Innuits were given, instead of wranglig with politicians, a real chance to tell fellow Canadians what they want, I don't think they would be understood. Come to think of it, how well are French Canadians understood by their compatriots? Or English Canadians, for that matter? Do we really want to know? Can we really make an effort? Will English-French bilingualism really fill the bill? All of the bill?  17

About our senators, here are some words quoting John A Macdonald, Canada's first prime minister after Confederation: "Springing from the people, and one of them, he takes his seat in the council with all the sympathies and feelings of a man of the people, and when he returns home at the end of a session, he mingles with them on equal terms and is influenced by the same feelings and associations, and events, as those which affect the mass around him." He said it. Whether he meant it is something else. Especially when it comes to those whose ancestors inhabited this land before any European had set foot here. He was a bit of a racist, wasn't he?  18

This is 2020, too late to turn history around. But not too late for our leaders to try to embrace all the sympathies and feelings of our peoples; to mingle with them on equal terms and be influenced by the same feelings and associations, and events, as those which affect the mass around him—or her. This is one of the issues I covered in some detail years ago in "On guard in a global environment,," an essay about modernizing our Canadian Senate,  19

Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) was a leader who, going against prevailing political winds, kept on striving for conciliation. A Sunni Muslim himself, he expressed the view that "All religions insist on peace. From this we might think that the religious struggle for peace is simple ... but it is not. The deep problem is that people use religion wrongly in pursuit of victory and triumph. This sad fact then leads to conflict with people who have different beliefs."  21

Interviewed on an Australian TV program, he felt that fellow Muslims need to review their stance toward Israel: "Israel believes in God. While we have a diplomatic relationship and recognizing diplomatically China and Russia, which are atheist states, then it's strange that we don't acknowledge Israel. This is the thing that we have to correct within Islam." (Source.)  22

Belostok was a multi-ethnic city in Russia, rife with quarrels and hatred. A common language, it seemed to a teenager, Zamenhof, would be a bridge to mutual understanding and harmony. He grew up with Yiddish and Russian, and spoke Polish as well. He learned German and French from his father, a language teacher, and since then studied Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Aramic. In 1887, while an ophtalmology student at the University of Warsaw, he published an international language designed to serve as an ethnical-neutral auxiliary language. We know it as Esperanto.  23

Even though Esperanto has become a living language, it is relatively easy to learn—emphasize relatively—mostly bcause of a simple, consistent grammar. It has been said that budding Espirantists can make their way within three months, but it will take ongoing practice and polishing to become fluent.  25

Zamenhof perceived Esperanto as permitting artistic expression as well as being useful for worldwide commerce.  25

La Espero by L.L. Zamenhof

En la mondon venis nova sento,
tra la mondo iras forta voko;
per flugiloj de facila vento
nun de loko flugu ĝi al loko.

Ne al glavo sangon soifanta
ĝi la homan tiras familion:
al la mond' eterne militanta
ĝi promesas sanktan harmonion.

Sub la sankta signo de l' espero
kolektiĝas pacaj batalantoj,
kaj rapide kreskas la afero
per laboro de la esperantoj.

Forte staras muroj de miljaroj
inter la popoloj dividitaj;
sed dissaltos la obstinaj baroj,
per la sankta amo disbatitaj.

Sur neŭtrala lingva fundamento,
komprenante unu la alian,
la popoloj faros en konsento
unu grandan rondon familian.

Nia diligenta kolegaro
en laboro paca ne laciĝos,
ĝis la bela sonĝo de l' homaro
por eterna ben' efektiviĝos.
Hope

Into the world came a new feeling,
through the world goes a powerful call;
by means of wings of a gentle wind
now let it fly from place to place.

Not to a bloodthirsty sword
does it draw the human family:
to the eternally fighting world
it promises sacred harmony.

Under the sacred sign of the hope
the peaceful fighters gather,
and this affair quickly grows
by the labours of those who hope.

Walls of millennia stand firm
between the divided people;
but the stubborn barriers will jump apart,
knocked apart by the sacred love.

On a neutral language basis,
understanding one another,
the people will make in agreement
one great family circle.

Our diligent set of colleagues
in peaceful labor will never tire,
until the beautiful dream of humanity
for eternal blessing is realized.
 27

Modern technology facilitates the trend toward employees working from home. Moreover, that home may well be far away from an employer's premises. This opens an opportunity for employers to attract desired talent from around the globe. A common use of Esperanto as an international, socially neutral language may well become widely regarded as a desirable objective. Hence, it is reasonable to expect that Esperanto will receive a place of pride, if not from necessity, in curricula across the globe. Eventually. Eventually.  28

And if nothing else, learning Esperanto may well make a fertile passtime during a next global lockdown. Why not give it a thought?  29

* * *

I began work on this little rhapsody about five weeks ago, work that includes getting some insight in Esperanto. As I mentioned, it has been said that it takes three months to learn it sufficientictly well to make practical use of it. That plus continuing practice to become fluent. Obviously, I am not an Esperantist by a long shot.  30

I am following a course available from the Internet, Lernu. It presents an entertaining story line, about a physics student who together with one of his future selves travels by time machine (tempo-maŝino) two centuries into the future and back again. He then begins the study of Esperanto and three months later participates in the 1982 Esperanto congress in Antwerp. I found some of the grammatical explanations a bit tiresome to follow and for that reason scouted about for some additional study material. David Richardson's "Esperanto"—Kindle edition, $3.99 CAD—filled the bill for me. And as one might expect, there is an abundance of reading material available on the internet.  31

      Eksciante vin
      Eksentante min libere kaj komforte
      Kiam mi estas kun vi
      Eksciante kion diri.
 
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