We recently caught up with Amanda Bates, founder and editor-in-chief of The Black Expat, which highlights the international experiences of black people in diaspora around the world. Amanda, who is also a high education and student affairs counsellor, talks about her inspiration for The Black Expat and some of the community’s plans for the future. We’ll let her tell you:
Tell us about Amanda Bates. Who is she and what is The Black Expat about?
Well, I am the founder of The Black Expat, a digital platform that focuses on the experiences of black expatriates/immigrants and international living. Much of the concept was influenced by own upbringing and experiences.
I was born in Washington, DC but spent my formative years in Cameroon, where my family is originally from. For me in both societies had such an immense impact in a positive way. And that’s partially how The Black Expat was born.
I move in and out of expat circles quite a bit and I wasn’t really seeing the experiences of black people be represented. In addition, I was preparing for my own move and had specific questions that pertain to black women that I wanted to be answered.
That’s when I really noticed how little information was available about pertained particularly to black people moving and I wanted to remedy that.
Other expats are those of us who are typically not considered professionals, more like immigrants. What was it like being an expat in the Middle East? What was one memorable experience you had as a black expat there?
Yeah. there’s an assumption that if you’re from the Global South, you’re an immigrant as if the term expat couldn’t apply. Yet, I know quite a few people who move to a location for a specific reason — education, job opportunity, etc, with the intention of returning home.
In many ways, there was much of the Middle East that didn’t surprise me. I have been fortunate to travel to quite a few places and I always try to do my research before I go somewhere new.
There were aspects that reminded me of places I’ve been. Qatar is family- and community-oriented. I appreciated that. I love that the fact that many the collective is considered and not just the individuals. That reminded me a lot of being in West Africa.
It’s also a really diverse place. The vast majority of the population is from somewhere else, so you’re constantly meeting people from all walks of life. It is a pretty diverse place and you meet people from all walks of life.
One of my favourite experiences was participating in a majilis, which is an Arabic term for council. Usually, it is when men or women gather to discuss issues. It can be political, social or just for fun.
One of the mother’s of one of my students hosted it in their house for all the new female students and staff. It was great. We got to experience so much of the local food and learn about the culture. It was just a really wonderful introduction to the local culture.
I understand that The Black Expat is exploring going digital. Can you tell us more about that?
We are already digital in the sense that The Black Expat is a website. What we are doing is strategically diversifying how we are delivering content.
I think that’s big for us because people want to see and hear honest stories about other black experiences that both provide representation and inspiration.
Is it going to be considered a dating app/platform?
Nah. no plans, for that. However, if someone finds love through all the mechanisms we have to connect black expats, good for them!
You have, and continue to connect with expats from around the world. With your experience, how would you describe the global ‘other expat’ situation, and what’s your one advice for black expats in a foreign country?
Well, there is a reason why our websites exist — The Black Expat, Other Expats. So much of the expat literature out there doesn’t quite discuss the diversity of expatriate experiences.
Very much of it is written from a Western, often white perspective. The truth is no one group has a monopoly on what it means to be an expat. And no individual experiences are the same.
And the truth is much of our experiences are influenced by our passports, in some circumstances. The experiences of an American expat can be very different from a Togolese one or a Filipino one.
In addition, “How you expat” is also at play. Moving to a country as a diplomat can be a very different experience and expectations than if you move as an economic migrant or an international student.
That being said, I think it is super important to learn as much as you can from those who have experience with your new host culture. Talk to locals and learn the customs and get a feel for how they embrace their world. Also, talk to peers, or other contacts, who have experience can give you the information on how to survive.
One of our favourite things about living in Malaysia is the (almost) abundant long weekend holidays. Even on those that are not so long, we suspect many people just take a few additional days off work to extend the holidays.
If you’re interested in exploring a change of scenery, here are three things you can do during the long holiday weekend without spending too much money, whether you go with the longer nine-day option of the more modest four-day alternative.
See beautiful beaches
Malaysia offers you a choice of islands, many of them well above average. From Redang Island to Tioman Island, Pangkor Island and Langkawi Island.
Langkawi is a favourite of many travellers because of the duty-free alcohol—cheaper than you can get in KL. A bus ride to any of these will take a few hours, but you get to see the countryside and it’s mostly cheaper than flying.
There are even more islands in East Malaysia—Sabah and Sarawak. If you’re into diving, then you won’t want to miss Sipadan Island, Malaysia’s only oceanic island. In Kota Kinabalu (the capital city of Sabah), you can go island hopping if one island is not enough.
Get a new perspective…
…from one of the many mountain tops and highlands. Cameron Highlands, Genting Highlands, and Bukit Tinggi are some of the more popular destinations.
However, they cater more to one/two-day staycations and not-balling-on-a-budget holiday seekers. For instance, unlike just relaxing by a beach, the attractions available at any of the lodgings in these highlands are not free.
Experience a new culture
If you’re an other expat, you’re probably no stranger to culture and traditions. It’s still exciting experiencing what other traditions are like—similarities and differences to yours.
If you want to experience the kampung (village) life is like in Malaysia, one place to do so is at the Kahang Organic farm. Leave the city behind and participate in activities like trawling for fish, bamboo rafting and barbecuing to unleash your inner kampung child.
Visit UNESCO World Heritage state, Malacca. It boasts the country’s oldest functioning Catholic church, mosque, and a Buddhist temple. The nightlife isn’t exactly bustling, but it exists. If the nightlife is important, then Penang, Langkawi and Kota Kinabalu might be your best options.
Those are just some things you can do. We know there’s many, many more.
We’ll like to hear from you; what are the best things and places to go for a long holiday weekend in Malaysia? Tell us in the comments section below.
Malaysia has always been an Arab favorite as far as vacation spots go, especially for those coming from the Gulf countries, and for good reason: it’s a Muslim country, for one, which means that they have the option to go full Khaleeji appearance-wise and not be called out on it (in fact, it’s common to see Muslim Malaysians sporting the white thobe for men and the black abaya for women).
It’s also a country that houses two other non-Muslim cultures and peoples, which means the visitors have everything else available to them that the free world can offer if they were so inclined. (Moderate) best of both worlds, we can say.
My parents, though not fully Arab, feel no differently about this place – they came from Saudi Arabia for a 3-week visit this past January, and since I’d been living and working in Kuala Lumpur for 4 years and because I am officially an adult, I thought I’d be a superhero and offer to pay for their stay.
But being an Other Expat meant that I have limitations when it comes to entertaining them (especially at my own expense). People coming from the Gulf States of the Middle East are used to a certain level of lifestyle, sometimes subconsciously, but mostly because life in the fast-growing rich countries in that area really is pretty luxurious compared to Southeast Asia.
Here are some things that I got my parents to do – my dad in his late 60s and physically limited due to a heart condition, and my mom in her late 50s who loves all things Southeast Asian – while they were in Kuala Lumpur, at minimal cost to me.
Skip the Hotel
The first thing I did to avoid spending so much was to play up the fact to my parents that they are supposed to do things differently on vacation, that they must experience life here like a local, or at least like how I lived. This meant staying with me in my one-bedroom condominium unit (in a relatively chill and middle-class area in Petaling Jaya).
I’m not a complete asshole – I did plan on getting my parents a room at one of the 4-star hotels near me (at a discounted price) so they could enjoy a “proper vacation,” but I soon realized that I just… well… couldn’t afford it.
In any case, my parents preferred staying at my place because I have a full functioning kitchen, laundry area, and a balcony, unlike most hotel rooms.
Zero ringgit spent.
Eat Like a Local
Obviously, they had to try the food here. But both my parents are on strict diets for medical reasons, and so we couldn’t really rough it out as much. What they did enjoy, though, was literally eating like a local.
This also meant staying away from franchise and/or Western restaurants, which was just as well because they tend to be pricier than local places.
I took my parents to a mamak (a Muslim-Indian eatery) in my neighbourhood where they got to eat with their hands in a restaurant. I took them to a Kopitiam another time and had them eat noodles with chopsticks.
Each time, I spent less than RM 60 for all three of us.
Speak the Language
I taught my parents some Malay phrases (even though I barely speak the language) and made it a thing, challenging them to learn to talk to shopkeepers, Uber drivers and just about anyone who would, in their language. Most locals are friendly and are more than willing to teach them more.
My dad, ever the cunning linguist master orator debater, taught the locals Arabic and Maranao phrases in return. It was hilarious.
I spent zero ringgit on this.
Mosques and Museums
My parents are a 5-times-a-day-of-prayer type, so naturally, they had to go to the mosques. I took them to Putrajaya’s Pink Mosque, which was the highlight of their trip as the culture was so different from what they’re used to in Saudi (the segregation was only inside the mosque, but the surrounding compound/area was a mix of Muslims and non-Muslim visitors and tourists). But my parents were also really okay just going to see the small prayer areas in our neighbourhood and the prayer rooms in malls and popular public places (they’re called surau).
They also loved the National Museum, as my dad is a big nerd about history and my mom loves that Malay culture is so similar to our Maranao one. We spent hours there.
On average, I spent about RM 20 on entrance fees for the museums (none for the mosques), and about RM 40 a day on Uber rides to and from my apartment. Putrajaya from Petaling Jaya set me back about RM 50 one way in an Uber.
Technology is Your Friend
I didn’t take time off from work when my parents were here (#OtherExpatProblems), so they were left to their own most weekdays during the day. They’re not the adventurous type – my dad (like me) is super okay just being holed up in the house with the internet – but my mom gets so easily bored. I taught them to use Google Maps and just read the road signs to get around the neighbourhood, which I know, I know, seems so basic, but for my non-tech parents from Saudi (where pedestrian life is mostly not existent), is a pretty big deal.
I also tasked them with taking photos of the “most Malaysian things” they come across during their walks, and it gave us some good laughs when they’d show me really ordinary things (like dogs on the street, the rain, the trees and forests around my neighbourhood) that I’ve started to take for granted this whole time I’ve been away from Jeddah.
Totally not about that life anymore.
I spent RM 35 each for my parents to get a local SIM card for their smartphones and have 2 gigabytes worth of data on it for a month.
I’m not gonna lie – I only went to the wet markets/farmers markets here when my parents were in town. And they’re so awesome. My parents loved going to the markets in the mornings, where they can get all kinds of tropical fruits and vegetables that are not available (or are at a very high imported price, if at all) in Jeddah, for relatively very cheap.
It’s also a great alternative to going to malls, because, well, malls here are just like the ones back home, to be honest. Markets have that local vibe, with cheaper products and souvenirs that are not very tourist-priced, and this is also where my parents practised their Malay phrases.
I spent less than RM 70 every trip and always came home with a few days’ worth of food for all three of us.
This one was by far the best. Kuala Lumpur’s public transportation system isn’t very easy to learn, to be honest, but it’s very comfortable compared to other Southeast Asian countries, and very existent, compared to Saudi Arabia.
My parents had a hoot. Taking the train and the bus itself was the whole point of the trip, and they got to see the city.
I spent less than RM 20 each time.
The result of my penny-pinching was that I had such a healthy, chill time with my parents around while they were here. The best part? I got to actually experience all those things I mentioned because the truth is that I never did any of them. My life here is all about work and, I realize, survival, not so much enjoyment or experience.
The other best part? When I’d get too stressed about money, it would show, and my mother would step in with her trusty wallet and just… take care of everything. (Happy Mother’s Day!)
If you’re Nigerian and you’re resident in or visiting Malaysia, or you’re a foreigner who for some reason wants to visit Nigeria, the place to go to is the Nigerian High Commission on Jalan Ampang Hilir in Kuala Lumpur. I recently needed to renew my passport, and getting information about what is required was a difficult process. Here, we’ll walk you through the steps and requirements to get your Nigerian passport renewed in Kuala Lumpur. If you’re in a hurry, you can just jump to the registration requirements.
The Nigerian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur is an interesting place. It’s also one of my least favourite places to visit or be in Kuala Lumpur. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to be among your own people, but I still almost always get the feeling that I’m an outsider every time I’m there.
The embassy is located where almost all the national embassies are in Ampang. You can’t miss it on 85, Jalan Ampang Hilir, Kuala Lumpur—there’ll almost certainly be some Nigerians standing around outside—which the embassy is trying to stop for some reason (we’ll get the ambassador to comment on that and more soon). You have to take a taxi or drive yourself to the embassy as there are no direct buses or trains going in this direction (the nearest being Ampang, Dato’ Keramat and Jelatek LRTs).
It’s open from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm daily officially, but if you have anything to do there, the best thing to do for yourself is get to the commission as early as possible. Someone I met there said they arrived at 7:00 am and there were already 15 names on the register (I’ll get to this later). I got there at 9:00 am and it was relatively full—certainly not as packed as the Pakistani embassy I passed on my way to photocopy my documents (also more on this later). It is important to note that official activities start at around 9:30-10:00 am though, based on the ‘register’.
Before my visit in the first week of October, the only time I had been to the embassy was in 2012 and boy, was I disappointed. The dingy wooden rectangular waiting area (called the ‘White House’) looked like it could collapse from its raised platform at any time. Back then, the ‘hall’ just had rows of chairs and two long tables for the embassy officials to do their business. There wasn’t any air-conditioning, so every few minutes you had to go outside for a breather.
It isn’t like that anymore. The white-painted wooden rectangular box is still there. Now, however, it has air-conditioning and a TV with CNN! Yay! Naija no dey carry last. There is still room for improvement, especially with the ‘register’.
The ‘register’ is a foolscap notebook used for registering stuff, yes, but in 2016 when technology is everywhere, you’d expect that Nigeria—Africa’s largest economy on paper that is now in a depression—could at least afford an automated registration system, similar to those used in banks and some other organised embassies. When you get to the High Commission, remember to write your name, passport number, and purpose of visit in the register (it’s usually unmanned and placed next to the security guardhouse). That is the order that the names are called out.
Unfortunately, people get there at 7:00 am and write down the names of five of their friends who arrive much later at 10:00 am. So even if you get there at 7:00 am and there are only three people physically there, the register page for the day may already have 30 entries in it. An automated system (press A for passport renewal, B for visas, C for other services etc.) might not solve this completely, but it helps simplify a process that is unnecessarily complex.
In addition to an automated registration system, the High Commission could also do with some more staff on the front line.* There were just three and they were not all there at the same time. Like one would leave for extended periods, come back in the box for 20 seconds and then disappear through the back door again. If there were more staff, things could perhaps get done faster.
Perhaps, the High Commission should also consider having a photocopier and printer for people somewhere in the waiting area. I doubt that most people would have a problem paying to have their documents photocopied for a fee as long as they don’t have to make a small journey to get the same service elsewhere. That happened to me.
I didn’t realize I had to make copies my passport, so after they called my name from the register and I discovered what was required, I had to take a RM13 Uber ride (to and fro) to a business centre called Speed Print. The problem with Speed Print is that nothing about their service that day was speedy, and they almost could not print the one document I needed them to. A change of name might be in order. For now, with no such services at the embassy, you need to ensure you have all your documents ready, otherwise, it’s until the next day for you.
The staff needs to be more courteous or at least try to be civil. Of the six staff (four Nigerians and two Malaysians) I’ve encountered at the embassy, only two of the Nigerians and all the foreigners were formal. The others had a certain unwelcoming, and most times, aggressive air about them that said: “Follow our orders and don’t ask questions or get the hell out of here.”
To the Nigerian government, you need to do something about that. If you care about that sort of thing.
Requirements for Passport Renewal
If you are on this page just for the required documents, we’re finally here. It is important to note that there are three phases. The first is the submission, where you go and give them all the documents needed. To start you need to visit portal.immigration.gov.ng. You’ll see the ePassport link that will provide you with three documents after paying the US$106 fee (if you’re not a government official, select the Standard ePassport option).
The documents you should print out and have ready are:
1. Standard ePassport Application Form
2. Passport Acknowledgement Slip
3. Passport Payment Slip
4. Photocopy of the information page and visa page of your current passport
5. Application Letter (stating your name, current passport number and why you want to renew your passport—sample attached)
6. Guarantor’s Form (printed and filled from the immigration portal link above)
7. Photocopy of the information page and visa page of your guarantor (your guarantor can be any Nigerian citizen resident in the same country that you’re in)
The second stage is the data ‘capture’ phase where the High Commission registers your fingerprints and takes additional passport photographs for the passport. For this stage, you need the following:
1. Existing Nigerian passport
2. An extra RM200**
After the data capture process is done, you’ll be given a slip (WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T LOSE THE SLIP) and told that they’ll call you when your passport is ready. The entire process can take months,* so be prepared. It is also important to note that you can only capture and submit information for passport renewal on Mondays to Wednesdays, while Thursdays and Fridays only are for the passport collection. The slip and a copy of your old passport are required when you go to collect your new passport.
That’s it. What’s the process like at your embassy in Malaysia? Is it more or less stressful? Are there any areas you think can be improved? Did I miss out any details or you have some information to add? Let me know in the comment section, and remember to bookmark this page share with your friends and network. Cheers!
UPDATE: Fair warning
* If you have limited patience, I’ll advise you to get more, a lot more, before going to the Nigerian embassy for just about anything. It took me three months, countless trips to the embassy, days off work and innumerable insults from the staff to just renew my passport. They said it would take two weeks. The insults were not indicated.
From the security guards to the head of the consulate, everyone at the embassy is very, very rude. It’s like they make extra effort to be. Like they haven’t been paid or something. Ask any Nigerian who has ever been to the embassy in Kuala Lumpur. Anyone who walks in that compound automatically loses all value, has nothing better to do with their time, and are despondent. That’s how the staff make you feel.
** No one at the embassy was able to confirm what the extra RM200 was for. It isn’t stated anywhere that people have to pay any extra fees to process the passports. I still believe that this is “side money” for the people at the embassy (I stand corrected, someone please tell me what it is for).
I asked at least five people who renewed their passports in the last two months, only three were required to pay: one in September and two in October. That means it is random and based on the judgment of the embassy staff.
UPDATE: 4 October 2017
The Nigerian Consulate took some solid steps to improve its process with a new website and appointment scheduling system.
None of those currently work.
The website is significantly broken, and the operator I talked to said that (in most cases) they “don’t honour the appointments made online for capture because there are many people applying for passport renewal.”
You’ll still be required to print out the forms you get after applying online and submitting it physically to the consulate where you’ll be given a capture date that may be “before or after” your online-scheduled date. The rep didn’t know how long the process will take.
UPDATE: 22 October 2017
I met with LR from Japan (see comments) on 20 October 2017. The entire process took less than a week, from submission to collection of the new passports.
They also noted that the staff there were more courteous, and the entire process was generally pain-free.
We hope the improved process is a new standard that continues. Meanwhile, the new website remains a mess.
Unlike most people of my generation, I never caught the travel bug. I’m not adventurous, I’m easily uncomfortable in strange environments, and I don’t like trying new things. But I recently had some time off from work and decided to have a go at this travelling thing that everyone keeps going on about on Instagrams and Facebooks, and it didn’t go as badly as I thought!
If you’re a boring (and a scaredly cat) like me, here are some tips to coax you out of your small, tiny world and into the big one.
Travel with friends
Take it one step at a time. Eventually, you’ll have enough courage to travel alone and eat-pray-love the crap out of the world, but for now, make plans with friends, preferably adventurous ones. They’ll take care of the itinerary for you so that all you have to do is drag your lazy bum out of your hotel room and at the very least, you get to check in at different places on Swarm and rack up the gold coins. When invited to go somewhere, keep the complaining to a minimum, and don’t overthink it. Just go.
Do some research
I can’t imagine what it was like for people travelling before the internet (I’m told it was fantastic), but I’m so grateful for it. Bangkok is great if you’re looking to experience some culture but also want to stay in your comfort zone of city living. For a few days during my trip, my friends jumped off to another city and I found myself alone, fighting the urge to lock myself up in my hotel room and enjoy cable TV and room service for the next 48 hours. The struggle was real.
It only took about 15 minutes of Googling “Top Things To Do in Bangkok” for me to decide to haul-ass. Before you go out, though, remember that Bangkok streets are jammed forever, all the time, and it might take double or even triple the normal time to get to your destination. So keep a copy of the city map on your phone, as well as the train routes (there are 4 lines). Most of the stops are right at the notable places to visit or are at least a few minutes’ walk from the nearest train station.
Obvi this is the standard operating procedure for seasoned travellers (or even the average person), but if you do book in advance, you get a better chance of nabbing a great deal with a 4- or 5-star hotel. Most serve breakfast buffet (although you can skip that and get a cheaper room, and go for Thai breakfast in a local place) and a free shuttle to the airport or train station or any other landmark nearby.
Some things to remember about Bangkok:
Most people don’t speak English, even in places where you “expect” them to, like the airport or the mall or the hotel. Don’t be an asshole about this, just try to communicate as well as you can, without shouting (they can hear you, they just don’t speak your language). Use simple words, don’t talk too fast or too much, and don’t be rude.
Try not to take the tuk-tuk or taxi that’s waiting by the curb especially in tourist hot spots. They’ll charge you about 30-50% more than they should. If you must, negotiate the price or insist on the meter. Use Uber, though, as most Uber drivers speak English, are friendly and will give you some tips on what to visit and how to get there, have decent cars and are cheaper than other modes of transport.
If you’re going to the temples, dress decently – no exposed shoulders/arms and legs (no shorts and tank tops), no tight-fitting outfits (no leggings or tight jeans!) or else you’ll have to cue up to borrow loose garments to cover yourself up and pay a deposit of US$6, which is a hassle. Also, bring something to fan yourself with because the heat can get oppressive.
Bring cash. Not everywhere takes cards. They use a lot of coins in Bangkok, so bring a coin purse and use those coins up as much as you can while you’re there, unless you want to bring back home a whole bunch of them (currency exchange places normally won’t change them for you).
Thai food, like Tom Yam for instance, at a mall restaurant, say, costs about US$7, and while that sounds cheap, you could get it cheaper and more “authentic” if you go to a local restaurant. It’s even cheaper if you get it from a street food vendor. A huge meal with several dishes to share between 3 people might cost on average about US$17 at a hipster local food joint.
Take interesting photos that tell a story! Don’t stick to the tired old photos. Have fun with your camera and document your trip. Many people, especially if they’re not in a hurry, are nice about having their photos taken. They might even chat with you if you’re friendly (and if you want that). Maybe skip the selfie every now and then (or the foodstagram) and do Humans of Bangkok, because what the hell, might as well get on every photography bandwagon ever.
If you’re getting to Bangkok in a low-cost flight, you’ll probably land at the Don Mueang Airport, which is near the main international airport but is like a crappy version of it. For instance, none of the self-check-in kiosks worked at the Don Mueang Airport, nor was there Wi-Fi, but it has most things you’d need (currency exchange, ATMs, convenience stores, restaurants).
If you’re an ASEAN passport holder, you have your own lane, so don’t crowd the foreign passport holder lane. They’re not as strict about liquids in your carry-on as they are in other places (when I went to Cambodia, for instance, they told me to pack liquids properly or leave them behind), but it’s still good to be smart about it and pack properly, rather than be hassled later on.
Also, try not to wear a short skirt on your flight, unless you’re okay doing a Marilyn Monroe and giving everyone a nice view of your backside while you’re getting on a plane – some planes have to be boarded via steps attached to it (as opposed to the connecting tube), and the breeze can be a jerk.
These are as many tips I want to share as they are reminders to myself because I’ll likely forget these things when I travel next. In about two years or 10. Let me know if I missed anything!