The Adelaide delegation at this year's Esperanto conference. Indrani is in the front right.

The Adelaide delegation at this year’s Esperanto conference. Indrani is in the front right.

When we meet new people we often ask straight away: where are you from? For many people this is an easy to answer question, but that’s not always the case.

I’ve just come back from the Australian Esperanto Conference in Melbourne and among many interesting talks one stood out for me in particular. In “Where are you from?” Indrani Beharry-Lalla well-traveled Esperanto speaker who currently lives in Adelaide, spoke about her personal experience of people trying to put her in a box.

Indrani looks Indian, but she has never been to India, doesn’t speak any Indian language. In fact, she doesn’t really know much about India. She was born on the island of Aruba, a Dutch island off the coast of Venezuela. She spent her whole childhood there, with Dutch as her native language. Later she studied in the Netherlands and England, then lived in Guyana and Canada before finally moving to Australia.

However, this is too much complexity for most people. People like to be able to put new people they meet into a box: he is American, she is French, etc. When people see Indrani, they think it is easy to put her in a box: she looks Indian and so they expect her to be Indian. They can’t understand why a person who looks Indian is not Indian.

When someone asks Indrani where she comes from she says that she is from Aruba. People then look at her in a strange way “Aruba, what’s that?” She tries to explain where Aruba is, but most people lose interest, they have never heard about Aruba and don’t really want to know about it. People she meets are often frustrated because even after a number of questions they still can’t really put her in a box.

However, for Indrani it’s easy: she is a world citizen, who speaks several languages, including Esperanto. Indrani finished her illuminating talk with the advice to treat people as individuals and not to try to put them into a box.

The next World Esperanto conference will be held in July in Iceland.

Author Nicole Else

Nicole Else grew up in France and got a postgraduate diploma in translation. She is the author of a book for children called “Foreign languages: what they don’t often tell you.” She now lives in Sydney and is the current vice-president of the NSW Esperanto Federation. Her website with more information about Esperanto is at She is very busy communicating and exchanging information in Esperanto with her many friends from Chile, Croatia, Japan, Hungary, etc. Recently she has translated over 10 stories into Esperanto for BookBox. Those animated stories can be watched on Youtube.

More posts by Nicole Else
  • Saluton Nicole, a nice article which touched my heart as I personlly went through almost every fasting month in Malaysia. I am a mixed of two Chinese tribe, Han and She ( 汉族和畲族). I look very much like the local mixed Malay tribe and I was denied to enter the fast food outlets or even the local Malay food center during the day.

    The worst part of it was the local Malays would shout at the Sarawakians and Sabahans who are not muslim but eating while walking. How ignorance these young people would be ? They not even know the people of the same country but just differentiate the tribe by the skin colours.

    This is the cause of the English ‘only’ education policy in Malaysia which leaves not time for the youth to travel with Pasporta Servo (PS) programme. As we know, the wide one travels, s/he sees more and the proverb in Malay–Jauh Perjalanan, Luas Pandangan.行千里路,胜读万卷书。

    If the people could have used the PS program to visit more countries, they would not judge the person by the skin colours.

    How ignorance these people are for not wanting to learn Esperanto in my country and with no support of media to promote the language which is recommended by the UNESCO

  • Gerry Phelan

    Many thanks, Nicole, for putting Indrani’s story in Australiaj Esperantistoj and for all your work in helping Roger with the journal.
    Your contribution is certainly a great asset for the journal.

  • Li Jia

    I am a Chinese from China. I also find that question hard to answer when Chinese people ask me where I am from. How come? I’ve got mixed dialects and none of them is pure enough to indicate my belonging to any specific area. What’s worse, none of the Chinese people agree with any of the answers I’ve ever offered. Honestly I’m envious of the people who could easily show their distinct regional identity by their natural dialect. Now I’m trying very hard to pick up a local dialect and I’d rather use the local dialect to communicate with my colleagues and leaders so as to feel part of the group and get myself involved in the community.

  • N. Rezvani

    I’m N. Rezvani from Afghanistan
    and now I’m studding MA in TEFL in Kashan/Iran
    I’m very glad to see Ur website
    a nice article which touched my heart
    please add me
    I’m interested to Ur news about English language and pedagogy
    best regards

  • A.Bodis