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Other Than Human Kinships

Updated: Sep 2, 2023

"Nashukuru Mungu kwa kutupa Black, Chloe na sungura."

As I listened to the children list 3 things they were grateful for I realised, just then, how important our new other-than-human kin was.

I didn't grow up around animals like that. The thought of having pets was as far a throw as that of my adulthood. It's no wonder then, that when I got a chance to share space with a beautiful German Shepherd in my late twenties, it took me a while to trust our interaction. When I did, though, a beautiful and rich friendship resulted. His bark was the object of my awe the whole time we shared that lush valley landscape. Sweet, protective beauty who would at times forget, or maybe just trust that I could hold his weight, and thrust all of his golden glee at me.....taking every opportunity to paint my face with his salivary affections.

Before meeting General, as we so respectfully called him, I may have had very little appreciation for the pups that joined the Tesifa community last month. Named Black (colour of his fur? one guess) and Chloe, the two have brought so much life to a space I would never have imagined could be livelier. A couple of weeks before they arrived, the resident rabbits gifted us 4 little ones. Amidst the clucks and crowing, hop-about of the bunnies, wild and melodic chirping in the trees and little attempts at snarly barks, we grew real fast into a full house!

Between the hatching of the chicks and crowing of excited teenage roosters, we have witnessed Lusayo and Irene, who previously could not touch a chicken to save their lives, become pros at chasing them around the compound and carrying them back to the coop.

To watch the boys switch from playing some rough football and yelling over an unfair move to gently picking up the baby rabbits (google just informed me they are called kittens), stroking them as they feed them is magical. For children coming from difficult pasts that could easily cauterise one's feelers into hard ends, it has been just about medicinal to have these animals be part of their reality. I imagine a rich sense of reciprocity running both ways.

Mom called me a couple of days ago after her usual evening with the children, while making dinner and shared a part of it with me that left her heart warm.

Tina, one of the three girls, is too old to fully engage with little Irene and too young to completely have Teddy's teenage attention. Add to it that she went months having to tend to herself before she joined the family. If you have any more add left, spend it on the fact that she also commits to a task with laser sharp attention and cannot stand chitchat when at something. Not to paint a grim picture, oh not at all, she is a fireball this one and will dive into the deep end, trusting that she will figure out how to swim once in the water (seen it happen too). Her sweet smile is an honest-to-God expression of her spirit.

So mum, out at the veranda in that true matriarch poise that allows her a spherical vantage point, watched as Tina played with the pups. One moment tearing at the inner lining of her skirt, the next engaging them in a gleeful roll and wrestle. By the time all this was over, she had watched Tina walk away from the pups having given up on holding their attention to returning with the torn liner and disciplining them over the mock biting, to getting so licked up she was just about sticky all over. What mum had just witnessed was something much like a trust fall. Only, it was delivered within play by her more-than-human-kin in a way that might be a hint easier to build trust, beyond the power of words.

So much more than can be committed to stylus and pad is to be said of the relationships forming here and their impact on these lovely young souls. One thing is for sure though, for the presence of this diversity of animals, we are watching them discover softer, more trusting, responsible and curious parts of themselves come alive. We give thanks.

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K. Njeri

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