Tijani Abdul from Nigeria came to Kyrgyzstan to study in 2010, but, having fallen in love with the local culture, nature and people, he decided to stay. He admits: sometimes he forgets that he is a foreigner, and calls himself a black Kyrgyz.
— What did you know about Kyrgyzstan before arrival?
— I studied at the Turkish lyceum in Nigeria, my father offered me to continue my studies in Kyrgyzstan. I did not know what kind of republic it was and asked: «Where is it? I will not go to Afghanistan.» My mother was also against it, thinking that it was dangerous here.
We knew nothing about Kyrgyzstan, so we decided that the parents would go with me. They really liked the country. They left later, and I stayed to continue my study at Ataturk Alatoo University. My parents are the Muslims, so when they left, they were calm for me, because the people also profess Islam here.
At first, I did not know anyone, did not speak the local language, but I liked everything. I decided to stay. Now I already have friends who have become my family. It was easy for me to learn Kyrgyz; I speak five languages.
I can say that I am already a local, I call myself black Kyrgyz. I do not want to divide people, saying that someone is German or Japanese and so on. Sometimes I even forget that I am not local. People say «Afro-American» to me, and I look at myself and remember that I am dark skinned.
— What were your first impressions?
— There is very beautiful nature, good weather and friendly people.
However, it is unusual for me that people here have no connection with each other. In Africa, all the neighbors know each other, people, even without knocking at the door, can get around. The whole quarter lives like a family. In Kyrgyzstan, people communicate in this way, perhaps, in villages, but not in Bishkek.
You have seen in the movies or on TV that people in Africa, even if they live poorly, smile. Here, people are sullen, at some point I noticed that I also become such person.
— Do you miss your homeland?
— I’ve been there four times. The house, of course, remains in the heart, but there are social networks, and I know that I can go there at any moment. I have everything I need here, so I don’t have to miss so much.
When I arrived, social networks were not so popular yet, but today people see the whole world through them — they see black people, Europeans. It’s not surprising for the people to see foreigners now. Earlier, even sitting in a cafe, I noticed how people looked at me, smiled. I was embarrassed.
— What regions of Kyrgyzstan have you visited?
— I was a volunteer for the Red Crescent Society — taught English. Thanks to this, I was able to visit almost all regions of Kyrgyzstan, I was not only in Naryn. I heard it’s cold there, so I am not eager to go there.
I like most of all Uzgen, Osh and Issyk-Kul. I love mountains, I have already visited Arslanbob, Altyn Arashan, Jalal-Abad, Karakol. Mountains are one of the reasons why I do not want to leave the country.
I have noticed that many people want to leave Kyrgyzstan, they complain about a small salary, they talk about problems. As long as a person does not change internally, it makes no sense to change the external environment.
— You teach English. Do you like to work with children?
— I taught in different regions. Children are very attentive and educated. It is a bit harder in Bishkek, maybe because children in villages have more desire to achieve something. People in the city are less diligent, probably because they have everything.
In general, I like rural life, besides it is cheaper there. One needs to work more here, because the money is spent quickly. In Osh, it is possible to live for 500 soms for a whole week. In Bishkek, the money may be enough for an hour.
— Do you like the national cuisine?
— I like plov, but I am not used to eating much meat. In Africa, we eat more corn, chicken.
— Tell us about Nigeria.
— It is large and socially developed. I can work there, and I can go somewhere with my family or friends for a weekend, for example, to a polo club or just go horse riding somewhere.
In Bishkek, there is only one option — a bar — for weekend. If you have a family, there is no place to spend time with them, to play with the children.
People smile more in Nigeria, infrastructure is better there. Our country was a British colony, something good remained of it.
— What are your plans for the future?
— Do good to people, help the people in need. I am from a low-income family. There are 11 children in our family. My father always worked hard to raise the children. I also want to help people, and it doesn’t matter will it be in Kyrgyzstan, Africa or anywhere else.
However, there is one point: I am already 29 years old, I think it’s time to get married. It will be better with family. How can you try to do good to others if you do not do it to yourself?
I am 80 percent sure that I will stay in Kyrgyzstan. By the way, there are very beautiful girls here, and they are more studious than guys. If you go to any courses, there are always more girls. As a teacher, I can say that girls are more eager for education. The guys talk mostly about cars and entertainment.