Grizzly hair, hollow eyes and creaking legs; these features of 71-year-old Mary Esokon have become prominent in Isiolo’s streets. For nearly a decade she was guided by her granddaughter around the dusty and ever hot environs of Isiolo requesting its inhabitants to assist her. She became a subject of fascination among the town’s children as they trailed her staring into the dark void of her eye-sockets. But Mary’s story is not confined to visual impairment and destitution. Like many of the elderly dwellers of Isiolo, she has a tale about the Shifta Wars.
Mary was part of a group of Turkanas who peacefully shared a way of living with the Somalis before the atmosphere became filled with an overwhelming stench of violence, cruelty, distrust and alienation. They worked together harmoniously and dissolved any trace of sanctimonious feelings. When the war broke out, the government made a leaping assumption that Turkanas living among Somalis were complicit in the violent intentions accompanied by violent actions of the Shifta Militia. Labelled as outlying fanatics, Turkanas were rounded up in a strictly guarded perimeter. They were left to cower in this camp while the two adversaries clashed and clattered outside. Without beddings, Mary and her companions were forced to sleep out in the open using the starry sky as the only covering.
Posturing and snarling to elicit information without satisfactory success, the government resorted to a more brutal approach. Turkanas were forced to dig trenches which were used as mass graves to bury the dead bodies of those considered to be insurgents.
No one was spared of this torturous and laborious command. As though relieved from the feeling of guilt, the authorities subjected a visually incapacitated Mary Esokon to this torment. For three years she lived in this condition of rack and ruin. At the end of the war, Mary and her mother who had been taking care of her young daughter summoned the little hope they had and built a mud hut. Since then they’ve been living in abject poverty which forced Mary to wander through the streets begging for sustenance.
Now aged and feeble, she rests awaiting for her daughter to bathe and feed her.