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Our Life as a Family of Ebony Expats

What my husband and I learned from living and parenting on three continents will surprise you.

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Photo of black family living in a different country
Imani Bashir
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When my brother married an East African sister from London, I got a chance to see life outside the United States. I was in my 20s, still learning about myself and how I impacted the world around me. That first experience traveling abroad awakened my wanderlust. I’d lived in multiple states and traveled domestically for work, but I’d never been out of the country. Many years later, I’d take the leap and move overseas.

The first country I decided to live in was Egypt. I did a lot of praying and as things aligned for me, I bought a one-way ticket and didn’t look back. I had no job lined up prior to leaving, but I was building my parachute on the way down. During that time, I made sure not to disclose my move to many people. I wanted my decision to be something I could maneuver and live with without the voices of naysaying or caution infiltrating my subconscious. Once the news spread that I’d moved, judgemental messages poured in.

“But they don’t like Black people!”

“Aren’t they racist?”

“I heard it’s not safe for women.”

I did encounter situations that made me show up on behalf of everything I represent. Once, I was teaching some Turkish educators who were working in Cairo. A gentleman told me I didn’t “sound African-American.” He’d prefaced the statement by saying he hoped I wouldn’t take offense and I didn’t. I used that moment — as I have with every moment abroad — to introduce my blackness to the world. He and others were able to get a crash course in what it is to be Black, American and educated, while understanding the disparities that are the face of marginalized people in my home and theirs.

I also tutored a mother and daughter duo in their home on various subjects. After some time, the daughter confided in me that when I first arrived, she thought I was the maid until she heard me speak. For me, the best learning tool was providing something that they had to buy into. In that moment, I was a representation of the ancestors who were once outlawed from learning, but I was now the teacher. They needed me.

In 2016, I met my husband — who is also Black American — in Cairo. After six months, we left Egypt and headed to China for six weeks before we moved to Europe. My husband coaches American football and had already lived in five countries before we met. We were adventurous in how we wanted to shape our lives, and he took a new deal in a city called Szczecin, Poland, just two hours from Berlin, Germany.

Again, friends and family warned us about the racism and cautioned us about the what-ifs. In addition to living in and exploring new territory, we also welcomed our first child in Poland. Szczecin was probably the most culturally white city I’ve ever been in. I only saw two other people of color while we lived there. But I’d never felt more welcomed and supported.

When our son was born, we were showered with gifts from the priest of a neighborhood church. He’d heard of us and wanted to give us bags and boxes full of donated diapers, wipes, clothing and toys. He was genuinely excited to welcome us and our new son. In addition, all of our postpartum checkups with the gynecologist and pediatrician were pro bono. We were never given a bill or asked to pay at the end of our appointments.

Although I hadn’t expected any negative encounters while I was living there, I also didn’t anticipate such open and warm kindness. A woman who lived in our building told my husband in passing that everyone was excited we were there because they had never seen Black people in person. If we’d opted out of going based on other people’s interpretations of what our experience was going to be like, they probably wouldn’t have ever gotten a chance to see Black people in a familial fashion.

Being a learning tool for others allows us to be comfortable navigating through societies reputed to mistrust otherness. Fortunately, we never encountered hostility. I realized that, to the Chinese, seeing a Black woman is like seeing Beyoncé or Rihanna in real life. We are beautiful. We are different. We radiate something that they haven’t encountered often. For these reasons, my husband and I plan to continue giving the world more Black girl magic and Black boy joy.