African Kings’ Progeny Speaks of Life in Perm

Perm is one of the centers of attraction for students from all over the world. Every year, hundreds of foreigners come here to study at local universities and gain skills here. Bukhosi Khumalo, 28, from Zimbabwe is one among many, a student of Perm State University, studying Cartography and Geoinformatics at the Faculty of Geography. The news agency has talked to Bukhosi about his life in Perm, the Russian language, relations with local people and more.

On Moving to Perm

I have been living and studying in Perm since December 2019. Education is the goal of my visit. In Zimbabwe and throughout Africa, they know that Russia is a very technological country, so I chose it for training. There is a Russian embassy in Zimbabwe, where I was told about an opportunity to proceed with my studies in geography and demography in Russia.

I had to fill in a resume and got an invitation for the interview. In the resume, you had to indicate the cities of choice to study. I wrote to Moscow, St. Petersburg and Samara, but that time they could offer me no place. Then I was told to choose another city. I didn’t know anything about Perm at all, but I decided to go for it. “Russia and Zimbabwe maintain good relations, so my state paid for my flight and training in Perm, and I’m paying for my expenses in Perm on my own,” says Bukhosi.

First Impression of Perm

When at the airport in Moscow, I sent a message about the time of my arrival to Perm. Yet, for some reason, I got no response from the university. This turned out to be a big problem, for I did not know the language at all, and when I landed in your city, my phone died.

In Perm, I explained that I need to get to Perm State University to a random stranger, and he adbised me a bus to take. I had absolutely no idea of where I was. I tried to ask the buswoman about PSU, but she could not understand me, so I travelled till the end of the line. I had a note with me saying “Perm State University”, which I showed to a taxi driver, and he took me to the university.

Initially, I had troubles with being on time, since my watch was still switched to a Moscow time zone. I would be told that classes start at 10am, and as I came, they were all over. I couldn’t understand how it could be. Finally, someone explained me about the time shift puzzle. The funny thing was although I kept looking at my watch, I was constantly late, for 5 days.

Life in Perm

Africans initially choose Perm for their studies, and feel attracted by the place. The only thing is that we might be terrified by your weather. When it starts to get colder outside, and the temperature drops to -10’C, I almost never go out. From November to April, I only go to the store or university buildings.

I spend a lot more money in Perm than in Africa, because food is much more expensive here. In addition, I buy warm clothes, which I have never had before. When I return back to Zimbabwe, I will not need them anymore.

Somehow, as a group of foreign students, we were taken to Khokhlovka, the museum of wooden architecture in the countryside. There, we experienced some traditional Russian culture, like pancakes or herbal tea. I got better understanding of how people used to live in the village, and even played a little balalaika. These were the impressions to remain for life. I now want to visit more Russian villages, see cows and farms.

Studying Russian Language

Before moving to Russia, I learned a few Russian words so that I could say hello, shop in a store, or ask something. When I first arrived in Perm, I met a student from Afghanistan. He knew English and Russian, so he helped me to communicate. When going to a store, I used to tell him what I needed to buy.

As I started shopping on my own, I realized one more problem: I could read the name on the package, but paid little attention to price tags, so often, unintentionally, I picked expensive products. I could buy rice for 200 rubles and not realize its cost, which was high, for sure.

For me, there are two words in Russian that I cannot pronounce – these are “gosudarstvo” (state) and “podgotovitelnye kursy” (preparatory courses). I also find it difficult to learn the words that I use during my studies – for example, “zondirovanie” (probing).

Yet, I can write and read in Russian well enough. In my head, I understand everything that the speaker says, but I find it hard to respond. Apparently, it is the coronavirus pandemic we have to blame for that, as the quarantine provided too little language practice. I spent a lot of time in my dorm room, and my neighbors spoke English and French, so I mostly used to hear foreign speech around.

Now I live in the same room with a student from Turkmenistan. He helps me with Russian, and I teach him English.

About Russians

Russians are good, kind, calm and quiet people, but serious and short-spoken. For instance, while getting on a bus in Africa, I can get easily start talking to my fellow traveler. Small talk to a stranger, you know? In Russia, everyone keeps silent on the bus. This is surprising to me. People in Russia don’t even like sitting next to each other, so I don’t really like to travel by bus, and try to walk all the time.

I find girls in Russia beautiful. Yet, I have never been dating a Russian, since I have a girlfriend in Zimbabwe waiting for me.

I believe people in Russia are quite tolerant. In other countries, it happens they may shout the word ‘negro’ as they see a person with dark skin. It had never been a case like this here. At most, little children get surprised a bit, and that’s all, but even they don’t mention anything bad. I think people just don’t care about my skin color.

In Russia, they never called me a negro, although I heard this word on TV and the Internet. I don’t like it, and it does offend me.

Comparing Food in Russia and Africa

When I arrived in Perm, I picked only those products that I knew: rice, meat, fruit, potatoes. Now I try to experiment and take something new. I often choose fruits that we do not have in Africa – pears or persimmons. In Perm, fruits and vegetables are much more expensive than in Africa. For example, in my country, mango grows at every step, and here in Perm mango is much more expensive.

I live in a hostel, and I cook for myself. Most often, I cook rice and pasta. I can cook chicken or beef, which is my favorite. I have to admit, beef is truly expensive in Russia. I like Russian cuisine like ‘winter salad’ or pancakes. I don’t cook soups at home, but if someone offers me, I’ll eat it with pleasure.

“I would like to try an elephant. In general, most of the world’s elephants are from Zimbabwe,” says Bukhosi.

On Russian and African Traditions

I saw Russians plunging into the water in winter, when it was -30’C outside. I was shocked. I have no idea how this can be done. I would never be so bold to experience that.

I like Russian holidays, I find them curious, and celebrate them with my friends.

In Zimbabwe, every family has a type of food they don’t eat. In my homeland, almost all names and surnames mean some kind of an animal. For example, if your surname is something like Zaitsev (‘Hareson’), then you are forbidden to eat hares. My family does not eat river and sea species. As a child, I was often scared that my teeth would fall out if I ate fish.

When I tried seafood in Perm for the first time, I was a little afraid, but fortunately, nothing wrong happened. It turns out the myth is busted.

“In Zimbabwe, we practice Christianity. There is a belief that the saints on our icons are dark-skinned, but this is not so. They are white as everywhere else,” Bukhosi admits.

Life in Zimbabwe

I have 3 brothers and 3 sisters. Our family is not rich, but enough to live on. My mom is a farmer, and my dad works as a senator in parliament. I have a small business in Zimbabwe – a liquor store. With money from business, I help my family.

I haven’t been home for almost a year and a half. At first, the pandemic made it difficult to fly away, but now ticket prices are sky-high. I can’t wait to see my family again.

Zimbabwe is not a rich country. We have two currencies – the American dollar and our own, local dollar. Our currency is quite weak, which is why we use the US dollar more often.

Three years ago, before the crisis hit Zimbabwe, our residents had good wages. For example, teachers or doctors earned $ 600-700 (RUB 46,200-53,900). However, due to the crisis, salaries went lower, and then the pandemic also hit the economy.

“Before England colonized our country, we had two tribes, in one of them my ancestor was a king. It turns out that I am a progeny, a descendant of the monarch,” says Bukhosi.


My friends and I have a youth football team in my village. We plan to create a football academy for children to study and train there. We also host for small tournaments with football teams from neighboring villages. The academy is our big project that we are planning to implement.

I really love our traditional music – in Zimbabwe, I used to listen to it every day. I also like Russian music. Every single day I listen to the song “Girl, Dance” by Artik & Asti.

I also like to read books on history. Now I am reading Karl Marx.

“I really enjoy playing football. When we play, people often shout something nasty. I used to think that they were shouting it at me, which made me constantly feel puzzled whether I did something wrong. I myself do not swear, as in our country it is generally unacceptable, obscene lexis in particular,” Bukhosi says.

Plans for Future

I have one more year to study in Perm, then I plan to get back home, since I have a family and a girlfriend there.

In addition to the fact that I want to create a football academy with my friends, I have plans to launch my own company for programming VR glasses. I want to show tourists the beauty of our places, because they cannot visit all of them, and so they may at least see them in virtual reality. I also want to use these glasses for training.

I do not want to work for someone else, I want to run my own business. Still, I need money to follow the plan, so I have to work in my degree field, first. I will move in small steps, but will still come to success. I believe all the knowledge I gained here in Russia will help me with this.

I would advise those students from abroad planning to study here, to practice more Russian. The sooner you learn it, the easier it will be to settle. My advice is, try to use it constantly for communication. And, be ready for the cold, since frosts in Russia are extreme.

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