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. Paige

    This is an amazing story, and I am thankful for this most precious gift from the Masai.

    September 11, 2011 at 10:45 am | Reply
  2. duh

    Take the story at face value and don't try to read into it or twist the meaning. It is a great story and shows compasion. love and determination, something we all need more of in the world.

    September 11, 2011 at 10:46 am | Reply
  3. hw

    This is the kind of diplomatic engagement that creates friends and respect. For more than a century the U.S. has created ill will with developing countries as well as exploiting them The relationship with this Masai tribe should be duplicated with every nation. Call me naive, but that it the way the U.S. builds trust and friendship.

    September 11, 2011 at 10:49 am | Reply
    • YouIdiot!

      @naive...HUH? Can you name the developing countries the U.S. has created ill-will and exploited for the 100+ years?

      Shouldn't all nations build mutual trust, friendship, and respect with each other? Why are you just singling out the U.S.?

      September 11, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Reply
  4. strhv

    The US and other western countries offer tens of thousands of dollars worth scholarships to poor African guys. The poor African then pays back all this by sending some lame cows. It is a very tricky and expensive way to get our exotic hamburgers... send oil and diamonds instead.

    September 11, 2011 at 11:00 am | Reply
    • Beautiful eyes

      To the Maasai's the beauty,wealth,dream and life is a cow, They don't even wear gold earrings,necklaces etc.
      They make them out of cows! Cows are Everything, Gold and oil is unheard of. They will feel for you if that is what you call precious. They run on their feet everywhere, don't need cars that pollute the grazing fields for COWS.
      Kimeli is a selfless person who instead of living the Maasai dream of owning herds of Cow,he purchased his first cow and offered as a gift which made the Elders see how painful 9/11 was.
      American dream is the opposite of Maasai dream.
      Strhv, you have a lot of World history to do.

      September 13, 2011 at 2:44 am | Reply
  5. JW

    Great story, but I hope that they don't have people going hungry while we hold on to our cattle that we will never use . . . I hope they don't hesitate to put them to good use and eat them if need be. At least eat anything above 14 cows . . .

    September 11, 2011 at 11:03 am | Reply
    • Dandelion leaf

      You don't know how much this means to Maasai's, they made a vow and will not change mind and kill or eat this cows, they don't have Macdonald by the way, to change them into burgers, they are sacred.
      This makes me wonder, do you give because you have a surplus or give out of your heart? Hunger is everywhere in this globe even here in the US, that is why we have Food bank,good will ,hot soup you name it.

      September 13, 2011 at 2:58 am | Reply
  6. Kodes100

    Again we see that one person can make a difference.

    September 11, 2011 at 11:13 am | Reply
  7. strhv

    My grandma has some hens in the backyards, I send 10 of them to the US, can I get a scholarship at Yale, visa, a plane ticket and stuff.
    Oh no I can't, I am a European, my case would not appeal to ones emotions.

    September 11, 2011 at 11:14 am | Reply
    • YouIdiot!'re so right!

      Obama's dad, Anwar al-Awlaki's dad, and Anwar al-Awlaki (american born terrorist), educated by Americans. (Anwar al-Awlaki, yemen gov't did pay for some), Fareed Zakaria, born in india went to Yale and Harvard, plus as a bonus got a job at cnn among other U.S. businesses. The list of foreign born U.S. educated people is too long to mention.

      I hear Europe educates a lot of foreign born people too. Then I hear they return the favor by blowing things up. Same here.

      Do any foreign governments pay for Europeans to attend their universities? NO? Same for Americans, no foreign governments educate far as I know.

      I wonder if any recipients of an American paid education donate money back to their alma mater, like a scholarship to show appreciation? Is there a list to see who does? Anyone?

      September 11, 2011 at 3:54 pm | Reply
  8. bilegran vieira correa

    Again we see that one person can make a difference.

    September 11, 2011 at 11:21 am | Reply
  9. Sabrina

    What a great story. People who have so little wanted to comfort us as Americans who have so much.

    September 11, 2011 at 11:26 am | Reply
  10. barbara

    What a wonderfully touching story! A beautiful gift. To those who would belittle this gift, I must say to you, remember that this was their all. It's not about what item was given or the benefit, but about the value to the people who gave. Yes there are people who could give "more" in the eyes of the average human, but to me there is nothing "more" than giving freely of what you have and at times what you don't have. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for this gift.

    September 11, 2011 at 11:30 am | Reply
  11. Me

    Thank you.

    September 11, 2011 at 11:30 am | Reply
  12. hueygunner

    (CNN) - One British citizen was killed and another one was kidnapped overnight at a resort near Kenya's border with Somalia...


    Now, back to reality, folks.

    September 11, 2011 at 11:34 am | Reply
    • salvatore

      There's only one reality, friend. Both events are part of it.

      September 11, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Reply
  13. pat jr.

    The Massai are the coolest! Let's not turn these cows into beef:)

    September 11, 2011 at 11:35 am | Reply
  14. jrock

    How about mourning all the innocent men, women and children who died in Iraq for no reason because supposedly
    there were weapons of mass destruction? Thats terrorism

    September 11, 2011 at 11:42 am | Reply
  15. Joe D.

    The poor always give more than the rich. The poor give freely in the hopes of eternal redemption, while the rich give when the cameras are rolling in hopes of furthering glorifying their own inflated egos. Those who comment negatively about this story aren't worth our time...let the black hearts die a little a more, steeped in their own hatred, self loathing and hedonistic, moralistic ignorance.

    September 11, 2011 at 11:46 am | Reply
    • Karol

      Like Mariott's president son who just hit the lottery for several million. He donated 50K, 25K each to two different organizations. Really cheap considering the man was already rich before even winning the lottery.

      September 11, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Reply
  16. Buddy

    Thank you Kimeli and the entire Masai tribe.

    September 11, 2011 at 11:56 am | Reply
  17. Allan

    i cant believe this!! me and my sister just got two i-pads for $ 42. 77 each and a $ 50 amazon card for $ 9. the stores want to keep this a secret and they dont tell you. Go here C o ol C e n t . c o m

    September 11, 2011 at 12:03 pm | Reply
    • Carlos

      THIS IS SPAM; really inconsiderate.

      September 11, 2011 at 12:32 pm | Reply
  18. William

    Great story! It's amazing how a person still feels like 9/11 was yesterday. These are the type of stories that help ease the pain.

    September 11, 2011 at 12:17 pm | Reply
  19. Emily

    I'm so glad there are people in the world who care about more than just themselves. It saddens me that so many people who comment on CNN have to be negative about everything. If you don't like or don't appreciate the genuine, amazing gift from Kimeli, why don't you do something that you feel is "better?" Quit sitting here, typing negative, unnecessary crap on a forum, and go out and do something positive for someone else. There's too much negativity in the world, and considering it's the anniversary of 9/11, you should quit perpetuating it and do something that actually matters.

    September 11, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Reply
    • wanda

      i agree. such a refreshing story, however, my warm n fuzzy buzz was almost ruined by some of these hateful comments. it amazes me how chidish and cruel adults can be.

      September 11, 2011 at 4:09 pm | Reply
  20. susie q

    i thought kenya's gift to america was oblammma!

    September 11, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Reply
    • Karol

      Grow up.

      September 11, 2011 at 12:44 pm | Reply
  21. W L Jones

    How soon people forget all human branch out from (Kenya) area an populate planet Earth. Bless.

    September 11, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Reply
  22. Ricky

    A wonderful beautiful story.

    September 11, 2011 at 12:32 pm | Reply
  23. douglas james

    I have been to Africa several times, and one of the things I appreciate about the continent is that they do not have affirmative action.

    September 11, 2011 at 12:39 pm | Reply
    • Beverly NC

      Are ALL Republicans ignorant and racist like you? Republicans have fostered an unbelievable state of hate, lies, fear, and racism in our nation. It is sickening, I feel like we are back fighting for Civil Rights for ALL Americans again. They have respect for NOTHING or NO ONE. Who are you non-humans?

      September 11, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Reply
  24. Karol

    Great story!

    September 11, 2011 at 12:43 pm | Reply
  25. HS

    Thanks you Kimeli and the Masai tribe! It feels so good when we hear about genuinely good human beings. I always noticed that whenever there is a news about someone is doing something good for another human being there are always some doubters. I think ratio goes like this, 80% people are basically good and post positive uplifting comments, 5% are just consipiracy theorist so they have to raise doubt about any good intention, 5% have to give religious twist to any good getsure in order to market their religion, 5% are so depressed and hateful that they hate the idea of someone is genuinely helping someone and ofcourse remaining 5% have no cluse and they think if they just post some weird comment then they will sound cool and hip!! I'm glad I live in this beautiful world of 80% good people and not the other way around.

    September 11, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Reply
    • Kiki

      Well said, I agree!

      September 11, 2011 at 7:55 pm | Reply
  26. Ron Paul 2012!

    Is this CNN trying to Liberally balance out the other news making waves recently about the Briton man killed and his wife kidnapped in Kenya?

    This is in very poor taste.

    September 11, 2011 at 12:48 pm | Reply
  27. Anita

    I take away from this wonderful story, the greatness of mans humanity toward his fellow man. May Gods grace and mercy fall on Kenya.

    September 11, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Reply
  28. SheepXpress

    President Obamas approval rating is so damn low, I hear that Kenya is saying he was born in America now 😀

    September 11, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Reply
    • mia

      um...a lame comment.

      September 11, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Reply
  29. DaVuVuZeLa

    Cool story, bro.

    September 11, 2011 at 12:53 pm | Reply
  30. Jorge

    Thank you for the very kind gift, These cows are greatly appreciated. In time, the US will return the favor.

    September 11, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Reply
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