Postcards from Kenya Trip Story

Floods, and inspiration from Kenya for watercolour artist Moish Sokal

I am bringing the colour of Africa to East Lambrook Manor Gardens in my latest exhibition ‘Postcards from Kenya’ from June 4th. However, this exhibition was nearly washed away in major floods as it was being painted. Here is my story:

Armed with a fistful of photographic prints, brushes, paints and paper, I landed in my hometown, Sydney, after the long absence imposed by the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021. I was so moved to stand on Bondi Beach again, I was almost crying! In this surreal present I made my way to Northern NSW and settled in happily to a familiar routine of morning swims and painting. As the sunny days rolled by, my cache of watercolours inspired by a recent trip to Kenya was growing steadily – I felt I was back on track!

But then came the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’. The rains had arrived and they grew stronger, louder. Day and night, non-stop heavy rain. Daylight was so poor I had to retreat into my bedroom since it had the brightest light over my bed and paint there from the photos I had taken on a recent trip to Kenya, which all of a sudden looked more like colourful exotic postcards.

It rained for 6 days solid and led to the unprecedented floods which were even threatening to flood my flat. I hurriedly put all the paintings on the highest shelves and left to spend a worried night at an evacuation centre. I returned when the floods started to recede and to my great relief found his painting haven had been spared by millimetres and so, I got back to work again.

It was to the constant sound of the rain that the memories started flooding in. I had arrived in Nairobi in the pouring rain too. The first adventure out was to feed giraffes face to face.

Facing these elegant animals, gently flapping long eyelashes as they stick out a huge blue tongue taking the food off your hand is an unforgettable experience Then came a visit to the Sheldrick elephant orphanage watching these playful baby elephants sucking the milk from very large milk bottles.

From Nairobi I made my way to the famous Maasai Mara wildlife park, known for the Maasai people and its lions, living side by side. Our safari vehicle was just a van with an open roof but the sights were breath taking. A lioness with her 6 cubs greeted us by the roadside! Amazing! Lions in the bush, lioness feeding her cubs, lions everywhere! We could disembark by the famous Mara river crossings where the migrating wildebeest and the hungry crocodiles meet for lunch… we settled for a picnic instead, accompanied by armed Maasai ranger. The friendly Maasai people live in a way unchanged for millennia, in small villages in mud huts not bigger than the average kitchen. Their fierce warriors are known for their bravery in confronting lions preying on their cattle.

From the Maasai Mara I continued onwards through the rift valley to the lakes in Naivasha and Nakuru wildlife parks. I stayed in a modest hut by the lake surrounded by an abundance of birds. Pink pelicans, elegant flamingos, great egret, and fish eagles perched high up in the trees surrounding the lake Down one track a big herd of buffalo had a huge grey beast in their midst. Yes! A white rhino, with a young one too, one of the most endangered animals around.

On the way to Thompsons falls my wish came true when at long last I had crossed the equator by land. Watching the water turning clockwise down the drain and 6 metres south the water turned anti clockwise was an extraordinary experience. A thin line of only 12 metres wide marks the equator!

Yet even though I was on the equator, it was cold in that high town and he burning fire in our dining room was a welcoming site indeed.

Amboseli wildlife park was the next destination – a park is known as home for Africa’s largest elephants, some displaying huge tusks. They march down in herds from the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro to the swamps on the plain to spend the heat of the day in the cooling water. The rich grass lands provide ample food for the grazers; zebra, wildebeest, giraffes, buffalo, gazelles feed well but so do the big cats lurking in the long grass. The first sight of a cheetah family feasting was unforgettable, cheetah cubs playing in the tall grass, an elusive pair of lions courting in the middle distance, and all this with the iconic backdrop of snow-capped Mt Kilimanjaro rising high above the plain.

The final destination was old Mombasa. The decaying yellow painted buildings (displaying a rich heritage of Omani, Arabic, Portuguese and British influence), welcomed us with warmth, humidity and colour. Fish markets, spice markets and mosques, porters loading the wooden dhows bound for Zanzibar, the same kind of ships I saw being built in Gujarat on the other side of the Arabian sea a decade earlier.

The coast south of Mombasa was just pure white sand, turquoise water and palm trees, I headed to the small and colourful African village of Shimoni which is mainly concentrated around an ancient Baobab tree.

Alongside these exotic paintings, I have found inspiration in the English countryside, staying put for a while made me appreciate the changing seasons and find the magic again.

Finally, I could escape the floods in Australia to return to spring in Somerset, to look forward to being in the beautiful surroundings of East Lambrook Manor Gardens where I will bring these vivid memories of Africa and the floods in Australia to us all in my exhibition ‘Postcards from KENYA’.

Simultaneous Gallery and Online Exhibition

Malthouse Gallery, East Lambrook Manor Gardens, Silver Street, East Lambrook, Somerset. TA13 5HH

Saturday 4th June – Saturday 23rd July, Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm. (Closed Sundays and Mondays)

Entry to the exhibition is free and you can visit without booking and paying to see the gardens.