The Language of Diplomacy
By Lucy Kirkman
Italian Ambassador to Zimbabwe Enrico De Agostini is a master of language. Not only does he speak seven languages– he understands that communication encompasses more than just speech.
“Diplomacy is all about communication. It doesn’t just happen on a formal level, but in many ways. In a specific environment, and at a specific moment in time, you need to find your language.” The Ambassador, since his arrival in Zimbabwe in 2014, has worked on an array of projects by tapping into different forms of communication – music, food, art, and more.
De Agostini is clearly passionate about the environment. He has extended his stay in Zimbabwe an extra year – perhaps the allure of our beautiful country that has kept him. The Ambassador is an enthusiastic fly fisherman, and his favourite spot is the Gairezi. “I like to immerse myself in the environment, and soak it in, smell the smells.” In order to keep Zimbabwe beautiful, and address pressing environmental issues in our country, the Italian Embassy has partnered with the City of Harare, Friends of the National Gallery, Miracle Missions and Birdlife Zimbabwe as well as with other European embassies, UNESCO and UNICEF to bring the Ambiente series to life.
The Italian word for “environment,” Ambiente is a platform where local artists create artwork according to an environmental theme, which is then auctioned to support the National Gallery’s permanent art collections. The Ambassador explains: “Art draws inspiration from nature, and we need to give back to nature by raising awareness about environmental issues.” School children also create and showcase artwork and projects to theme – last year there were 30 different schools involved. It started in 2014 with a focus on our wetlands; in 2015 the theme was “Waste No Waste, Trash is Treasure,” and 2016 brought “Your Nest is My Nest” – advocating for preservation of bird, and human, habitats.
These projects are not only environmental, but social as every Zimbabwean benefits from a healthy environment. This year Ambiente focused on sustainable water practices. Art not only serves as a cultural intersection between different cultures, but is also a language that can communicate things that words cannot. By using art as a platform to educate and raise awareness, Ambiente has formed partnerships between companies, artists, and policy-makers.
Cultural diplomacy is at the core of the Embassy’s presence, the Ambassador explains, which was evident at the annual MUSICA Festival. Hosted in October by the Italian Embassy and a number of other organisations, what was a small jazz festival in 2013 has grown into a vibrant celebration of both local and international artists. Music is communication beyond words, and the Ambassador understands the cultural currency that a festival like this gains for the community, as companies partner with cultural institutions to bring sustainable economic benefit to the community.
De Agostini’s love for the culinary arts has also made its mark on his time in Zimbabwe. He has collaborated with local chefs at Meikles Hotel and Cresta Lodge, hosting dinners that feature special Italian dishes. When I asked his what his favourite dish to cook was, he was hard-pressed to choose just one. “Pasta, of course,” he replied, “but there are so many!” He finally landed on Pasta e Ceci, which is pasta with chickpeas. “It’s comfort food, what you would eat after a day’s fishing” he says, describing the dish as a soup containing pasta, chickpeas, cured pork and herbs – good for the soul. The Embassy hosted the Italian Cuisine Week, “The Extraordinary Italian Taste,” in late November, where Italian chef Stefano Santo from ALMA International School of Cuisine in Parma held classes and workshops, as well as putting on some sensational dinners.
Another of the Ambassador’s noteworthy projects is his translation of the Italian fairy tale Pinocchio into Shona. Many Zimbabwean children see books as sources of pain, rather than pleasure, being faced with only textbooks in English. De Agostini’s inspiration was to bring children a fun book in their mother language, to show children that books can be magical and exciting. The story of Pinocchio is about personal development, he explains, and about relationships. The characters’ father and son relationship teaches children important values, as the father sells his only jacket to buy Pinocchio a book which enables him to attend school. The translation highlights the importance of preserving local languages.
Companies interested in sponsoring the printing and distribution of this exciting and very relevant book (a pilot copy has already been printed) can contact the Italian Embassy at email@example.com.
Look out for the theme of the 2018 Ambiente series, as well as other exciting events, on the Embassy’s Facebook page: Embassy of Italy in Harare – Zimbabwe.