Sydney Spaceship: Reflections on his artist-in-residence experience at Olepangi Farm
14 February 2020
Big city life can be fun, until you realize that another week has gone by without you noticing anything significant. Nothing really stood out, you had no new encounters or did something you haven’t done before.. it was just another week of doing things. And doing things can be fun too, especially if you’re an artist like I am. But even the creative life can turn into a mundane repetition of the things you once really enjoyed doing. Now you are doing them because.. well, just because. The vibrancy is missing. The excitement and passion got lost somewhere along the way and you just kept on running, because that’s what big cities are made for, running!
Once I noticed that I was no longer sure why I was running, I felt the tiredness creeping in. Believe me, there is nothing worse than an uninspired artist, moaning about his lack of creative drive and the resulting emptiness of his whole existence (we are massive drama-queens). So, I decided to leave the city for a while and explore a part of my heritage: Africa!
After some research, I discovered the Artist in Residence Programm at the Olepangi Farm in Kenya. „Well, Kenya it is then.“, I thought to myself, not knowing anything about this country, besides the obligatory „Hakuna Matata“-Song from the Lion King. Turns out Kenya is not like an animated Disney movie about singing lions and dancing birds (and yes, my inner child was slightly disappointed). Yet, it is a place of tremendous beauty and cultural richness. The perfect place to get inspired.
Arriving at the farm I was welcomed by an amazing view over Mount Kenya, the smell of blossoming flowers and the excited neighing of horses. Olepangi felt like a beautiful microcosm rotating at its own pace, far away from the dizzying speed of mechanical cities. No urgencies, no appointments, no running! It was… terrifying!
What most city kids underestimate when they seek refuge in rural areas is the terror of sudden quietness. After being surrounded by an all-encompassing cloud of noise and lights, you tend to forget the intensity of a quiet night in nature. It feels intense because it is confronting. It confronts you with all of the thoughts and emotions you have been trying to drown in the busyness of a city. But here is nothing to distract you. Everything unspoken and unheard finally gets the chance to surface within you. Harshly inviting you to listen, understand and heal.
Olepangi gave me space and time to go through my process of healing. I was taking long walks, ate a bunch of organic food and did some yoga. When I came back to my hut I often felt inspired to write or to make music. Many new ideas flowed through me; words and sounds I haven’t used before; a new artistic direction was opening up. This is what happens when you create without pressure, playfully and true. It has been a while since I felt such vibrancy in my work.
Together with the people that worked at the farm and the guests that stayed there we formed an interesting bunch of people. The conversations around the dinner table were often deep and diverse which brought another layer of inspiration to my experience at the farm. I met people I would’ve otherwise probably never run across and with some of them I ended up building a friendship. Who would’ve thought you can form connections like this at a distant farm in a rural area of Kenya.
As a community project I gave a couple of rap workshops to the kids of the neighboring villages. I was asking for a maximum of 40 kids, but more than 70 turned up at the gates of Olepangi. Despite the huge groups of kids I was trying to entertain and keep attentive, we managed to create a beautiful and unique experience for them. It was fascinating to see the change in the kids faces as soon as I would pull out the guitar. They lit up! The kids started dancing, they were singing and eventually some of them even dared to rhyme some of their own words to the music. Young humans learning how to express themselves freely and slowly finding confidence in themselves, it was a powerful sight to witness. Before the end of the workshop I just had to play some improvised version of the Hakuna Matata Song to satisfy my so far unmet expectations of Kenya being like the Lion King movie (and yes, my inner child finally found rest, even though I didn’t see any lions, not to mention any dancing lions).
In the end, my artist residency felt like medicine against all the small ailments I carried with me from the big city life. I found a sense of ease and patience that rippled through me and my work. A sense of relieve! Surely, everyone will have different experiences at the Olepangi Farm, but for me it was a special moment in time where things slowly started to make sense again. And as I was leaving I felt energized, revitalized, and surprisingly: I felt like running!
10 Eco-Lodges For The Eco-Tourist
By Donnie Rust, 15th August 2019
Owned by ex-corporates Elizabeth Loker and Clinton Lucy, Olepangi Farm is an authentic, completely off-grid farmstead in Timau upon the foothills of Mount Kenya. Set on 120 acres, this family-run lodge offers amazing views of the stunning natural surroundings. Connecting guests not only to nature but to wildlife and animals via their selection of horses, their dogs Colonel Lawrence, Zsa Zsa and Ginger and their vicinity to some of the best nature reserves.
The beautiful cottages are decorated with rich antique carpets and beds. Each one comes with a private bathroom and is fitted with a shower stocked with authentic Kenyan soap, shampoo and conditioner. Guests can enjoy massages, horse riding, community walks, croquet and gin tastings while the Laikipia region is ideal for hiking, horse riding and game viewing. The nearest natural reserves are the Samburu National Park, Ol Pejeta, Lolldaigas, Solio and into Ngare Ndare Forest.
ECO-TOURISM AT HEART
Because Clinton and Elizabeth believe that the health of the environment, and our bodies are all connected they have a passion for growing things organically. When they bought their farm, like much of the land in the area, it was overgrazed and lacking in basic nutrients, today the red sandy subsoil is the foundation for their farming practices and is full of life. Thanks, in no small part to the horses producing so much manure.
As a family run, non-commercial enterprise Olepangi offers a unique high touch experience. Having some of the best weather in the world, surrounded by nature and seventeen resident horses, with delicious organic food and a leisurely approach to life, the lodge attracts the discerning traveller seeking a return to feeling human again.
Walking with Mr. Kariuki
One of the activities we suggest our guests do whilst staying at Olepangi is a walk with Mr Kariuki. Recently Laura Lisowski went on a walk with Mr Kariuki and here is what she thought!
“Remember how I said that Clinton and Elizabeth have an uncanny ability to turn neighbors and community into family? Well, it didn’t surprise me then that one of the activities to choose from was literally “a community walk with our neighbor, Mr. Kariuki”.
Sounds great in theory, right? But would it live up to expectations? With a healthy level of cynicism/skepticism, I signed up. Let’s give this a whirl. Mr. Kariuki picked me up at 9am. I agreed to the long waterfall hike (“no, I have nowhere else to be today”) and we began walking.
I quickly learned that Mr. Kariuki grew up the son of an entrepreneurial farmer, an upbringing he credits for instilling the values of curiosity, connection, and collaboration. He carried these values through into his teaching career, where he obsessed over history & learning from the past - pouring over “real books” (“I love the smell of real paper”) and finding company in his favorite authors.
We spoke about the importance of broadening ones world view, not thinking too narrow. How things that look secure usually are anything but, so you might as well take the risk. How everything is interconnected, so being too laser focused can be detrimental, as we all have a duty to find points of common ground, not points of conflict.
He shared with me his favorite authors, lessons learned and life metaphors from his favorite books. His current obsession is Yuval Harari’s ‘Homo Deus’, and he is not so patiently waiting for him to release his next novel - as “he’s the only person who is willing to speak the truth - even if people don’t like to hear it.” He also can’t get enough of Neil Macgregor (A History of the World in 100 Objects is his favorite & he emphasizes how much it makes you appreciate life’s simple things), Dan Brown, and his favorite Kenyan author, Ngugi wa Thiong’o. The names rattle off his tongue like old friends.
He has faith in some of the leaders of Africa. Others - not so much. When I ask which one he admires most, he cites the Rwandan president, because he admires the way he has turned the country’s plights and post-genocide era into a chance for new beginnings. There is a lot of forward progress. Hope for the future.
I ask how many of these walks he has been on in the last few years. “Hundreds,” he replies. I hesitatingly follow up with “so what’s your opinion on humankind after keeping the company of so many diverse individuals over the years?” He replies that they are generally good, but sometimes scarily narrow minded, stuck in their modes of thinking, & at times lacking self awareness. The recurring theme is that he wishes people would be more willing to create their own version of their lives, not the ones prescribed.
We walk & talk, stopping at a beautiful waterfall, and making a surprise visit to the local school, where I meet hundreds of kids - including several of his nephews. Their smiles are a reminder of how little we need to be happy. Now I sound like a curated tour guide. Screw it.
“What’s the biggest mistake you have ever made?” I ask, given our newfound intimacy. “I’m not a rich man, and I’ll never go far from this country in my remaining years - and I’m ok with that. I’m also okay with every mistake or misstep I have ever made. They’ve given me wisdom.” He thinks for a second and continues, “I’m a lucky man, because many people now come from around the world to Olepangi & I have the chance to go for these walks with them, and we learn from each other. I am very fulfilled. But the one regret I have is not spending the time when I had it to better educate myself. I wish I had opened my mind, and exposed myself to different ways of thinking. Now I am here in Kenya, and will probably not go far from here so have missed that opportunity.”
“But Mr. Kariuki,” I said, “maybe where you are meant to be is right here then after all - where you can both learn from others around the world who now come to YOU - and in return, you can teach them about Kenya, so that we can learn about your home, and maybe understand how to give something back. You couldn’t do that if you weren’t here. Maybe THAT is your calling.”
“Maybe,” he chuckled, “maybe.”
Images by Laura Lisowski
To read Laura's full article click here...
SPOTLIGHT ON OLEPANGI FARM, LAIKIPIA
Olepangi Farm recently featured in Nomad Magazine.
“There is so much to love about Olepangi Farm, a place where cliche hospitality industry phrases like “home away from home” and “slice of paradise” indeed find true meaning. And so we stepped through the looking glass and began to wonder and wander.”
Images by Brian Siambi
To read the full article on Olepangi Farm please click here...