My husband and I have traveled extensively in much of the world, not as strangers but as welcomed guests. We have a special passport - a green-star pin as our badge of identification. It means we are Esperantists.
Esperanto is an international language, the creation of Dr. Ludwig Zamenhof, a Pole, who hoped a universal language would bring about better understanding and communication among the people of the world.
This language is not difficult to learn. It is not considered a foreign tongue, because it doesn't ''belong'' to any nation. When Dr. Ludwig Zamenhof created Esperanto, he began with 900 words. With prefixes and suffixes more than 8,000 can be formed.
A simple sentence can easily be understood. For instance: Esperanto estas la moderna, internacia lingvo por tute la mondom. The translation, if you haven't guessed, is Esperanto is the modern, international language for the whole world.
You can find Esperantists in every civilized country. How? First, become an Esperantist by learning the language. Many college and community libraries have reference books. Second, join the world organization, the Universal Esperanto Association. You will receive an international membership yearbook with names and addresses of members from more than 90 countries, including the United States. Getting in touch with Esperantists in the US is an easy matter: Write to the Esperanto League for North America, PO Box 1129, El Cerrito, Calif. 94530.
We found that when we wrote a letter to an Esperantist, telling of our arrival and length of stay, we were invited to do everything from living several days with that person's family to being interviewed on television and radio. And it doesn't seem to matter whether you speak Esperanto fluently or are only a beginner.
A few years ago, in Sofia, Bulgaria, we returned to our rented car to find a note on the windshield; because we had a green-star sticker, a fellow Esperantist had found us. The note was an invitation to the local folk-dance festival where Josef, our new friend, was to appear that evening.
After the festival we went to a local cafe to meet Josef and another Esperantist from Romania. When the latter learned that we were planning to go to that country, he begged us to visit him. We accepted the invitation, and spent a day with him and some of his Esperanto-speaking friends, seeing the sights in his home town.
One evening when we were in Budapest, enjoying dinner and the sound of a small string quartet playing gypsy music, one of the musicians, a bass-violin player, put down his instrument and timidly approached our table. He pointed at our green-star pins and asked, ''Cu vi parolas Esperanton?m'' (Do you speak Esperanto?) He invited us to meet him the next day for a tour of ''my beloved Budapest.''
It's not only people in non-English-speaking countries who have accepted and use Esperanto as the international language. When we arrived in Western Australia recently, the Esperantists to whom we had written had already arranged a low-cost bus tour from Perth north to Geraldton to see more than 4,000 varieties of desert and mountain flowers, a springtime phenomenon that draws visitors from all over the world.
Our best experiences occur when we have opportunities to host foreign visitors in our home. In the past six years our Esperanto-speaking guests have arrived from Mexico, Japan, France, Hungary, Poland, and Brazil.
The knowledge of Esperanto takes you to a foreign country, puts you in contact with contemporary history, helps you be in touch with people. For us it has been a special kind of international experience.