In the dusty yellow-leafed grassland of Shambani in Isiolo County, resides a Turkana woman endearingly known to the locals by the appellation ‘mother of dogs.’ Her actual name is Gasike Ekitela. As you walk into her compound, you will spot her on a straw mat with legs stretched out. On her aged face she wears a beaming smile characterized by a lovely gap between her upper incisors. Either her grandchildren or her dogs keep her company. The love she has for her descendents can easily be attributed to the abstract notions of blood linkage and duty to lineage but the love she has developed for dogs has a more identifiable root.
The circumjacent parts of Ekitela’s mudhouse has always been infested by cankering hyenas who made their way into human settlements and menacingly fed on defenseless goats. On one occasion, the hyenas devoured two of Ekitela’s goats. Driven by a fantasy for revenge, Ekitela pledged to confront the hyenas next time they show up.
Her desire materialized as one stray hyena limped and laughed its way into Ekitela’s compound. When she saw it, an alarming wail escaped her terrified lips. The scavenger jumped on her and before anyone came to the rescue, the hyena chewed off half of Ekitela’s left middle finger. Granted the hyena faced its death at the hands of the infuriated neighbors but from that moment, Ekitela knew she required reliable security.
She pragmatically adopted stray puppies and began raising them, patiently waiting for them to blossom into fierce carnivores. What began as necessary domestication burgeoned into long-lasting intimacy. “I love my dogs and they love me. No one is allowed to beat them or harm them,” she said.
Every morning and evening, Ekitela prepares a very odd meal for dogs; porridge. Despite food being a struggle in her own household, she has ritually fed her dogs for nearly a decade now. Once they are fed, the dogs roam about the compound watching out for any hyenas. Ekitela on the other hand, basks in the sun and entertains her grandchildren. When the heat from the scorching eye of heaven becomes severe, she moves over to the shed of a nearby tree and silently repeats the same prayer she’s been saying for the past few years, “Dear lord, please do not take me away from these orphaned children. I am all they have.”