Friday, April 24, 2015

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 na├»ve ‘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.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Interesting article

The former ambassador to Kenya wrote an interesting article for Time magazine, basically saying that this country can't move forward if only terrorist attacks make the international news pages.

Read more here: Look Beyond Garissa Attack to see Progress in Kenya

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Young Expat Life in Nairobi

I’ve just met some of those expat twenty-somethings that I was telling you about recently. The ones who are flocking to Kenya to stimulate social enterprise in tech, investments, engineering - you name it. In fact I actually met a young expat who was working for an investor in social entrepreneurship projects. The investment company she works for finds sustainable, innovative companies to sink money in to and then they hope to see not only a cash return but social good come out of it. I've learned via Google that this is called Socially Responsible Investing (SRI). Investments could be in low cost housing, low cost schools, locally made jewellery/crafts that are being sold to multinational fashion chains, affordable solar lighting – that sort of thing.  

Whatever this business is, it’s mostly spoken in a foreign language. Terms like ‘pipeline meetings’  and 'socially responsible' 'sustainability' etc etc are bandied about and I can actually hear my brain whirring in an effort to keep up. It’s exciting, dynamic and – correct me if I’m wrong - grown out of a need born from ‘rich’ foreigners/investors who – perhaps bored of the limitations of developed financial markets - seek excitement and want to see their money ‘do some good’ in Africa.  A ‘socially responsible’ profit from these canny investments is ripe for the picking and even better, everyone can feel good about themselves.

Entrepreneurship is the buzz word in Nairobi today.  Don’t you know? that is why Obama is coming in out here July. He’s going to attend the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi – and also might find time to see Granny Sarah.

But none of this is the point.  The real point is that I also learned over the past couple of months that there’s this whole, huge, fun social life going on in Nairobi without me knowing.  Shocker.  While hiding in my house, waving goodbye to expat leaving, there has been a whole lot happening elsewhere.
Gypsy's Bar
Suddenly I feel bad for those single girls who have been in contact with me via the Africa Expat Wives Club blog and forum over the years, asking if they should take that posting to Nairobi, or rather choose London.  I thought that those twenty-something girls Nairobi bound from overseas, were in danger of ending up on the shelf having been forced to live a closeted life here.  It’s hard to meet a man if you are locked up in some compound, scared to drive out after dark alone.  But how wrong I am!  That will teach you for seeking advice from someone who is over the hill and past their party prime. Now, with what I know today, I would say, 'come on over girls, it’s on!' There are tons of cool pop-up bars and clubs with live music, djs, whisky and fun (not that I've visited them, or if I have, it was probably the wrong day, or time of day).

Westlands is largely the place to be on a night out (from what I can make out via my binoculars...tee hee). There are tons of young people having 'the best time ever' here. The social life is diverse.  If you are looking for expat enclaves, there are none. The scene is mixed, which is just as it should be. They are free, networking, engaged with life and many are doing things that are making a difference to society.

Kenya has a lot of bad press and no one can deny that horrendous incidents happen with alarming repetition but in spite of this, there is a wealth of opportunity to get stuck into something that you love. It’s a dynamic, fun place to live – especially for the young and single. Nairobi is big and the social life has now been described to me by someone young enough to be in the know (23) as AMAZING! 

So if you are feeling adventurous, don't be alarmed. Get your party on and come on over!

It's slightly out of date, but nevertheless sums up the city well. Read this article for more: Expat Lives: The London of Africa

Also, check out the Nairobi Expat Social (NES) - Facebook page

Check out: The Juniper Kitchen - for a hip and happening weekend hangout in Westlands behind ABC Place.

For more info on eating out click here: Eat Out Kenya
For events and goings on: Kenya Buzz
For listings: Word of Mouth

Monday, April 06, 2015

Garissa University Attack

A horrifying attack on defenseless students. Of course memories of the Westgate terror attack come flooding back.