What is it like being a Jamaican in Uzbekistan?

Xavier: What is it like being a Jamaican in Uzbekistan? Hi, I’m Xavier Murphy, the founder of, and today I talked to Andrea Usher, a Jamaican living in Uzbekistan. Welcome Andrea, how are you?

Andrea: Thank you for having me Xavier, I am doing pretty good. Thanks for having me I’m enjoying my Sunday morning. 

Xavier: I love the red y’all matched up the glasses and-

Andrea: Thanks 

Xavier: [inaudible 00:00:29] You know? I my wife’s favourite colour. 

Andrea: Yes, yes red makes us pop.

Xavier: Which paat (part) a Jamaica are you from? (Where in Jamaica are you from?)

Andrea: I am from the second city of Montego Bay, I’m born like smack dab in the middle of it. My mother told me I was born at the old hospital, which is now the hip strip, I was born on the hip strip. [unintelligible 00:00:59]

Xavier: We will go with that one, when anybody says were you born, I was born hip.

Andrea: I was born on the hip strip I was [inaudible 00:01:04]

Xavier: Which high school are you representing?

Andrea: I am representing Mount Alvernia High School. Oh my God, sister white fowl they use to call us, all in white and our blue tie my goodness. Yes, Mount Alvernia high. 

Xavier: Well, go Mount Alvernia, tell us the story of how you got to Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan Temple

Andrea: Okay, my journey to Uzbekistan started maybe about eight years ago or so, I left Jamaica to do international teaching to try to see how I fit into the international world. I was first working in Azerbaijan and then I left there and I got to Qatar and then from Qatar, I am here in Uzbekistan. I would like to think it’s kind of serendipitous, it was a very strange connection between me and my now principal. Then I said, Okay, I have to come here I really liked the vibe of the school and I also wanted to see if the vibe of the country would fit me and it does so far. Yes, so I am a teacher in Uzbekistan. 

Xavier: What are the people in Uzbekistan like?

Andrea: Well, they are pretty friendly, they’re not used to seeing people of my colour tone, I do get stared at a lot but they are usually very, very friendly smile and you know, offer to help, even though we don’t speak the same language. They do their best so they’re pretty cool, I’ve made some fast friends.

Xavier: Nice, you mentioned that there’s not a lot of people… black people there. Your hair looks beautiful, how did you get it… did you do your hair, or have you found like a little place where you can get your hair done?

Andrea: Well, I do try to do my hair I can’t braid it myself, but I can put in the ready-made braids I’ve been practicing but this hairstyle was done by a Russian girl. The HR at my school, found her on Instagram, sent me a message and she goes Andrea, I saw this and I thought of you and it’s a Caucasian Russian woman. She is amazing, she does a good job the only thing is that she does take a little longer time than normal because other persons– black people we know how to do hair pretty quick, but she does an awesome job and I’m grateful and I found her. 

Xavier: She must have like a waitlist on the clientele going there.

Andrea: She does, yes she does, and funny enough, I’ve only seen a few black skinned clients I don’t think a lot of people know about her but mostly it’s locals who go to her-

Xavier: Oh.

Andrea: which is interesting to me.

Xavier: Oh, you’re saying that the locals are braided up.

Andrea: They braid their hair, they put in faux locks they put in the coloured braids and everything it’s very interesting-

Xavier: Alright.

Andrea: But whatever works for you, works for you, I’m just glad that she’s around and she’s able to do this cause this is…

Xavier: Alright

Andrea: Actually, the Senegalese twist I think it’s called I’m like how do you know how to do that? You know-

Xavier: YouTube? 

Andrea: Could be, she does have a lot of certificates on her wall I don’t know if she’s done some training with it as well so good for her, and good for me. 

Xavier: And good for you. Well, let me get out of black women’s hair because that’s a topic…

Andrea: It’s a sensitive issue. 

Xavier: But this one was very interesting. Let me go back to the people a little bit, in terms of warmth or how they adjust, are they welcoming right off the top, or takes a little while for them to kind of warm-up to you?

Andrea: The latter is true, our culture in Jamaica, we are open from the get-go. Once we know that, there’s a visitor, we’re very open and we laugh, we smile. For them it’s not that, you’re not first met with a smile but this is a part of who they are, they have to ask a million questions before you become friends, even the taxi driver, it almost feels like an interrogation. If you’re not offended by it, you realize that that’s how they are, then you just take it in your stride. What’s your name? Where are you from? Do you have children? Are you married? How many languages do you speak? All these things-

Xavier: Oh, wow. 

Andrea: Yeah (yes), you go through a lot of questioning, but it’s their way.

Xavier: It almost sounds like if a male is picking you up, taxi driver. It’s almost like he’s not only picking you up to go somewhere.

Andrea: Yes, yes it does sound like that. If you’re not used to it, you can take it the wrong way but now I just relax and when they asked me where I’m from, I answer and then say, where are you from? And then they cracked up and they go, Uzbekistan or they say Russia, depending on you know, [inaudible 00:06:49] living here. 

Xavier: Let me lead into, have anybody tried to pick you up then?

Andrea: I don’t know [laugh] [inaudible 00:07:10] [unintelligible 00:07:13] I don’t think no, I don’t think so–

Xavier: You’re saying the same questions are kinda (kind of) you may be like, he’s trying to pick you up, but you don’t realize it and you just kind of say goodbye and you’re gone and…

Andrea: And have a great day, it’s highly possible that that’s happened, but I doubt it I think women can also pick up on a certain vibe too; I haven’t felt that vibe. I think they’re often too shocked by seeing me and intimidated then don’t approach they will just look and then tap their friend and do nothing. Did you see that girl walk by? Not yet.

Xavier: When you say you’re a Jamaican, what’s the typical response?

Andrea: Okay, typically you get Africa their next response would be African and you will say no and then if I say America, then they will kind of get the reference, they’ll be able to maybe pick up where it is, but oftentimes, the first thing is Africa. Just recently, I just went into this random store– supermarket, actually and I said Jamaica, and he said Usain Bolt, and I say, what? That was the first time anybody has ever said that here and I was like okay, you know Usain Bolt and then he said, Yes, fast man, fast man. Once, one other time I got Bob Marley but here, it’s mostly their next question is Africa and then you have to say no, it’s not Africa, and then you try to…

Xavier: To kind of give them an idea?

Andrea: Yes of where it is and then oh, I remember saying Brazil one time, and then they go okay, it’s like here its [Unintelligible 00:09:15] not near there because they know Brazil because of football and all of that-

Xavier: Oh, okay. Good reference point.

Andrea: [Inaudible 00:09:24] North America. 

Xavier: Let’s talk food what’s the food like in Uzbekistan, or what is something that you like there?

Andrea: Their food is pretty intense, they do cook with a lot of seasoning and all sorts of meats and everything. They do tend to have very– well for me oily food it’s very oily, but it’s just like very natural here. My favourite is the Plov, the plov is a rice meal, inside the rice– it’s cooked with oil It has raisins inside of it, it’s a sweet-savory kind meal. I don’t eat a lot of it because of course, it’s extremely fattening but It’s really, really good and at my school, it’s served every day–every Thursday, it’s a Thursday meal you know, like how Jamaicans have Sunday meal. This particular rice and peas, chicken, that type of thing?-

Xavier: Right or soup on Saturdays

Andrea: Yes, here Thursdays is for plov, and plov is delicious it’s really good, really.

Xavier: Oh nice, I guess that is what we will have to try if we visit Uzbekistan. 

Andrea: I was introduced to a new thing called sumalak, I think I’m saying it may be not so right. Its flour, oil, and sugar, it’s mixed into something that looks like porridge and I just got it on, Friday [Inaudible 00:11:00]. It’s almost like a porridgy tasting thing that they eat by dipping bread in it and everything.

Xavier: [Unintelligible 00:11:11] I mean that’s what we do it with the porridge, dip, eat hard-dough bread. Language though, what’s the language?

Andrea: Their language is Uzbek and also Russian. They were a part of the Soviet Union for over 30 years or so, their language is heavily based– or even the structure of like curriculum [inaudible 00:11:39] so heavily based in Russian, the Russian curriculum, so they mostly speak Russian, especially the younger people but the government is trying to get back the language. Now the Uzbek language is a huge focus in schools and children all have to learn it, to really get back the mother tongue of Uzbekistan so they speak both.

Xavier: Okay, and have you learned any?

Andrea: No. Okay, no, that’s not fair. I learned how to say [Inaudible 00:12:25]. The Uzbek is a challenge and I was sitting in a Uzbek class just recently and I said, Okay, I’m going to come to her class often so I can learn because she’s teaching the beginner things, how to speak Uzbek so I’m going to come and learn it a little bit, but I only know a smidge of Russia. That’s it- 

Xavier: All right. Well- 

Andrea: [Unintelligible 00:12:41] As they say.

Xavier: well, I’m going to test that Smidge or that leaky, I’m going to test that a little later-

Andrea: Don’t test that.

Xavier: Simple. It’s gonna (going to) be a simple one. 

Andrea: Okay. 

Uzbekistan Stairs

Xavier: I don’t know how much of Uzbekistan you have seen but is there a place that you’d say if you come to Uzbekistan, you have to go and visit this place, it could be your personal favourite. What would that be?

Andrea: Well, my personal favorite is always parks, anywhere that you can see lots of families [Inaudible 00:13:23] I always like that kind of homey feeling wherever I live, my personal place is very near to me, it’s five minutes down the street. It’s the Echo Park, that’s where people go walking, they have built it in such a way where people can ride by bikes, run their play areas, there is a little river that runs through it, there’s gondola rides, there is an outdoor gym. It’s just a very cool, easy nice place to walk I see lots of families out moms, dads just people walking about milling about and just enjoying life outside, I would say come to the park. The park also has free Wi-Fi so anywhere you sit in there you can turn it on and just chill out you can buy food there, ice cream- you can just be relaxed, for me it’s that type of place. Another place that I want to go to many of my friends have been already it’s a place called Samarkand, I’m hoping I’m saying it right please Uzbek people don’t be upset with me. It’s like the old city, like how Port Royal is for Jamaica where people go and see about like, pirates. That’s what it’s like here but it’s really deep in history, all the old things are still there. It’s beautiful, it’s a place that everybody says you need to get to, I will get to it soon so if I have to say any place Samarkand, and near me Echo Park.

Xavier: What type of music are you hearing there?

Andrea: Well, just– wasn’t last week, the week before last week, I heard Sean Paul and Busy Signal. I was in a staff meeting and through the window, I heard– I paused in the middle of my meeting and then I was like, what does that sound like Jamaican language– that song? And then I was—it’s Busy Signal. I couldn’t believe it, I started to sing along to the song and then the Uzbek teacher started to– she started to nod her head and she goes, “Yes, I know, I know” because she’s heard it because I’m Jamaican so she researches a little bit about Jamaica-

Xavier: Oh Whoa. 

Andrea: I’ve heard mostly those two actually, Busy Signal or Sean Paul, I will hear them in cars driving by or if they are playing music outside then I will hear that sometimes. It’s mostly– you do hear Western– westernized songs but you hear Russian and you hear Uzbek pop music.

Xavier: Do Uzbek pop music?

Andrea: Yes. It’s sounds like Western pop, just in the Uzbek language.

Xavier: Okay, and is Uzbek diverse, because I know, some of these former Soviet… some of these European countries, there is almost like a mixed of– some from Asia, some from Eastern– from Europe– so is it diverse in that way?

Andrea: It’s not diverse in that way it’s just… Uzbekistan is just now becoming a place that people even know how to say and, truly, they are just now open-

Xavier: Guilty, guilty.

Andrea: They are just now open to people outside, people coming in, so it– Uzbekistan is known as one of the fastest-growing tourist destinations now in Central Asia because we’re actually in Central Asia. People are coming in now mostly as teachers or as other engineers, those types of things they come in and they work. They start to hire out so people are coming in, people pop by for a week or two weeks or so as a, vacation place. It’s not as diverse in that regard but it is diverse in terms of their ancestry, you would have Russian and Kazakhstanis, Korean and Chinese they’re mixed that way, no two Uzbek looks the same.

Xavier: Okay.

Andrea: It’s very interesting. You’ll be walking down the street and, you’ll see a very tall Chinese guy who’s Uzbek and then you’ll see a more Russian-looking blonde-haired girl or a mix of both, it’s a very interesting look here [Inaudible 00:18:28] 

Xavier: That to me, is a little diverse because you’re saying Central… you’re saying– well Central Asia?-

Andrea: Central Asia Yeah.

Xavier: And I guess you’re touching a lot of Asian countries.

Andrea: Yes, and all the stans, we’re surrounded by all the stans– we’re a landlocked country [unintelligible 00:18:53] Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, all the other stans Tajikistan, all those stans.

Xavier: We know there’s a lot of stans and I’m hoping to get to– finding in the Jamaican in all of them because I figured there has to be.

Andrea: Has to be, we are like salt, we are in everything [inaudible 00:19:16]

Xavier: Oh yes, they say the red inna the egg (the red in the egg). 

Andrea: Yes [unintelligible 00:19:21]

Uzbekistan Monument

Xavier: Let me ask you, what’s the cost of living like there?

Andrea: Pretty low if you are in a good job, if you make a steady living, very secure job then you– your cost of living is really low you’re able to save here. Gas is really low, Wi-Fi payment is probably the highest and it’s still low if you can get what I mean because they are very organic. Their food is organic, food is cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap–

Xavier: I was gonna (going) ask about food because– in terms of a meal, let’s say, you go to medium, a nice restaurant, not a high end. What would the average cost of a dinner meal be for one person and if you can tell me in the US? Yes.

Andrea: Okay, my– one of my most recently– because I don’t eat out a lot so if I– one restaurant that I did go to was not even Uzbek, it was an Indian restaurant, and also they are mixed with some Indians too here. Anyway, so Indian restaurant– and I think it was if I remember clearly, maybe 14 US dollars and you got everything, it was drink, the meet the everything was very low. Yeah.

Xavier: Okay, that’s, that’s not bad at all. 

Andrea: Not at all.

Xavier: And have you come upon any customs that you find very interesting that the Uzbeks practice?

Andrea: There are a few that makes me raise my eyebrows a little bit but that’s, mostly in education I won’t share that but the part it’s just slightly different. One of the things that recently I discovered, one of my colleagues, she lost her mom, and immediately what they do is, they all gather at her house and the minute you’re going to go to the house, the women have to cover their heads when they go so it’s like– say the mum died on say Sunday, then Monday, bright and early, all friends all family, you’re expected to go directly to the home and all women must cover their head. I found that a little bit interesting, not that we don’t do it here– do it in Jamaica as well. That immediate go to I don’t think we do that– all immediate family yes, but not like friends and everything. Found that very interesting. 

Xavier: It sounds almost like solidarity, everybody covers their head it’s solidarity, we’re mourning with you in a different way. Again, you said in Jamaica, we do visit and whatever but this is visual solidarity. What has been your biggest adjustment In Uzbekistan?

Andrea: I am an amazingly flexible person and since I’ve started teaching internationally I’ve discovered that about myself, and nothing major but here one of the things that I noted was their– what’s the word? What’s it like– their services– their business services, it’s very– well, let’s say it’s not as up to date as I am used to. When I’m dealing with banks and things like that, or immigration or Visa things, all these things they do take an extremely long time, much more so than normally, than I normally would. There’s a lot of paper, a lot of paper work paper, paper, paper. I’ll give you a story I went to, do money transfer to my bank, and I– by the time I left, I had 20 sheets of paper. Don’t ask me what it’s all about. You-

Xavier: Is it in English?

Andrea: It’s not in English, you give your basic– you give your account number you give your bank in Jamaica and all of that and you’re good, okay, that’s easy. Then you’re going to like six different casas or they call them cashiers or agents. You go to different people, you stand, you sit, and it takes hours, for them to click a button, and then you come out with these thick rolls of paper and I’m like why. I took my phone out recently and I show the girl who goes with me to help me to translate. I said, look, this is my– these are my Jamaican apps, this is what I use no matter where I am in the world. All I do is [unintelligible 00:24:44] money moves in my Jamaican account. Even in Jamaica, nothing works as slowly, nothing.

Xavier: I can’t even imagine because we have bank day it sounds like they have taken- it’s bank day plus, plus there.

Andrea: Yes it’s completely different I cannot get used to it I am trying I’m usually very open-minded but [unintelligible 00:25:14] because I can sit there and see the inefficiency of it all and I’m not used to that– just do that and do it here, I don’t have to keep going all over.

Xavier: Andrea listen, thank you so much for sharing so much of– about your journey there and about Uzbekistan I’m winding down. I have a scenario for you, you get on a plane you will land in Jamaica what’s that first thing you’re doing?

Andrea: Food, the first thing I’m going to do is get me some juicy patty, coconut water not do one in the tin or the box, the one that you have to chop [inaudible 00:26:08]. Coconut water juicy Patty, for sure, I need to get me some oxtail like proper cooked oxtail, rice and peas, some curry, some Manish water it’s just food, listen– fried plantain. 

Xavier: Okay. You don’t get any fried plantain there?

Andrea: They don’t know what that is, they don’t know what plantain is they–

Xavier: I figured there might be a store that has at least something close– no mango, you don’t find nuh (no) mango? Or no–

Andrea: Mango, yes but it’s not like proper mango it’s- 

Xavier: I know, I know.

Andrea:[unintelligible 00:26:57] not even like proper mango and I saw pineapple yesterday and it’s always like this one lone pineapple in the store-

Xavier: You don’t have no (any) choice.

Andrea: no, but I did notice they have coconuts like real husk coconuts that you can cut but I’m not sure what– where it’s from or I haven’t bought any yet because I have a full stock of Grace coconut powder to cook.

Xavier: Okay you’re stocked up on your supplies. 

Andrea: Yes.

Xavier: Well, here’s the last thing I do, In Uzbek-

Andrea: Yes. 

Xavier: Teach me how to say goodbye in the most informal way. 

Andrea: I don’t know how to say goodbye in Uzbek actually, I don’t know that actually, no I don’t know the Uzbek goodbye-

Xavier: Okay let’s do this then-

Andrea: Goodbye, [unintelligible 00:27:57] now that I think about– okay, I’m gonna learn the Uzbek goodbye.

Xavier: Okay, let’s do this then, what’s the Uzbek hello?

Andrea: What is the Uzbek hello? Oh, they don’t have a Uzbek– I told you not to test me, I don’t know the Uzbek. 

Xavier: Alright, what’s the Russian Hello then?

Andrea: Okay. For that one it’s– you can say privet or you can say– well you can asking how they are so you can say kak dela I hope I’m getting it right. Yes, so that’s– Oh no, wait, I think I remember Uzbek, Assalamu Alaikum. Yes, yes they go Assalamu alaikum they put their hands at their heart and they go Assalamu Alaikum Yes, I remember something.

Xavier: They’re using what a lot of Muslims use and–

Andrea: Yes they are, it’s a Muslim state. It’s a– what do you call it a conventional– not a conventional Muslim state, but they do practice that here so they are unconventional. 

Xavier: Okay. All right. It’s Assalamu alaikum.

Andrea: No, no put your hand here. 

Xavier: Oh, okay.

Andrea: On your heart and you do like that, Assalamu alaikum.

Xavier: Okay. Andrea thank you again, and Assalamu alaikum.

Andrea: Assalamu alaikum.

Photos  – Deposit Photos

About the author

Xavier Murphy