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Africa expat life on TV


Over the years, via this comparatively long running blog (yikes, I started this in 2006!!), I have had approaches by TV and film company researchers asking various questions about expat life, apparently exploring the idea that a ‘fly on the wall’ documentary, fiction series or reality TV that might make great viewing for the folks back home. Do I know anyone who has recently moved here from the UK who might be willing to be filmed 24/7 for TV? (answer: No - are you joking?).

It's not hard to understand why they got in touch. Expat life in Africa has long been fascinating, ever since the Out of Africa and the White Mischief movies were made (thank you to early adventurers Karen Blixen, Idina Sackville and Lord Erroll for making it so, and to 1980s film makers for bringing it all to life so evocatively). But since the 80s, there has been a bit of a lull.  The Constant Gardener was filmed in Kenya, then there was ‘The Last King of Scotland’, the Idi Amin Biography filmed in Uganda etc. Other than that, if you want to see anything remotely contemporary (other than gritty homespun drama Nairobi Half life), then you are in the zone of wildlife documentaries like Big Cat Diaries.

I think that what the researchers were after was a modern day series on a par with ‘Bridezillas’ or some such. Imagine a newly arrived expat who is unused to employing domestic staff, riding around in a four wheel drive car with nothing to do all day but experience frequent culture shocks while going about a daily routine and basking in the sunshine.  Throw in a bit of intrigue and imagine how well that would go down during and English winter?  It was also once suggested that I have a go at writing something about expat wives that perhaps could be on a par with Jilly Cooper’s ‘Riders’. Problem was, there was no way I could do it (in spite of a few fairly concerted efforts!)

Lines of enquiry quickly run dry as regards filming here. Perhaps because East Africa is a bit 'too' dangerous, a bit 'too' different and ultimately too far away for projects to take off.

I think that expat life in Africa is fascinating, not because of any preconceived ideas of what life here is like but because of the reality.  If nothing else, living in East Africa hurled me out of my naïve ‘first world’ outlook that life could be ‘fair’ for everyone. It has taught me that determination and hard work get people very far, but there has to be some luck involved too. It is sometimes possible to help someone and it is possible that trying to help in the wrong way can actually make things worse. Resilience is a catchword in this part of the world and you absolutely never know what tomorrow might bring. I guess for this reason, many visitors to Kenya say that living here makes them feel ‘alive’ and not as if life might be passing us by. Frankly, there's seldom a dull moment.

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