[i] Uh… You may first introduce yourself briefly.  That means: you have to say what your name is, what you do, and you can also say …  very briefly just … when you […] I came here when I was so many years from Kazakhstan to Belgium …  Just introduce yourself, and then start.

[r] Ok, that’s good.

[i] Ok, um… [name] , can you tell me… uh, tell me something about yourself, introduce yourself briefly?

[r] My name is [name] , I am 23 years old, I was born in Kazakhstan and at the age of 3 I came to Belgium with my parents.  I am a spoken word performance artist and I am also a student master psychology.  Yes.

[i] Can you tell me, uh… What memories do you have of Kazakhstan?

[r] Uh… When I was still in Kazakhstan, I was 3 years old.  Well, until I was 3 years old I was there so it’s mostly images, smells, colors, …  Especially my apartment in Kazakhstan I remember well, that there for example a …  there was a swing in the middle of the corridor.  Um … Or that my grandfather made wooden toys for me and …  Also in that apartment, I had all kinds of big cuddly toys.  Um… so those are the things I remember, including my family there, my grandmother …  Um… my other grandmother there who… yes… it’s rather feelings and and and…  impressions that you still remember so much from then, but no real concrete situations or anything … there …

[i] And uh… how is life there actually, or how was life there then, in those days?

[r] Um… yes (kucht) …  For my parents, those were very young parents, so for them it was not difficult anyway to … um … to be young parents and not to be married also because my mother came from a Muslim-family for example, and there that’s not the intention that you have children before marriage …euhm …  And … Yes, my parents … Yes, they were happy but they were also very stressed and anxious there, because there is also corruption in Kazakhstan.  Uh… There are people there who … higher than the government and who also threaten people … and there are also people disappearing and stuff, there is a vague tension that prevails there.  In Kazakhstan there are also 2 large groups: the Kazakhs and the Russians.  And the Kazakhs don’t like the Russians very much because they are actually …  Yes, they do not really belong there … Uh, so to speak.  So there is a tension between those 2 uh … groups and …  Yes, my parents also had the feeling of: this is not the place where I want to raise my daughter um …  whether she wants to offer a future here so … that was the best solution for them.  To go somewhere else as well. Away from that corruption and away from … Yes the danger there …

[i] Mhm … um …  I’m going to see where I’m going to go because we can go many ways.  Otherwise it’s going to be too chaotic, um… (airplane) Can you say more about where your family comes from?  Is that the capital, the countryside or what should I imagine?  Your parents? Who were they or who are they or their identity?

So I was born in Almaty… uh that’s a town where all my family lives.  It’s not the capital, but it’s the former capital, now it’s that …  Then it was Alma-Ata, so Almaty, from where I came, but now it has become Astana.  Um… so yes, it used to be the capital and what do you have to imagine? Yes …  Lots of skyscrapers, apartment buildings that are all so divided into 4 with playgrounds in the middle, and if so very … still very Soviet style.  Buildings and roads and … you don’t have a lot of traffic lights and so, in the past however not.  So that was dangerous when you wanted to cross or something.  So for example my grandmother was the same …  often run over or my grandfather or something, that is so …  Yes, in terms of infrastructure it is vague, and traffic erm …  But if you go outside, you have a lot of nature in Kazakhstan.  Well, in Almaty actually … um …  you’re actually in a valley, so there are all mountains.  So uh almost all inhabitants there also have a kind of uh dacha, which is a kind of mountain house where they can go on weekends or so.  My grandmother also had such a dacha where I also have very nice, vivid memories of. For example, she had a lot of them… Um …  blackberries and pears and apple trees and flowers and …  really everything, so that was as a child also very nice to walk around.  Um and the houses for example in Kazakhstan, yes, I remember for example that our apartment erm … I think had 3 front doors or so.  With 1 that was bulletproof (laughs), 1 bulletproof door.  Um, and …  Yes, I remember once that I sat with my finger in between, that’s why I still remember that so vividly but …  Yes, it is so … It is a beautiful country … but it’s still under construction, it’s still going on…  building it up a little bit more. Everything is still a bit yes … in the style of the Soviet Union there.

[i] And what was the daily life like for your parents?

[r] Um… yes my mother … um …  I don’t remember so well, she also got me very young, at her 21 …  Um… so she was also working and stuff, and my dad…  Um, he had a business in Kazakhstan, which was a starting computer business… Um… Yes, at that time that was still so very modern, uh…  And the thing is, when you start a business in Kazakhstan as a self-employed person, certain people come …  visit you. And those then ask a certain sum of your case.  But those are some kind of extra taxes or so, and that’s on top of the taxes of the government.  To keep your business safe and secure and, um… yes that was after a while, um…  My parents couldn’t make ends meet and couldn’t afford to pay those people anymore.  So then there was a kind of tension of … You hear that people disappear and so, people who do not pay so yes, for my parents that was a bit …  A fear that played then …  And that was the motivation to leave Kazakhstan for good.

Is that a mafia or something?

[r] Yes, you can also describe it as a kind of mafia … Yes.

[i] And uh…  Then your parents came directly to Belgium or how did they decide to come here?  What do you know about that? Did they tell you that?

Um, yes they told me vague things about it.  They first heard from a few people that it is good in Belgium and that you can easily get your papers there, as a stranger.  And, uh, yes, my mother wanted to go to college, so in the end they would have…  Belgium was chosen as a place to study and to build a life.  And then they went via Russia to apply for a visa, to stay in Belgium.  For my mother as a student, and my father and I also got a visa, that was actually …  Weird, but we all got a visa and so we could …  come to Belgium for a certain time, as long as my mother was studying, um …  Yes … I do remember vague things, that we were somewhere in a car.  On our way somewhere in Europe and … that I often had to sleep in the car and sometimes on such a …  had to go into hiding and stuff. I don’t know if that really has anything to do with it but…  Yes, it is so … There was always some kind of tension like: oh, they might find us or something … um …  So when we were in Belgium, my parents were also very suspicious, very …  a bit hostile towards people. For example, I wasn’t allowed to speak Russian in public, but …  Yes, tell a child of 3 years old that he is not allowed to speak the language anymore, that’s quite difficult so in the end it came to me that I learned a bit of Russian.  Which is very unfortunate but … What I do understand from their fear and anxiety.  From time to time, someone can find us here who has links to Kazakhstan and those things, um …  So yes, when my parents then came to Belgium they had rented an apartment here.  They started to learn the language, my mother started studying, my father started to do, I think, business administration …  In order to be able to open a launderette.  And then we lived in a small apartment in Berchem, I remember that… Um…  So yes, my mother went to college, my father slowly started to build up a kind of business with launderettes and … uh those things and then they had…  They didn’t have many acquaintances here in Belgium, they didn’t really…  acquaintances here in Belgium, they knew no one.  And … there were certain people for example who became friends with them.  But after a while, when they found out that we … um … Yes … also had left for other reasons they were also threatening us…  Yes, if you don’t give us a certain amount of money we will also say that you are here, so…  then we were actually threatened again here in Belgium so … that has …

[i] That had happened?

Yes, that made my parents very suspicious of other Russians here in Belgium.  Um … and I also think people in general because … um …  Yes in the time that my mother was studying and so on, her studies didn’t go well either.  And then they kept telling us that we could be sent back and so if your studies don’t go well, so my parents were also …  We also had an application to become Belgian then … um …  In the meantime, I also went to the kindergarten in Berchem.  And erm…  Yes, we lived that way for a while in Berchem until my parents had saved up a bit to buy a house in Antwerp, which is really a … Yes squat almost was or something.  And they completely renovated it. They have really done everything again.  Windows, doors … electricity, all done by ourselves with the help of 1 friend or so …  Um …  We started to build our lives in Belgium and then came also my …  Did the birth of my sister also come … um … yes ….  That’s how we lived on in Antwerp.  And that was even good, we found our place here too and my grandmother came once in a while to visit Kazakhstan here … um …  So everything went well, even though my parents lived a little isolated from the rest of the …  of the country, so to speak. It was really always their 2, our family so, no one else, you could not talk to strangers, or best not make friends with Russian people or … um …  So that was also taught me a bit, so I actually also …  Yes, very timid was because I already could not speak the language so Russian …  Well, my language, so Russian, was something bad, so I didn’t want to speak that anymore.  I really wanted to be Belgian, be Belgian, speak Dutch, so, um …  Yes, I was totally absorbed in that identity and… um … Yes, I was also very timid, though.  So I was always a bit on my own, making friends was also very difficult.  There was also a time when my parents had said that I had stopped talking for about 5, 6 years, a year …  Um, I now know, for example, that this is selectively called mutism and that it happens more often in …  children who migrate, that they stop talking for a while.  And yes, that also happened to me and … (sounds like a tongue) … and …  Yes, that’s how we lived here.

[i] And did you feel when uh always uh Belgian or …

[r] Um… I always wanted to get rid of that Russian ethnicity, at least until I was about 12 years old, I really wanted to be Belgian, and I didn’t want my parents to say that I was Russian. I didn’t want them to talk Russian to me, I thought that was something really dirty.  So I really wanted to be Belgian, and just here some sort of… identity of …  Because my parents also had the thing of: this culture isn’t good, but you shouldn’t take over our culture either, so it was …  It’s very difficult to choose a side like that. Am I Russian now, am I Belgian now, am I not even allowed to speak the language … um … so that was …  Um …

[i] And how was it given with the papers and stuff, how was it for the family or for …

[r] Um, that was also very difficult, um …  So when we arrived in Belgium we also applied to become Belgian.  But we didn’t apply for asylum, um… We didn’t apply for asylum, why…  Uh, because when they applied for asylum, they would check why you fled.  And first of all, those people shouldn’t find out.  Secondly, they wouldn’t be able to check that we left those people so …  On that basis we wouldn’t be able to get papers, so my parents had just applied for Belgian in the sense that we were here … already … Yes …  living here, my mother is studying, my parents are working here.  But that application hasn’t been answered for a long time, um …  So for 10 years we were a bit illegal in Belgium, from my 3 to my 13 then and …  Yes that was difficult in the sense of …  You can’t go abroad, you can’t visit your family, you just can’t leave Belgium for a day …  A bit suffocating so from … you may … you can’t leave … well yes …  Also the thing of, for example, my grandmother had died when I was 10 years old.  And … my … Yes, that was my mother’s mother, and my mother had then submitted an application to the district house to go to Kazakhstan for 10 days to attend my grandmother’s funeral and then come back …  Also because she was responsible for a large part of the funeral…  to arrange the funeral and the grave … Yes and all those things. And the district house had just said that that was not possible, and then my mother was also in a depression for a while …  uh… hit … which is also very bad … that they didn’t feel sorry for the fact that …  that your mother died in your homeland and well, you want to be there…  You want to visit anyway so… Yes then…  Do you also create a kind of mistrust again, towards the government agencies.  Like, those are just not really human … Um …  And for example yes my mother was responsible for the grave and only two years ago she was able to take care of it all.  When we came back from Kazakhstan a few years ago, that grave was not finished.  That was just a mountain of sand and …  Yes, Muslim tombs that are usually so much simpler but there was just no care at all, or nothing so …  She had a really hard time with that, and also the fact that … um …  For example … going on school trips or something, that wasn’t always obvious either because …  Your teachers knew then, that you have no papers, that you are illegal …  And … but they still want you to go on a school trip to Germany.  3 hours or, I don’t know… I don’t know what.  So that was always making arrangements with those teachers: ok, if they stop us…  by bus, school bus, and I have no papers, then everyone would stand up for me, then everyone would say something anyway, so that I wouldn’t …  just was taken away or I don’t know what…  So there was always the fear of: oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh. If we now come into contact with the police, and they see that we have no papers, we can just be sent back, or sent to prison, so you always feel that threat as a child …  Yes, you get stuffed in your ears: don’t be naughty, don’t get in touch with the police, um …  don’t tell our story to adults, just shut up, um …  Yes, that message was always there.  And then, when I was 13…  Um… they had called us at the district house.  I was really taken out of the classroom and everything…  Um, and then they said at the district house… uh… that we …  were sent back actually, that our application to Belgium was not accepted.  Even though we lived here for 10 years, and we had work, and we spoke the language, and my sister was born here, and my little brother was also born here in the meantime …  uh … and went to school here, and I’ve been going to school here all my life…  And that was apparently not enough reason for them to keep us here.  So that was also …

A house […]

[r] Please?

[i] A house too…

[r] Yes, we had a house, everything and stuff, so that was for us like that, yes, we can’t leave it here all at once, we have built up our whole life here.  Why do we have to leave all of a sudden? So that was so… a slap in the face.  Like, Belgium just doesn’t want you, no matter what you do, no matter how you …  No matter how hard you work, you’re not going to be Belgian, you don’t belong here.  That was for us a bit the message of …  Yes, we can’t do anything right, so to speak…  But we really didn’t want to leave …  So we appealed.  Um … yes with lawyers and stuff and…  That also cost my parents a lot of money, but in the end …  After half a year, a year, we had …  finally our residence permit.  That’s a ticket stating that you can stay legally in Belgium for 5 years.  But for us that was quite a victory, you see, because we were illegal for 10 years.  And always that fear of …  If there is police control, they can just put us in jail and so, there was no more, that fear was no longer there.  And also the fact of … We can finally go back to Kazakhstan, on family visits and so on, which we have not been able to do for 10 years.  Um… so for us that was really, um…  a blissful feeling of: we are finally legal here.  We may not be Belgian, but we are legal …  And then my parents had again applied to become Belgian … um …  And that was also …  until last year had not been answered …  But they did … now their Belgian … identity card.  And I have … those of me actually have to reapply, because in the time from my13 to my … uh… 21, I reached the age of majority …  So they had their papers, but I would have to re-apply for them because in those 10 years I reached the age of majority … So I have … really…  a month ago or so my Belgian only finally got it after …  20 years in Belgium … um …  So yes that’s kind of… For me, it’s like closing a chapter, of: I’m finally a part of Belgium here, I’m also entitled to …  things and I am a citizen and …  Well, because … just the fact that you are so…  lives in Belgium but shouldn’t really be here …  It gives a very nasty feeling anyway, well, it keeps hanging around and …  Even though everyone sees you as a Belgian, and as one of them, on paper it’s not like that, and on paper … I am … I’m a stranger, I’m a…  We do not know you, you are not ours, you are not entitled to the same rights as us …  The Constitution literally says: every Belgian is entitled to, every Belgian is entitled to, so …  This does not even apply to people who are not Belgian, so …  Yes, I feel so … one more person … so … now that I am so

Only now?

[r] Yes really recently, really a month ago or… 2 months ago.  That I actually got that ticket… yes …. that’s just …

[i] I’ve ever seen you, uh… a uh… do a slam …  which is called … Is that possible, something to do with a refugee or something?

[r] Yes.

[i] Is that possible?

[r] Yes.

Uh, why did you make that?

[r] Um, that was for me actually um …  a means also to show people of … there are also not traditional refugees.  There are also people who not only flee from war, there are people who also flee from corruption … um …  And …  Actually I wanted to encourage people who are fleeing also a bit of a heart, of … I understand you and I also feel like you, even though I don’t come from the same situation.  I haven’t fled from a war zone or anything … I feel the …  distance that you can feel as … stranger here feels towards someone else.  I understand and I want to… that… Yes, give it back a little, like, a kind of…  give a feeling of: you’re not alone… um …  Yes, and also to tell people that there is…  that there is in …  other countries also things happen that aren’t okay, that…  Well … that there are also no traditional refugees, I just want to say that.  My story is there too, even though … perhaps it is not a very … um …  very story or so, compared to someone who really had to flee from a war country …  But that we are also there and that we also …  Just wanting to be here, and doing everything possible to be here, and …  So why don’t we get papers, why wait 20 years for papers, why is the system like this in Belgium?  So I want to give people a little … I want people to think about this, van:  What is a Belgian, what is a refugee, what is an immigrant, what is a …  These are all just terms and conditions that we stick to, but actually … what …  Someone who is not Belgian […] , is he a citizen, is he even a human being if … if …  If Belgian rights don’t apply to him … and … Yes …  That’s what I wanted to do with that… that …

And … And … Can you show me a bit of that?

[r] Um… Yes.

[i] And also look into the lens.

[r] Ever since I was a kid, I’ve walked away from violence.  Corruption and terror in my hometown even, I had to flee with my parents.  Because they threatened us with Death, I was too young to understand.  So I just crawled on my lap.  But in their eyes I could see the fear that was shooting through them.  I couldn’t speak my language anymore, so many questions but no answer.  Mama heard about Belgium because it was safe there.  So when I was 3, we left, leaving everything behind, ready.  Because my daddy had a business and it didn’t work very well, so when he couldn’t pay for it, they said he was going to pay.  So we had to leave there at my 3 years for good.  Yes, Mom told me that we were leaving, she told me to.  Long night in the car …  I often had to hide…  The fear that continued to resonate was unstoppable for years.  Even when we came here…  We were soon threatened …  I started to understand why my parents are so hostile …  No application for asylum …  Because then they would know …  We had to remain anonymous for our country, which we could no longer enter.  But, anonymous became illegal so no identity.  And even my heart no longer knew where to go or where to be …  And now I write…  My story, I’m broken, lines are broken, ties with family are no longer glued together, you have to understand, we …  never wanted this either.  And when people talk about refugees, my heart sometimes stands still.  I become silent.  From years of silence about my own, too insecure and shy, I thought I wouldn’t reach anyone until I was on a … stage stood …  And with my … …and with my … the facts, that all I want …  I will and can reach.  My head is sometimes insomniac but the dreams are infinite and no one is illegal …  Let that stay with you because …  I found my place here and…  You will get your place here too …  Hmm… that was a piece…

[i] Was that it at all?

[r] No, there’s normally another one of those front pieces that I sing.

[i] Ok.

[r] And then I repeat that in the end, but not singing.  […] … Yes …

[i] Ok… that’s such a… is that such a…  That’s catharsis, isn’t it? Well…

[r] Yes, a bit.

[i] Die slam…

[r] Yes, a bit like that…

[i] For it is a bit of a summary of your feelings and your story a bit, isn’t it?

[r] Mhm… Yes, that also feels so very therapeutic to bring that and …  get feedback on that so that’s uh…  a kind of closure for myself as well a bit so …

[i] You think that’s important to make and bring that?  Have your parents heard?

[r] Um my parents have heard that here in the Arenberg too, coincidentally.  Um…  Yes, they did like it but… well yes …  They do say that certain things in my story are not … 100 percent …  or so, such as ‘long night in the car’.  I do have a lot of memories that we were in the car, but my parents do say that we came by plane.  Yes, such things then … That will not be directly linked to that but …  or …  That they say they weren’t so anxious, but I don’t know.  As a child you really feel that…  so now yes … they deny it all so much…  dramatic of it but…  they also grew up in the context of…  don’t say anything bad about…  yourself or your family or about the culture because you can indeed disappear and so, because if you were in the Soviet Union and so, if you said something bad about the system … then you won’t be there the next day.  So …  Yes, they still have that fear, so yes, they do think that I am a bit …  that should be expressed more positively, not like …  That we really are have to flee or something because …  then they don’t think so… nice to hear ….  Also because they want to think that we didn’t come here as a student to study, because that’s how the application was submitted so … um …  Yes, they are still so afraid that their papers will be taken if they say something wrong so …  Yes … It’s so… difficult … somewhere.  But I understand them and… yes…

[i] Hmm… But I think that’s… um… that always happens, between those relationships of people who have fled or emigrated, that there is such a hood …

[r] Yes.

[i] In all respects actually.

[r] Yes, indeed.

[i] It is very important to do something with it, or to talk about it … uh …  Otherwise you’ll actually grow apart, I think.

[r] Yes, that’s true. But we also talk about it and … um …  They also enjoy telling stories about the past, their past.  How they grew up in Kazakhstan or …  Yes but … Well …  There is a big gap between my parents as well.  They lived even more in the traditional, I’m a bit more modern.  How I think and stuff.  They still have … Yes also … prejudices against certain groups in Belgium.  While yes … Yes I’m like an activist in how there is…  Anti-racism, anti-sexism, homophobia and …  Yes, sometimes they still have traditional ideas about it, but they are also very …  Compared to people who live there in Kazakhstan, they are very modern, so they are …  Um… But yes, I do… I understand their … also and … I think she also likes me…  But they find it difficult that I always ask so many questions about: why did we come to Belgium, why did we have to leave from there … um …  Yes, so they never really liked that question because they didn’t really want to talk about it.  Or did they want to… they didn’t really want to tell me that … that …  it really didn’t go so well there … so… yes…  It is so still a bit vague but … it’s still…  The narrative is still going on … um …  to be constructed, so to speak… between us then … yes ….

[i] And uh… if you ever had children of your own… would you then…  about Kazakhstan, or take it there?

[r] Uh, I’d tell them about it anyway…  I would take them there anyway, because all my family lives there and I think if I have a child, I’d like to show that to the rest of the family …  But … For that I have to speak the language first … um …  because, yes, because of all those years that has been a bit diluted so …  The contact with family is also very difficult in terms of …  They also look a bit uh … down to the fact that I can’t speak Russian or can’t speak Russian very well, so it’s hard to get some …  to repair those tires because …  You don’t see each other for 10 years, only via Skype maybe once every few months or during Christmas or so … um …  (click with tongue) So that’s …  a bit difficult, but I would be my children anyway …  Kazakhstan but not to show it there … really to live or …  I don’t think so. I am far too …. westernized, I think, become.  Yes.

Before that, when you were growing up, was your greatest fear of being sent back?

[r] Yes.

[i] Not more than likely now, I suppose?

[r] Uh no yes now uh… (laughs) … now that’s not gonna happen… That would be funny.  But sometimes my parents used to threaten that, if they wanted to punish me or something, like: we’re going to send you back to Kazakhstan or something, but …  On the other hand, they themselves were afraid that they would be sent back to Kazakhstan.  So that was … Yes, that was always a fear that prevailed, but now that you have that piece of paper that makes you no longer have the fear, well, no longer have the threat that you suddenly have to leave … for no reason … is there some kind of reassurance of … Yeah, well, it is now, uh, if you get your Belgian identity card, you lose your Kazakh nationality.  Because Kazakhstan is like: if you want another nationality, you commit state fraud.  So you are no longer a citizen of Kazakhstan, so you lose all your rights as a citizen of Kazakhstan.  So now, if I wanted to go to Kazakhstan, I would also have to apply for a visa to stay there for a certain period of time, so that is …  Something else as well, now I’m not really a Kazakh in Kazakhstan anymore, now I’m also a Belgian in Kazakhstan so … something else too, yes …

You could say that … um … happiness can depend on a piece of paper? Yes?

[r] Yes, I do, though, it’s a kind of certainty that you care about not…  Yes, it is the certainty that you miss so much when you don’t have it, of …  I actually don’t really have many rights, and there can be done with me what I …  what they want, and I don’t really have much to say about it, not much influence on it.  And I also just have to wait and see …euh until they accept me here, so to speak…  Yes, I do think that happiness can depend on a piece of paper, even though it sounds so …  banal … but…  There are so many things that that entails, and also the feeling that you give to … to be a resident of Belgium …  and to be Belgian, and not just…  to have nothing or… or … Well, yes…  Having no threat is …  is already a factor of …  can be satisfied, so I think so…

[i] And are your parents nostalgic?

[r] Um… my mother is… she especially misses the Soviet Union regime, not necessarily Kazakhstan because … she was also born in Germany …  (Chatter) Also something vague, also on such an army base, so she has for example no birth certificate.  Uh, because that was on the … Russian side of Germany, over the Berlin Wall.  Um…  So she doesn’t have a birth certificate, so she isn’t recognized as my mother either.  Yes, also … something super vague, because when she also came to Belgium …  to apply for her pass and so on, and when she was registered in the population register they misspelled her name 3 times or so, and didn’t want to change it anymore, so she said of: ok, your name is now Aviyé instead of Aviya …  Um… so she wasn’t actually recognized as my mother, on paper.  Um…  Yes, I don’t know if that’s ever going to be a real problem …  Um, but yeah, it’s funny that she’s so… on paper isn’t my mother, then.

[i] Typical Belgian bureaucracy…

[r] Yeah, that’s right, I don’t know.


[r] Yes.

[i] Such things.

[r] Yes, it is… For example, the fact that they didn’t want to change that…

[i] You can’t do a DNA test or something?

[r] Yes, I don’t know, yes… So far, we haven’t had any problems with it.  Except, for example, when I had to submit my application… uh…  And when, for example, she had to submit her application but…  Yes, it is now over, so … Yes …

[i] Amai … so with the question that they are nostalgic, they have … Any traditions that make them eat from Kazakhstan?

[r] Yes, they do.

[i] How do you deal with that?

[r] Um… Yes, they do have their own way of shaping their culture, here.  Especially because of indeed eating habits but …  My mother, she cooks Russian and Kazakh things very well, but western food …  is not so good at all.  So you notice, it’s still very much in her, she knows exactly how to make that dish, because she really learned that from her grandmother and …  You can taste that in those things too, that there is culture and that there is history in it and …  Um … … They keep it that way, especially because of the food.  And also for example on Friday and Saturday … also in Russian culture, you usually have the whole table so full of … all snacks … Um gherkins or healthy salads or something … The whole table is so full, so that …  tradition, they still have somewhere preserved. Even though it is only my mother and my father who eat from it … uh normally it’s the whole family … um …  But they have kept it for themselves and also, yes, my father drinks vodka and so on, often, uh …  So in that respect that is also called the whole Eastern Bloc, and …  Yes, they are, I think, the only real things that they really have left, I think, in terms of …  clothing style or something, it’s not really Kazakh or Russian to call.  As far as our house is concerned, it is also very modern.  But for example their bedroom, I don’t know if that really has anything to do with Russia, but their bedroom is really full of paintings.  And I don’t know if that’s because my father also sees a bit of antiques as his hobby, but really … a room like this, there wouldn’t be a single place left …  to hang something, just everywhere is … and really so many, yes, golden frames and golden jewels and … um … so of those things and, yes…  I do notice, when I look at my family in Kazakhstan, there are also lots of jewels, lots of gold.  Um… a lot… so much of those things… they still have that and…  For the rest, we do have Russian TV at home, so they watch it every night.  They have their Russian series that they always follow.  Um … watch Russian news as well and so on, which is also totally different from the Belgian news by the way, really uh …  When they say this in the Belgian news, they say in the Russian news that, and that’s really …  very absurd, so we also discuss this like this: yes, we saw VRT a moment ago and what was new here, and what, well …  How does this affect each other and … so yes …  TV and food are left over, but really something …  Yes, their language and …  their humour and all that.

And what is that for you personally, being Kazakh-Belgian?

[r] Um…

[i] […] maybe less…

[r] Well, yes, so…

[i] TV, I don’t know, are you watching it?

[r] Um, I understand Russian very well, so I could watch TV, and sometimes I also watch, some programs are really interesting.

[i] But how concretely do you construct your identity or something?

[r] Gee, that’s hard, I…  Uh, I’m not really trying to see myself as someone really from Kazakhstan or Belgium, more like just … a… person of the world or something, and that sounds very cliché but …  You don’t feel at home here or there, and the time I lived in Belgium I really hoped for: when I come to Kazakhstan, I’m going to feel at home there again. And then you come there and you don’t feel at home there either.  And then you think: who am I anyway?  I’m not there… I’m not Kazakh in Belgium, I’m not Kazakh in Kazakhstan… Well, yes.  I’m not Belgian in Belgium, I’m not Kazakh in Kazakhstan, I’m not Russian.  So … What makes me anyway? So you…  you start to see yourself a bit more than just that…  A piece from everywhere.  Also so if you like my … uh … my origin or so, for example my mother is … uh … Russian Tatar, that’s also one of those republics within Russia that is more or less separated from the rest of Russia, so they have a totally different culture, so so very …  uh… yes very traditional euh islamic …  They all wear headscarves, all live in very low houses, eat on the ground …  Uh … make their own …  milk products and stuff like that, really just live off the farm and stuff.  Do you understand, then…  My father … um … (kucht) his mother is Russian but her … um …  parents were … um … also got to know each other on the Ukraine-Poland border … um …  And there’s also Jewish blood somewhere in there and …  So, you’re not going to see yourself as The Kazakh or The Russian anyway because you already have a strange mix of other nationalities in the family so …  Sometimes I see myself as an Eastblocker, just in general.  I do identify with my Eastern Bloc friends or something, we really have … well yes …  If I deal with Poles or Russians or Ukrainians, we feel that there is something in common.  I don’t know what it is but… then we identify ourselves as an Eastern Blocker.  If I… in a group of poets, then we’re just poets, and when I’m in school, I’m just a student, so…  Yes, it’s mostly… almost just my last name or so that really…  Um… shows of: I’m still from somewhere else.  It’s not my looks or it’s not my… I don’t even have an accent, well, some people say so but… you wouldn’t even notice when you talk to me, that I come from somewhere else.  That’s real when I explain it to you so… That’s why I’ve always had the advantage of being able to…  was not really approached racist or so, as I am with some other people erm … see.  Um… It’s good that I shape an identity…  Difficult, difficult, I’m still there… um …  looking for a place in my head, how…  that all those elements will come together…  I’m just trying to…  to be seen as… if… Antwerper or or or …  man of the world or something.

[i] Didn’t you ever write anything about that, about that identity construction or something?

[r] Um… no actually …  Yes, when I was younger I did write about it, but I don’t know about it … from the outside.  But writing is indeed something, a means that I can …  has helped in that process and…  Also the fact of going to Kazakhstan and seeing those things there and comparing them with here and …  For example, I also had for … when I… 17, 18 or so…  um … I had participated in Kunstbende, also here in the Arenberg …  and I was second with my photography series.  And that was a series I had made in Kazakhstan, to show a bit of the contrast with here but also on the basis of those pictures to tell my story and …  Yes … well that was also a kind of …  expression and …  Uh, I think I use art quite often so as to be there a bit …  to give meaning and form to myself and others.  Because, yes ….  I don’t really know many people like myself or who really experienced the same story or …  Here that’s so hard to really identify with someone else like that.  For example, I also know Russians …  Uh, but they do know the language very well, and they really identify themselves as Russian.  I know Kazakh … who can’t do Kazakh, who can’t do Russian, and who really identify with Belgians, because they really didn’t get anything from that culture, but they do look like Kazakh, for example, so …  I do notice that this is a bit like that for everyone …  is different and … and I try art … to use it to…  a bit of a story … to create because …. it is sometimes not easy to put it in 1 …  thing or so …

Do you remember the first time you…  brought something of yourself on a stage?

[r] Uh… around my ancestry and everything, or just general?  Yes, that was in Summer Factory during Mama’s Open Mic, and I had brought there a text around uh … mental disorders … and…

When was that?

[r] That was when I was 17, so that was 5 years ago…  Um…  Yes, that text was just very well remembered as well.  So I was happy about that because I wanted a kind of …  Also a heart to encourage people with mental problems, but also …  To make people a bit more aware of: this is there and …  we should also look at such people, and not just ignore or just think they’re weird or something, they’re like us …  So that … a little… yes so that was also very …  therapeutically activist for me so…

[i] Mhm …

[r] Hm.

[i] And uh…  Just a few more questions, um …  A whole … I’m not going to come back to that question now, um…  To continue here for a while, um …  What is um … slam poetry for you?

[r] Slam poetry for me… is …  poetry mixed with theater on a stage to …  to bring messages to people, and to be able to touch people.  That’s slam poetry for me, I like…  I like, I like it very much when… if I… um… messages to the public and they are very well received, or I notice that people feel touched or …  understanding or … If afterwards people come to me and say: what you just said may not be my story, but I felt you. Or something in me … was reminded of that feeling that you had there.  That was for example …  Had I indeed just brought that text in the Netherlands last week, and a girl had come to me from: what you told me in that text about distance and … of … to be a migrant …  That’s also what I feel when I’m being bullied.  And that was a 15 year old girl and she told me… uh… Indeed that she is being bullied, and how she dealt with it … and…  Yes, I liked that so much how she … that feeling… from me…  recognized in herself with so… feeling the distance towards people by … you don’t really feel at your place and… Or I once had a… uh… text done on abortion, and then a man would have come to me saying: yes, my…  erm… my daughter is… my unborn daughter died and so and…  I also notice that this is very therapeutic for other people as well.  To make your … to expose … so that other people are like, “Oh, I’m not alone.  Or … There are still people who… feel like me or…  If she can do it, I can do it too, so that. I actually want to give that message of: it’s not because I’m standing here, that you can’t stand here either and can tell your thing here and open people’s eyes because that’s …  also something I want with slam poetry, is people opening their eyes by …  Yes, sometimes even shock or so, to just make a click of something …  this is so, this exists, this is there and…  we just have to deal with it together and…  Yes, so I find slam poetry a very powerful tool to …  to be able to change things or to release feelings in people.

[i] And how would you… um …  if I have to use the word so directly, uh… describe a refugee?

[r] A refugee to me is someone who …  is driven by fear to another place to have it better for themselves.  That is a refugee to me, so that could be someone who …  had to flee due to war conditions…  Um or someone who had to flee because they had to, um…  is gay and that’s not allowed in his country or …  Yes, I think that’s such a …  is a comprehensive concept for anyone who …  is threatened … and must get away from the threatening situation.  Because it is no longer tenable, simply.  And that can also be because of natural disasters or something, that can be because of war, that can be because of politics, because of corruption, because I don’t know what.  I think that everyone should have the right to …  to leave a place where you can’t live anymore.  It should always be that way, I think.  Why would … someone from Belgium …  who, uh, wants to be an engineer in China, why is he allowed …  that go looking for happiness in another country, but someone who literally has to flee from his death …  shouldn’t the happiness, so to speak, go looking for the happiness of not being dead in another country?  I find that so very … Too bad about Europe.  It is a pity that he or she lives a little bit with the thing of: only we and no one comes in here.  But Europe itself also has a whole history of colonisation and …  and this, and that, therefore …  Yes, I do, yes …  Just be human for all and…  just think of: how would I be in that situation.  Would I be… also don’t want to leave? Why would anyone…  put his child on a boat … if it… danger … if it… if the water was more dangerous than the land, you know? So…  People don’t flee for their pleasure, anyway, not, I don’t think, fleeing is not for your pleasure anyway … um …  Which is different than for example with expatriates or so … um …  So yes, I think flights … flight … the word refugee …  Yes, it is actually difficult to really describe it that way but …  Yes, it just …. it have to go away.  Because it can’t be otherwise.  In whatever situation.  Even if, for example, you were threatened in Belgium by the mafia …  Then you would indeed … should be able to flee to somewhere else.  Such things.

[i] I’m going to go to the battery …  Can you tell me more, uh… What are your dreams for the future?

[r] My dreams for the future … hm hm hm hmmm …  I want … publish another book.  I want to publish another book of poetry.  I want to finish my training as a psychotherapist and start as a psychotherapist.  I want to… building and expanding my career as a spoken word artist … um …  As well as my career as a musician, …  singer, rapster, …  Um… As well as maybe I want to go into politics later on about things like this …  to be able to change, well, I hope to be a kind of … political voice … wants to have in the future.  Or that in a way I can have a stake in … people’s behavior or the way things are regulated in Belgium … um …  Or that my story can also contribute to …  for example, people who are just in Belgium, that they don’t have to wait 20 years for their papers, and have to live in fear all the time.  If I could do something about that, it would be very … be fun … um …  I also want to be an activist and …  for all kinds of minority organizations … and …  Just yes, trying to change the world in a positive way, that is …  my biggest dream.  And to leave behind something that … can be valuable to …  man later, like a book with…  Really a good book … yes…

[i] Um… Do you want to finish, uh, bring something into the lens? You can choose.

[r] Um… let’s think …  I can’t really think of anything right now, it’s been a while since I’ve brought something out of my head like this.  Um.

[i] But briefly hey.

[r] When the night takes away my smile, I take away his black one.  I wear that color during the day and laugh the last … at night.  That was something very short. (chuckles)

Thank you, that was a nice ending.