“Malaysia for me is ...”(2016) - the backstage story about new AFRASO documentary

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After two weeks of intensive research, one week of even more intensive filming and endless amount of watermelon fresh juice consumed we have made it! Together with Melanie Gärtner, the filmmaker from Frankfurt am Main, who has been successfully cooperating with AFRASO, we worked on the documentary production in Kuala Lumpur in January 2016 and now present our results online.

 
Alexandra Samokhvalova (left) and Melanie Gärtner

Initially, my plan was to approach the topic of African student migration to Malaysia from three different perspectives, namely talk to African students about reason to choose Malaysia and their life in the country; collect opinions of Malaysian students about the growing African students’ community at local universities; and interview universities’ leaders on the internationalization policy in Malaysian higher education. Melanie, our filmmaker, had to bring me down to earth. She explained that an online documentary, the format we were aiming at, should normally be not more than 20 minutes long. Thus it would be virtually impossible to fit in so much material. As a result, my ambitious plan was turned down and a new plan was born immediately: to find African students, whose backgrounds and opinions are diverse and multifaceted. Four protagonists, coming from four different countries in Africa (Namibia, Tanzania, Guinea and Chad), agreed to appear in the film and talk about their experiences of studying and living in multi-ethnic and multi-cultural Malaysia.     

The first challenge that we faced was very limited time for filming, we only had one week at our disposal. So we started on the day of Melanie’s arrival to Kuala Lumpur. We dedicated one full day to each protagonist and followed him or her around, trying to get a glimpse into their everyday life.

First, we visited Kaiho, a Namibian student, at his home in Tanjung Malim, 1,5-hour ride from Kuala Lumpur.  There he introduced us to his friends, other Namibian students at UPSI (Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris), who all stay in Malaysia under full scholarship from the Namibian government and study education in IT. We followed Kaiho to the laundry, witnessed his chess tournament with a friend and talked about Malaysia. “I would deny my own feelings, if I say that I don’t like Malaysia. I love this country,” was his verdict. “Especially the tropical islands and endless beaches. And the quality of higher education here is so much better than back home”.

 Our second protagonist Moustafa is Guinean by origin, who was born in Malaysia and plays rugby for IIUM (International Islamic University Malaysia). We decided to film him doing his routine workout at a school stadium. That is where the second challenge stroke: the heat! Even for me, an experienced Malaysia visitor, it was almost unbearable to stay outside and carry our filming equipment around, let along Moustafa doing his exercises (again and again!) and Melanie following his every step with a camera. After two hours of shooting we felt like squeezed lemons, but proud of ourselves. Later in the evening, we filmed there Moustafa and his friend Alif in one of the most traditional Malay surroundings, a mamak stall (street restaurant), laughing and eating with their hands. “This shots are priceless!” Melanie and I said to each other and ordered another round of freshly squeezed pineapple juice.

 
Fighting with heat while filming Moustafa at a stadium. Photo by Alexandra Samokhvalova

Jenny from Tanzania, our next protagonist, spoke openly about advantages and disadvantages of the higher education in Malaysia and future prospect of African students in the country. She mentioned that though Malaysia offers good quality education for reasonable prices, numbers of Africans coming to Malaysia might reduce if the negative sentiment towards them among local population does not fade away. Indeed, all our protagonists shared stories of negative attitude towards them in everyday life: let it be a taxi driver, who refuses to take them as a passenger; a hostel owner, who does not allow Africans to stay in shared rooms or other small but unpleasant incidents. Thus one of the aims of our documentary is to show that not all Africans in Malaysia are criminals, like stereotypes claim, many come to study. They learn the local language, respect the culture and admire the nature of Malaysia.


Jenny is ordering food, Melanie is capturing the moment. Photo by Alexandra Samokhvalova

Youssouf, whom we met at campus of International Islamic University Malaysia, told us that Malaysia became well known in Chad in the early 2000s, when Petronas joined the oil drilling project. However, nowadays Malaysia has earned its name in Chad as an excellent quality higher education provider. As a result, more and more students choose Malaysia as their study destination. “At times when many countries close their doors to students from Africa and the Middle East, Malaysia welcomes them!” Youssouf said and reassured us that Malaysia would only benefit from that “policy of welcoming” in future. He showed us around the campus and left for his afternoon prayers at a big mosque next to the library. Later that day, he talked a lot about how Islam in Malaysia not only made him feel like home, but allowed him to learn more about his own religion. He spoke highly of the status of women and respect towards various religions and ethnic groups in the country.

Filming in Kuala Lumpur public areas was easy and trouble-free. Funnily, politeness and shyness of the local population sometimes appeared as a challenge. Car stopped and waited (trying not to block the view), people turned back or tried to bend down not to appear in front of the camera exactly when we were hunting for city shots (with cars and people!). From time to time, I had to wave at car drivers and pedestrians to continue moving and not pay attention to us. Sometimes it worked!

 Filming in the historical city center of Kuala Lumpur. Photo by Alexandra Samokhvalova

All in all, it was an unforgettable experience! We reached our objective and developed the theme of African students migration to Malaysia, showing different perspectives of protagonists and touching upon both advantages and challenges of studying there. I sincerely hope that our film “Malaysia for me is …” would reach out to wide audience and help in changing the stereotypical thinking and negative attitude towards African students in Malaysia. 

 

 

 

 

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