I have to put my hands up and admit it; I’m just dead jealous – but when Saba Douglas-Hamilton is featured in the Saturday Telegraph Weekend, on the ‘My Perfect Weekend’ column (aug 11th 2007) my hackles cannot fail to rise. This is because she has the perfect job, clattering around the Masai Mara in her long wheel base Landrover, whispering into the camera about the movements of leopard and lion for ‘Big Cat Diary’, fashioning stories out of age old wildlife behaviour and transfixing viewers back home.
The problem is that she is a very ‘white Kenyan’ type, third generation or so and extremely comfortable with living in Africa where everything she does is ‘fabulous, amazing, stunning’ and never ‘mundane, boring, normal’ (like say, my suburban Nairobi life). Her name ‘Saba’ (Swahili word for the number seven), is typically exotic and rooted in East Africa, her sister is called ‘Dudu’ (Swahili meaning: insect), their parents have made game conservation their living and hang out at an ‘amazing’ ranch in Naivasha. There are quite a few people like Saba in Kenya, and sadly they never fail to make you outsiders feel more than a little inadequate.
In the column she says: ‘Weekends and weekdays really have no relevance in my life. I do things according to seasons or full moons, or during the migration of the animals I’m filming.’ (I say; how decadent!)
This is a girl who claims she packs up the Landrover and just drives, to the desert, mountains or any other hostile Kenyan landscape that I’d always shy away from unless there was the promise of a stone built lodge with a bar and a swimming pool. Her simple camp comprises; ‘…a tarpaulin on the ground, a bedroll and a small fire.’ It’s all so damn effortless for her. Camping sends shivers down my spine as my mind starts racing about the sheer volume of planning and packing it involves. Weekends in Nairobi are about visiting restaurants, cinemas, entertaining the children and seeing friends, whereas Saba says; ‘We only go back to Nairobi because it is the one place where we can communicate with the outside world, but we try to spend as little time there as possible.’ My guess is, that the reason she doesn’t like being in Nairobi is that it’s all too fearfully boring and normal with too many people (or rather plebs).
After I’d read the 600 or so words I felt thoroughly down hearted. She’s not tied by school runs, her weekends are about night swimming in the sea at Lamu amongst the phosphorescence, putting up a ‘simple camp’ on the edge of a desert and diving along cattle trails and dry river beds in her beloved Landrover before jetting off to the next film shoot. The quirky ‘shack’ she describes as her Nairobi home is doubtless also effortlessly ‘stylish’.
I was cheered by the fact that she seems not yet to have reconciled herself to having a husband yet (she’s only been married a year and says she travels a lot without him) and admitted to being ‘territorial’, even hinted at being ‘bossy’ on previous ‘perfect weekends’. Children may put the kibosh on such a fabulous lifestyle – but then again they probably won’t, she will doubtless still manage with ayahs and an unconventional lifestyle.
However, I’d just like to say to ‘Big Cat Diary’ or any other fascinating documentary maker with an eye on Kenya, if Saba is not available next time (hopefully she’ll be busy changing nappies or something), I’d be glad to slip into her glamorous shoes and ‘help out’ with some TV presenting.