Kenyan tribe donates cows to America
September 11th, 2013
10:07 AM ET

Remembering 9/11: A warrior's unexpected gift to America

By Tom Goldstone, CNN

Editor's Note: Tom Goldstone is the executive producer of Fareed Zakaria GPS. This article originally appeared in September 2011. The views expressed are his own.

As America looked inward in the days, weeks and months after September 11, 2001, others around the world made extraordinary gestures toward the United States. 
We were all so focused on ourselves – understandably so – that many probably missed the fact that Iran’s President Mohammad Khatami condemned the attacks, that Ireland and Israel held full national days of mourning, that the Afghan Taliban told “American children [that] Afghanistan feels your pain”.

You are even less likely to have heard what could be one of the most touching reactions of all.  This is the story of how a destitute Kenyan boy turned Stanford student rallied his Masai tribe to offer its most precious gift to America in its time of need.

It all starts with Kimeli Naiyomah.  Kimeli, a member of a Masai tribe, grew up in a small rural town called Enoosaen near the Masai Mara National Reserve.  The town had no water, no electricity, no phones and no roads. After accompanying his ailing mother to the hospital as a young boy, Kimeli says he knew he wanted to grow up to heal others like her.  He didn’t know such people were called doctors - he just knew he wanted to be one.

Dreaming of being a doctor is ambitious even in America.  But in Kimeli’s part of Africa, one could have easily dismissed that dream as impossible. This was especially true in Kimeli’s particular situation.  He says he had no father.  His grandmother had been murdered.  And his mother – his only remaining caretaker – was battling alcoholism.

According to Kimeli, his family (or lack thereof) was so destitute that his Masai tribe didn’t even consider them people – they were sub-human. Moreover, nobody that Kimeli knew from his tribe had gone to high school, let alone college or medical school.

He knew he had to change his situation, so he ran away – to another village where he had heard that there was a school that was taught under a tree.  It was a church school and it became his grade school and his home.

When he grew beyond this school-under-a-tree,  Kimeli found the nearest high school, which was 9 hours away.  So he walked there and told the principal that he had no money, no uniform, no books, no shoes and no family, but he wanted to attend school.  And, as Kimeli tells the story, the principal was so amazed by Kimeli’s gumption that he welcomed him to the school.

Kimeli soon realized he probably couldn’t achieve his dream of becoming a doctor if he remained in Kenya.  So he started applying for universities in America.  He says, “My elders got together to try to raise money to help me achieve my goals.”

The same elders who had once considered Kimeli to be sub-human had done a complete reversal.  Kimeli says his people were now were so impressed by what he had achieved that he was not only considered human again, they were invested in helping him achieve his goals.  They raised $5,000 for him.

A Washington Post reporter then caught wind of the story and came to Enoosaen to write a story about Kimeli’s doctoral dreams.  That story ended up on the front page of the paper. The article inspired an outpouring of support, including a scholarship offer from the University of Oregon, a plane ticket from a businessman in Florida and clothes and other materials he needed to survive in America paid for by another total stranger.

“You can imagine how I felt”, Kimeli says, “when I received a letter offering me a scholarship in America.  It’s like getting a letter from God when you know you’re not qualified for heaven.”

Kimeli enrolled at the University of Oregon in 1996.  A few years later, Kimeli heard about Stanford University (after Chelsea Clinton enrolled there) and decided after seeing the school that that was where he belonged.  He says, “It looked like a village to me”.  And once again, Kimeli made his own luck, getting accepted at Stanford after getting his grades up in Oregon.

Kimeli had become a celebrity of sorts back home.  In September of 2001, the President of Kenya was scheduled to be in New York and Kimeli says he was invited to meet with him.  And that’s how Kimeli – now officially a full Masai warrior back home – found himself in New York City on September 11, 2001.

As a warrior, Kimeli is trained to rush to the scene of crisis.  “You run to the battleground,” he says, “I don’t run away from tragedy, I run to tragedy.  But I was realistic enough to know I couldn’t help [at Ground Zero].”

Kimeli says he is also a very emotional warrior.  9/11 touched him deeply. The country that had given him so much had been brutally attacked.  He had to figure out a way to help.  He had to do something.

So, on a trip back home in May of 2002, he asked to meet with the elders of his tribe.
First, Kimeli told them of the horrors he had witnessed in New York.  Many of Kimeli’s people had never even heard of 9/11.  They couldn’t even fathom buildings that tall and most people in the village had never seen a plane except way high up in the sky.

Then, Kimeli told them of his plan.  He wanted to buy a cow (something this formerly homeless boy had never been able to do) and turn right around and give that cow to America. In Kimeli’s tradition, a cow is the most precious property one can own.  And it is believed to bring great comfort to its owner.  As one elder told a reporter, a cow is a “handkerchief to wipe away tears”.

He wanted his elders’ blessing for his plan.  But, unexpectedly, one-by-one the elders stood up and said they were so inspired by his plan they wanted to do the same.  In the end there were 14 cows that had been pledged to the American people to help bring them peace.

On June 3rd, 2002, U.S. charges d’affairs William Brencick travelled to Enoosaen to formally accept the cows.  He says it took him more than half-a-day to get there - a flight and then a long drive over treacherous terrain.  But after he heard Kimeli’s story, he wanted to go.

Brencick expected to be greeted by a handful of people, but when he arrived, he found a large crowd. Kimeli says more than a thousand people were in attendance.  Kimeli had brought American flags with him.  The “Star Spangled Banner” played on a loudspeaker.  Some in the crowd held up banners that said: “To the people of America,” “We are touched by your loss” and “We give these cows to help you”.  Brencick says it was “overwhelmingly emotional” and he couldn’t help but tear up.

But there was a hitch. Logistical and monetary problems prevented the U.S. from taking possession of the cattle.  The herd was worth much less than the considerable amount it would cost to ship it 7,250 miles to New York City.  And there were health hurdles: African cows weren’t allowed in America.  In addition, there was concern that the cows might not survive the voyage anyway.

Washington Times columnist Tony Blankley heard what was going on and wondered how the U.S. could get 80,000 troops into Afghanistan, but couldn’t get 14 head of cattle out of Africa.  As for the Masai, they couldn’t quite understand why this American came to accept the cows, but then didn’t take them home with him.  Some wondered why he didn’t just load the cattle on a truck and drive them to America.

Four years later, on the 5th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, all was made right.  Then-U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger traveled to Enoosaen to cement a deal for Kimeli’s tribe to take care of “America’s” herd in perpetuity.  And, as a way of saying thanks, the Ambassador announced the establishment of a scholarship for 14 boys and girls in the village to go to local schools.  Those scholarships continue to this day. 
And today the herd continues to grow.  As of right now, 35 “American” cattle roam the plains near Enoosaen, tended lovingly by one of the elders in Kimeli’s tribe. 
If you ever find yourself there, you’ll know which are the American cattle.  They have special Twin Towers markings on their ears.

As for Kimeli, he’s decided he can do more for the world as a diplomat than a doctor.  Next fall, Kimeli hopes to become a Rotary International World Peace fellow at Duke University.

If you’re interested in reading more. Kimeli’s story is featured in a children’s book 14 Cows for America. 
A free copy of the book is available for all those who lost family members on September 11, 2001.

Post by:
Topics: Africa • September 11

soundoff (558 Responses)
  1. felicity

    Truth be told...Kenya has given other 'wonderful' gifts to it or not. A blessed country giving to another blessed country. God is truly good.

    September 10, 2011 at 11:36 pm | Reply
  2. WhiteJack

    I'de like to build a school there to teach the boys and girls and offer them opportunities to study here in the US.. I'll put down 1000 of my own dollars on that..anybody else wanna throw in? ..Like this story says.. When people get together we can sure do a lot of good things..

    September 10, 2011 at 11:38 pm | Reply
  3. John

    I cried when 911 happened. I can't barely hold my breath to see All Channels reporting the attacks. It was cruel and evil. If you honor life? You would cry to see such horrible acts against human being. Kimeli's story is very touching. If a Masai can do a lot of thing to honor American people life? Why as American we can do the same?

    September 10, 2011 at 11:45 pm | Reply
  4. Yardie

    A very inspiring story indeed... Good will always triumph.

    September 10, 2011 at 11:47 pm | Reply
  5. Inspired

    What a beautiful story! Thank you to Kimeli and the elders. God bless!

    September 10, 2011 at 11:47 pm | Reply
  6. Sean

    I love reading stories like this.

    September 10, 2011 at 11:51 pm | Reply
  7. Steve

    I remember them doing this back when it happened. 10 years later it is still one of the most touching things I have ever seen.

    September 10, 2011 at 11:52 pm | Reply
  8. Jesus Chang

    It is really moving. America is a wonderful place, and the Kenyans are able to see it more so that we do sometimes. After four tours in Afghanistan, and one in Iraq, people like the Masai tribe are my kind of people.

    September 10, 2011 at 11:55 pm | Reply
    • d in fred't'wn

      Thank you for your gift to this country, your risk of your life! Peace would be so much nicer, there is still much to learn.

      September 11, 2011 at 9:28 am | Reply
  9. island girl

    I have just received another gift from the Masi-this wonderful story--I still have wet cheeks and a deep sense of humility. Thank you

    September 10, 2011 at 11:56 pm | Reply
  10. jason

    There are too many comments stating these people may not have much, or have less than America. The US may have more gold, but where it really matters we have so much less. Nietzsche said, "Consideration and pity have ever been my greatest dangers..." and perhaps they are yours too. I wish our country was wealthy enough to give seven cows, let alone fourteen. Thank you, Masai. I cherish my cows.

    September 10, 2011 at 11:57 pm | Reply
  11. alicia

    This is God's love for American people. Caring and forgiving people are all we need in the present troubled World.

    September 10, 2011 at 11:57 pm | Reply
  12. Name*one-time

    Im never very emotional and i tend to hate everyone but this guy has touched me......

    September 10, 2011 at 11:58 pm | Reply
    • d in fred't'wn

      turn your hate to love as he can be very hard but the rewards ....priceless

      September 11, 2011 at 9:31 am | Reply
  13. Cindy

    Kimeli, God Bless you, your family, your warm community and ....all the cattle 🙂 I am so delighted to hear of your story. I wish you many blessed years in America! Great big hugs on this memorable day tomorrow!
    And thank you CNN for sharing a "make you feel good" story for a change! It woudl be nice to hear more like this one!

    September 10, 2011 at 11:59 pm | Reply
  14. Scott

    This is a fantastic story.

    The world would be a better place if we could all reach out to each other and help, as the Maasai have!

    September 10, 2011 at 11:59 pm | Reply
  15. Tommie T

    He should have given the cows to Somalia. Which is right next door. Where there are close to 1/2 million people starving to death. But otherwise it is a cute story. Pretend to give some cows to America. Keep the cows. Then get a visa.

    September 11, 2011 at 12:03 am | Reply
    • Musomesa

      @Tommie when you spurn those who would comfort you in your time of sadness you make a grave error.

      September 11, 2011 at 12:29 am | Reply
    • Sorry

      Tommie,use your energy to do something positive that brings peace to the world. 10 dollars donation to red-cross will buy meals for 10 kids in Somalia. Kimeli was in New York and acted on what he saw, you can act on what you have seen or heard about Somalia. it's the negative energy that comes out of people like you that takes the World backwards or have you being denied a visa??

      September 11, 2011 at 12:56 am | Reply
    • jones

      its a spit on the face to the people who lost someone on 9/11.
      you can do better than that Tommy!

      September 11, 2011 at 12:59 am | Reply
    • EMK

      This guy was already in the USA and so didn't need the visa. He's just a thankful person. If you can't fathom that you should learn from him and be thankful to all the people that have made ur life better or easier. You can't put a price on what he did.

      September 11, 2011 at 8:12 am | Reply
  16. schaz

    Sounds like the world is going to miss out on one very caring compassionate doctor.

    Wonderful story.

    September 11, 2011 at 12:06 am | Reply
    • Rob

      Wow and until tonight, I thought Kenyas greatest gift to the US was our current president. Add to that the fact that this writer had the gall to say that the Taliban said "they feel our pain"?? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!! No wonder CNN ranks so far below FOX news. For an "American" journalist to quote a terrorist regime on the aniversary of the attack sponsored by a terrorist nation is completely unbelieveable!!! I've seen the word moron tossed around a lot on these posts. Seems so fitting for so many!! God bless AMERICA!

      September 11, 2011 at 12:46 am | Reply
      • Angela

        Actually the Taliban did exactly that. Were the Taliban a horrible regime to live under, yes. But until after 9/11 they were basically allies in many ways. Bush and the GOP authorized a llot of aid to them to help stamp out poppy growing, and they were clamping down on it. Terrorist not so much more narrow minded bigots left over from the 12th century. They didn't attack the US and if all the evidence is to believed they had no knowedge of the attacks before they happened. According to Bin Ladin's son the Taliban has asked Bin Ladin to leave Afghanistan abput 6 months before 9/11 because they suspected he was going to cause them trouble. He negotiated a year's delay while he allegedly looked for somewhere else to go. They are intensely tribal and hospitality is a huge part of their culture, once a person is a guest it is thei responsibility of the host to defend, care for the guest even at the cost of the life of the host, even if the guest is unwanted. They really have not been terrorists. Yes they have killed Americans, but that is what the Afghans do to invaders they are wildly patriotic and throughout history have defeated every country that has attempted to occupy them. Do I think we are stupid for attempting to occupy them, absolutely. But fighting against people occupying their country is generally what all patriots do. Wouldn't you fight if China attempted to occupy the US? Or India?

        Ideally it would be great if a non taliban group was in charge of running Afghaistan, the taliban are awful to their citizens, but it is still their country for the Afghans to decide what they want to do.

        September 11, 2011 at 1:35 am |
      • PHPDEVS

        India was the sole winner in entire 9/11 issue. India has benifitted from our jobs. My job went to an indian because of recession. I dont like it

        September 11, 2011 at 3:11 am |
      • sEBADOH

        PHPDEVS : And you're living on the land of American Indians whom your grandparents killed or parked in reserves.

        September 11, 2011 at 3:31 am |
      • Rob, Its your mother

        It said the gov. in Afganistan not the taliban. The gov. is the people we put in charge over there. Its two different things. dont embarrass your parents like that take your pills.

        September 11, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
  17. Aacon

    It`s people like Kimeli Naiyomah that change world for the better.He will go far.Thank you Kimeli Naiyomah & thank you to the Masai tribe & thank you to the thousands who supported Kimeli Naiyomah & America !

    September 11, 2011 at 12:31 am | Reply
    • Rob

      Hell, he'll be the next president..... Where is that birth certificate???? oops not the photoshop one I introduced as authentic, but the other one that looks real....hmmmm

      September 11, 2011 at 12:48 am | Reply
  18. shyroh

    That really is a heart warming story. I hope its true. As a kenyan, I know how generous one has to be to give you a cow. God bless, and please give the milk to the refugee camps

    September 11, 2011 at 12:39 am | Reply
    • Shyroh

      It's not just true, it's blessed by Maasai elders, as a Kenyan you know how sacred that is.
      God is good that we still have this trustworthy,humble caring people in Maasai Kenya.

      September 11, 2011 at 1:04 am | Reply
  19. J

    September 11th reminded us what it is to be an American. Heck, it reminded us of what it is like to be human. I am so sick of people squabbling over politics and demonizing each other. There are real demons out there. They will kill people they never knew because of some small aspect of them they don't like. The real demons are lurking and thrive of our lack of unity.

    September 11, 2011 at 12:44 am | Reply
  20. TrueBlue42

    A truly beautiful and kind gesture. Thank you, Maasai Tribe!

    September 11, 2011 at 12:46 am | Reply
  21. Dawn

    Absolutely a wonderful story. I agree that it should have been known a long time ago but better late than never. Thank you Kimeli Naiyomah and the Masai tribe. Very inspirational story.

    September 11, 2011 at 12:46 am | Reply
  22. Almost Homeless...

    I wish Americans were as loving and giving as these people. I believe we were in the past, but now everyone is so cynical and selfish. We are a couple in urgent need to avoid eviction where we have lived for over ten years due to job loss and no job, but nobody seems to care to offer any help. We feel like nobody in this country will offer us any help at all. You can read about us and help here if you are like these people. I believe $5 would be like a "cow" is to these people, but nobody helps. We are not "sub-humans," we just need temporary help:

    September 11, 2011 at 12:50 am | Reply
  23. 6eeyore9

    If I had the money... wait I have some change... lets all donate a quarter to this guy and his village to repay the kindness shown by a people far removed from 9/11. 1 quarter from, say, 5000000 people is a lot of money. I think that's agreat idea

    September 11, 2011 at 12:51 am | Reply
  24. douglas james

    They tried to give it to India but the govt. refused.

    September 11, 2011 at 12:56 am | Reply
  25. Cecilie

    This is a wonderful follow-up story. I had heard the first part of this story when it come out and wondered how the US would 'handle' the gift from the Masai. Your gift is a blessing to more than one!
    Congratulations to the US government for the beautiful way to manage this beautiful gift.

    September 11, 2011 at 12:59 am | Reply
  26. Komolafe Adeoluwa Johnson

    What a loving, heroic and humanity story.
    It makes me want to do something Significant to America too. If everyone of us can have this kind of positive set of mind towards United States of American, this gesture i strongly believe will send confusion to the camps of the enemies of American, whom we refer to as terrorist, but whom i call enemies of the world.
    God Bless United States
    God Bless Great Nigeria.
    God Bless Motherland Africa.

    September 11, 2011 at 1:13 am | Reply
  27. Kate

    Wonderful act of kindness. It brought me to tears- I think I need a cow right about now. And next time I think about leaving the US, I think I will want to go to Kenya.

    September 11, 2011 at 1:15 am | Reply
  28. SNAPPA

    Awsome story, I wish I could travel to this village and thank them myself. I think the US could do more for these people and should.

    September 11, 2011 at 1:18 am | Reply
  29. ma & pa

    Kimeli Naiyomah, thank you for the kind thought of comforting us, almost beyond tears people, with the precious gift of cows. The world is blessed to be home to you and people of like kindness.

    September 11, 2011 at 1:18 am | Reply
  30. munchie

    I remember hearing about the cows. It may seem like a very small gift, but it realy is one of the largest of all time.

    September 11, 2011 at 1:22 am | Reply
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