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)


    September 11, 2011 at 4:03 am | Reply
  2. Marie of Texas

    To the MAASAI People-
    Thank you for caring. Thanks for the kindness and compassion you have shown to the people of the USA.
    The story brought tears to my eyes. Things such as this breed hope.
    May God bless you more and more!

    September 11, 2011 at 4:06 am | Reply
  3. Anonymous

    We are in memorial of the 9/11 attacks that leaded to approximately 2000 civilian deaths. The Iraq War however has made 104,924 thousands Iraqi deaths, with 92,000 Iraqi civilian casualties. Who is going to remember and mourn for them? If Kimeli and his Masai tribe knew about the immense terror that the United States has done upon other countries such as Iraq, they would probably think twice before offering their cows again!

    September 11, 2011 at 4:06 am | Reply
    • Over There

      First off, thanks for ruining a beautiful story by spewing out your anti war crap. Second, if the insurgents in Iraq didn't constantly hide in civilian populaces immediately after or during their attacks, then civilians would not be dying. If we were invaded as a country in say, any large town, do you think, we as the US military would use US civilians as shieds or we would probably have already evacuated them? Please don't speak if you have nothing positive or intelligent to contribute, idiot. On a lighter note, great story!!!!!

      September 11, 2011 at 4:31 am | Reply
  4. Gbegbegbe

    People of the world, Let us live in peace and harmony with one another, The colour of the skin doesn't really matter. What matters is the soul .Let us stop pointing accusing fingers at one another, and the world will be a better place for each and everyone of us to live in.

    September 11, 2011 at 4:09 am | Reply
  5. Arnold

    Mabuhay ka Kimeli Naiyomah sampu ng iyong angkan

    September 11, 2011 at 4:13 am | Reply
  6. Carlos

    Amazing story, I am a brown person as well and i dont really take offence on being called one as the last time i checked i am really a brown person!

    I am also a immigrant somewhere in Europe, Kimeli's story is so heart warming and reminds everyone who moved to another country in search of their dreams to remember its a two way street relationship, we should also be good citizens in terms of being a asset and not a liability. We should be as "hardworking" as most locals would be. I often see and hear amongst many immigrants of their " disdain" for their adopted country because of a million reasons...i often say to myself so what the heck are you doing here? work and send money to your original country? i moved to another country because i love the way of life they live...wherein people are relatively much more free, you can read many books, you can speak your mind, and if you study and work hard who knows? i might end up like Kimeli as a doctor? I realised that living in a country is like a ecosystem, i cannot be here without disrupting something.

    but with gestures of the like of Kimeli which made tears fall this is what our adopted countries wish we immigrants should do...share with the locals what we have no matter how trivial it may sound.

    i admire what is consider "poor" folks in Kenya and yet they are more civilised than most immigrants i know with fancy houses and cars and spoiled children...who did little in sharing with America's most trying times.

    so to other immgrants like me...learn to adapt and not just complain. positive actions yield positive results.
    let's work together and not each other.

    September 11, 2011 at 4:16 am | Reply
    • Da_Pops

      Carlos.. as an imigrant, I too am grateful to be an "asset" to my adopted home, even obtaining citizenship. Let me ask you, did you learn the language of your new country? I ask because my new home doesn't require that, Instead we spend billions of dollars printing eveything in multiple languages.. Hell, we don't even have an "official" language. so maybe it's out own fault..

      I love your statement "so to other immgrants like me...learn to adapt and not just complain. positive actions yield positive results.
      let's work together and not each other."

      To bad that most folks it the "Greatest Country" on the planet can seem to grasp that concept.

      September 11, 2011 at 8:29 am | Reply
      • Carlos

        thanks for the reply..

        i am not living in the USA, its not just my "thing". whilst i can understand English pretty well. My adopted country speaks a different language but practically most can speak and understand English, I have lived on several European Countries, i try to speak the language as it is in good taste to communicate in the local helps.

        speaking several languages other than my own does not make me feel less. unlike what my ethnic family would claim.

        i think it is important and it make a priority that i learn and understand the local culture and "live"...the life here. what is the sense of professing that your one of them but in reality your just there to earn money and take advantage of the benefits. i earn my keep here... i am not a freeloader and i didn't stole someone else fact i even created business here that returns back what is due to the local economy.

        i have no regrets moving to another place and living the values of my adopted country...whilst i know where i came from and knows probably more than those who live in my former home.

        September 11, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
    • bk African

      Indeed, I love reading stories like this. I am an immigrant too and love my adopted country (US). I sometimes feel like I like this country more than many Americans I meet and wonder why they can't see how special this country is.
      The only problem is that many in America don't see that there are special people all over the world, special people like the Masai of East Africa one of the most noble of peoples in Africa. A story like this does well to show that when 9/11 occurred, the civilized decent world stood with America.

      September 11, 2011 at 10:07 am | Reply
      • Carlos

        it is true that everywhere we cannot please everyone. just as much there are food stuffs that you dont prefer to eat.

        its a fact of life. im sure even from your home country there are "rotten apples" as well. we dont live in a ideal world.

        try to concentrate on the positive meaning just make sure we pay our own dues, be a positive contributor, we do that 110% and bear in mind that even if in paper we are equal our scrutinised more than the rest.

        learn the local values and stand firm. you'd be fine.

        September 11, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
  7. logikflux

    It didn't strike my heart chords,... but I am very impressed with Kimeli's drive to improve himself. Well done Kimeli.

    September 11, 2011 at 4:37 am | Reply
    • Carlos

      its ok...maybe you have not experience something remotely similar.

      September 11, 2011 at 12:22 pm | Reply
  8. BoredSecurityOfficer

    Holy Christ, a story about African peace cows? LLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAME!

    September 11, 2011 at 4:42 am | Reply
    • Da_Pops

      such a comment from a "rent-a-cop".. at least this guy succeeded in achieving his life long dream.. not second rate

      September 11, 2011 at 8:22 am | Reply
    • d in fred't'wn

      gee aspirer higher...point the finger at yourself...fix that first!

      September 11, 2011 at 9:50 am | Reply
    • pprty

      You shouldn't be bored today. If you are, tell your boss at Burger King that you're being paid too much.

      September 11, 2011 at 12:37 pm | Reply
  9. jimmy centeno

    I had to read it again!

    September 11, 2011 at 4:47 am | Reply
  10. jrice

    What a lovely story. We are always hearing how the rich much pay more to help the poor. It sort of brings a tear to the eye when the poor help the rich. What a toching thing too do.

    September 11, 2011 at 4:55 am | Reply
  11. henry

    I have not sherd tears since a long time...not even when i was so sad lately.But this story is so touching that my room mate came asking me why i was crying.This story should get an award.

    September 11, 2011 at 5:00 am | Reply
  12. Shenandoah1865

    I'm sitting here, early on the morning of Sept 11, hoping and praying that there will be no terroristic acts on this 10th anniversary remembrance day. I am amazed by this young man's journey and wish him all the best in his future. He has the potential to change the world, much for the better. I'm moved by the story of the cows and the generosity of this gift from the Masai. Somehow I feel a little less alone, knowing now that their hearts were touched and they reached out to us following our wrenching loss. There's hope for us all yet. God bless and keep the Masai and keep the friendship strong between our peoples.

    September 11, 2011 at 5:04 am | Reply
  13. risco from Austria

    No doubt,this is one of the best stories that i have read on cnn.Good job and pls pls pls more of such emotional and lovely story.I just can't help crying.

    September 11, 2011 at 5:11 am | Reply
  14. Rick in PA

    From the ashes of 9-11 another reminder that there ARE good people out there. Our best wishes to the Masai people.

    September 11, 2011 at 5:26 am | Reply
  15. sdrawkcab

    A warrior the young man is. From poverty so deep none of us can imagine to a voice heard all round the globe (via CNN) , this man joins a select group representing the best of humanity. THIS is why we hate to see gangs, thug behavior, & all the rest that defeats youth. Who KNOWS what may have been lost? Scrapping like a mongrel dog for an education when so many refuse it when offered on a platter,-----SAD. If only we could learn from this man.

    September 11, 2011 at 5:37 am | Reply
    • so-fed-up

      too bad he can't settle down and get a degree somewhere.

      September 11, 2011 at 7:11 am | Reply
      • onyi


        September 12, 2011 at 6:51 am |
  16. Len

    Beautiful, heart warming story! Thank you!

    September 11, 2011 at 5:48 am | Reply
  17. Summarex

    At around the same time I was trying to get attention to my story about how corruption at Hostos Community College in the Bronx had cost me my job. But I couldn't get any paper to write about that. Guess it would have been better if I had been talking about it in Kenya.

    September 11, 2011 at 5:52 am | Reply
  18. Surprise

    Your normal pity party lib store. We should also thank them for the other gift they gave us, At least the ears give us some humor.

    September 11, 2011 at 6:09 am | Reply
    • areukidding?

      when did your heart turn to stone?

      September 11, 2011 at 6:50 am | Reply
      • Surprise

        Are you blind to the clear manipulation and timing by CNN in the hope you will forget the truth? A clear “rules for radicals” propaganda, the irony is rich. Did you not see the hate America theme because we are too stupid to move Cows?

        September 11, 2011 at 9:05 am |
    • Kit

      No, it indicated that the financial win-loss wasn't there to move 14 head of cattle when they were more valuable there.

      Pretty good capitalism and financial analysis in action. Wasn't cost-effective for anyone. The Maasai would not have judged it in that way, as a gift should go to the giver, so a compromise was struck. The gift accepted, but the value remained in the community.

      It's called win-win. Called diplomacy in action.

      But apparently, we have lost the ability to find some middle, reasonable ground. (Let alone reading comprehension skills.)

      Stay off the fringes, dood. You sound insane. It's a story about someone achieving goals and a gift given. That's it.

      September 11, 2011 at 9:18 am | Reply
  19. Brent

    Thank You Kimeli, Thank You Masai Tribe, Thank You Kenya

    September 11, 2011 at 6:24 am | Reply
  20. d

    So when do I get my cow??

    September 11, 2011 at 6:39 am | Reply
  21. Jon

    What a great people the Masai tribe are. A gesture of this magnitude, you have big hearts. Kindness like this can catch on throughout the world, if given a chance.

    September 11, 2011 at 6:44 am | Reply

    That's called a KENYAN!

    I congratulate KENYA on their recent success in marathons.



    September 11, 2011 at 6:57 am | Reply
  23. ola lagos

    So inspiring. God bless america, God bless Nigeria and the world at large

    September 11, 2011 at 7:03 am | Reply
  24. joey

    If this story did not touch or connect to you in some way, then read it later. If the symptom persists, you are disconnected from your own humanity. You should see someone about that.

    September 11, 2011 at 7:05 am | Reply
  25. LS

    What a humbling, heartwarming story. Truly amazing.

    September 11, 2011 at 7:41 am | Reply
  26. Johnson

    Is he here legally now? No matter how compelling a story is and we all have one, we want anyone living in the US to be here legally,

    September 11, 2011 at 8:01 am | Reply
    • Kit

      Psst. I think, in order for the University of Oregon, and his supporters, to get him here originally, someone had to file paperwork, buy tickets, put him on a plane, get him identification and registered for school.

      This means – he came here on a visa.

      Which means, he is here legally.

      And means he has a passport too.

      Coz he's now studying in Australia. They have visas and passport requirements too.


      September 11, 2011 at 8:58 am | Reply
  27. Da_Pops

    Truly a wonderful story and those dogging Brit are the racist. (Why else would that thought ever enter their minds about this heart felt gift?) Now that our heard is up to "35 American Cows".. tended by a villiage elder, we should come up with a way to expand the scholarships to 35. The original intent 1 cow = 1 scholorship. What a great way to spread the most prescious gift humans can give... EDUCATION...

    September 11, 2011 at 8:17 am | Reply
    • sdrawkcab

      I second the e..motion.

      September 12, 2011 at 12:37 am | Reply
  28. victoria

    why thank you kenya!

    September 11, 2011 at 8:26 am | Reply
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