BEING A BLACK EXPAT IN ALMATY, KAZAKHSTAN
So firstly let me state a disclaimer right off the cuff. I am of mixed heritage, my mother is English and European Jewish and my father is Jamaican and Barbadian or Bajan, as I like to say. Both my parents were born in the UK. My upbringing was heavily focused on my British Caribbean Heritage for various reasons. I use the word ‘Black’ as this is what I identify with. I am a Mixed-Heritage British Caribbean. This may not be your way to ‘classify’ my ethnic make-up or you may even be offended. After many years of tick boxes, identity issues, and the whole what are you question, I have decided that I am no longer defined by the rules of those around me. Happy to learn and engage in conversation, I would always welcome a healthy discussion on the matter, so feel free to drop me a line if you wish. For the purposes of transparency in this post, it is also important for me to acknowledge that I am of a fairer skin tone, so my experience may be different to a person that has a darker hue than myself. Colourism unfortunately is real, but I have met other Black/Brown people, who also live here and they seem pretty happy when asked about their experience.
So, let’s jump right in.
Why is this an important topic of conversation? ‘Being Black in Almaty’ or furthermore, ‘Being A Black Expat?’.
Initially, when writing this post I didn't know what to say or where to start. I was trying to navigate how I could authentically write this post, without maybe offending so many different opposing audiences. You might be thinking, who are you offending and why would you think that? It is complicated and this post won't explore that narrative, however, what I can say is, I had to throw those thoughts out the window and just start writing.
So why write about being Black in Almaty or overseas. The basic answer is because I don’t feel or think there is enough media attention focused on this particular conversation. When I first completed my NQT year back in the UK, I applied for an overseas teaching job in Vietnam. It had always been a long dream of mine to travel the world and live a nomadic life. However, I suddenly was overwhelmed with fear! I withdraw from the process, although partway successful because I was petrified of racism and isolation. For some, that may be a very foreign and strange thought. But that was my fear. This was not the day of Instagram posts showing the diversity abroad or even of the country I had chosen, Vietnam. The only information I could find did not reflect me or my community. Somehow this subconsciously affirmed that folks like me did not fit into this narrative.
Why now and what changed?
Firstly, I personally felt ready to explore a new horizon and had developed the resilience, life experience, and confidence to navigate the unknown shores of life. The world became bigger for me, now able to access more information on expat life, as well as the diversity of those that choose this path. My support network back home is solid and I have a gang of people cheering me on. The use of different social media platforms also means that I can connect with others while learning about their experiences as a Black expat. Another really important fact that occurred to me, as I don’t want my son to be held back by fear. Fear of the unknown and fear of being uncomfortable. This journey is two-fold, with many ripple effects.
With this being my thinking process, I also realised the importance therefore of recording this and sharing it via my blog, to encourage other Black/Brown people to navigate spaces that we may once have considered was not for us, due to lack of representation.
My experience so far?
It is so crazy, as before I accepted my job I searched, ‘Being Black in Almaty’ online. There wasn't a great deal that came up, but from what I did find it seemed that people were really intrigued and welcoming towards Black people. Having been here now for three months, I can honestly say that I have not had a single bad eye, word, or uncomfortable interaction with those that are from Almaty/Kazakhstan regarding skin tone.
I have had intrigue and many questions on what country I am from and what I am doing in Almaty. People are so delighted when they see my son and want to either know more or take a photo with him/us. The photo situation can get a little taxing but I remind myself that it is intriguing. No one wants a picture of you, they want it with you, arms around your shoulder and all sorts.
I have been overwhelmingly surprised at the amount of representation I do see here in advertisements and other areas of life, here in Almaty. I do not say this to be offensive, but more to my surprise, not expecting to see so many elements that reflect my demographic. Every single shopping mall I have been in, I see Black/Brown people in advertisements, rocking afros, and other hairstyles. I have found Black barbies, as well as make-up for much darker skin tones in a variety of shops, hair products, as well as the constant sound of what could be described as 'Black' music or the influence of it at least.
Sometimes you do feel like a celebrity. I could be wrong but my impression so far is that Black skin for many is revered. I have made some friends here, who are also very brown and they and their children have the exact same experience. People love their skin tone. I do however have passport privilege, being from an English-speaking western country. This may make a difference, I can not be sure, however, there is a growing Nigerian and South African community (also English speaking countries I know) that work in a range of industries, including Education and Mining, as well as other African counties represented here, and many of them also seem to have a positive experience, from those I have spoken to anyway.
What I have come to realise is that I have been institutionalised to always think about my skin colour, due to systematic racism. I hear it in my conversations and even my own thought process and I am now having to reprogram myself, to allow myself to breathe and be free from the constant consideration, of navigating spaces with my skin tone. That isn't to say, that this is no longer a factor I must consider, but I realise the gravity of the role it played in my life previously.
So, so far so good. This is not the longest of posts, as the journey is still unfolding but what I can say is that I am enjoying the process and couldn't be happier on being here in Almaty as a Black Expat.
*No affiliated program or commission has been used/earned from this blog post. All recommendations are from personal choice.