Great example of compassion

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Posted by Stella from ? ( on Monday, June 03, 2002 at 7:10PM :

From the LA Times:

June 3, 2002
From Africa With Sympathy for 9/11
Masai: A village, where some just learned of theattacks, gives U.S. 14 cows--a culture's prizedpossession.

By DAVAN MAHARAJ, Times Staff Writer

ENOOSAEN, Kenya -- In this remote corner of Africa,news about the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon traveled slowly to the red-robed Masai people who live here.

And now, people in this tiny village have responded with an outpouring of support to show the deep sorrow they felt for the United States and victims of the

They decided to give their most prized possessions,what Masai regard as the highest statement of sympathy: cattle.

On Sunday, the Masai in this southwestern Kenya community conducted a ceremony to express their condolences.

Hollywood producers could not have done better.

About 500 people, many bedecked in elaborate beadwork jewelry, gathered on the rolling East African savanna for the ceremony. Masai women sang mournful songs.
Young warriors, some carrying spears, leapt into the air. And village elders presented to the United States a herd of 14 cows.

"They say Americans are wealthy, and indeed we are in many ways," said acting U.S. Ambassador to Kenya William Brencick, who gratefully accepted the cattle.
"But when we count the value of these cows and ... add the value of the great spirits that gave them, we can say without doubt that you seem richer still."

The gifts by Masai villagers here demonstrate how the events of Sept. 11 have touched the remotest corners of the globe. Enoosaen is a village about 20 miles
from the Masai Mara Game Reserve, where tourists from around the world flock to see lions, elephants and other wildlife.

But the people of Enoosaen are virtually invisible to these game gawkers. The villagers are all Masai, arguably Africa's most romanticized ethnic group--legendary for cattle herding, cattle raiding,
lion killing and drinking cow's blood.

"A Masai warrior is a fine sight," wrote Isak Dinesen in "Out of Africa." "Their style is not an assumed manner, nor an imitation of a foreign perfection; it
has grown from the inside and is an statement of the race and its history."

The nearly 300,000 Masai pastoralists who straddle the border between Kenya and Tanzania shun modernity. Most of Enoosaen's mud huts lack running water and
electricity. There are no telephones, and the only thing resembling a paved road is a 100-yard stretch of tarmac 15 miles away.

Despite the legend, many Masai these days wear Gap clothing and Nike shoes. Some residents of Enoosaen carry cell phones and travel 90 minutes to go online at a town's Internet cafes.

Enoosaen would not have rallied to show support for the United States but for the world's fascination with the Masai. Several years ago, an American journalist
wrote about how villagers had sold cows to raise $5,000 in school fees so a young warrior could realize his dream of becoming a doctor.

The article caught the attention of University of Oregon administrators, who offered Kimeli Naiyomah a scholarship. Naiyomah later transferred to Stanford,
where he is a premed student.

On the Stanford campus, Naiyomah recounted how village elders had raised him because he didn't know his biological father, and how he planned to repay them by returning after graduation and building the first hospital in Masailand.

Last year, Stanford President John Hennessy saluted Naiyomah in his commencement address. Former President Clinton and his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton
(D-N.Y.), who were on campus for daughter Chelsea's graduation, asked to meet the 25-year-old Naiyomah,posing for pictures with him. Naiyomah, many said,could be the poster child for Hillary Clinton's book,
"It Takes a Village."

Naiyomah left Stanford and returned to Enoosaen last month to attend a weeklong rite-of-passage ceremony that made him a junior elder in the village. One night, when the other young men gathered under a tree
to tell stories, Naiyomah recounted the horrors he witnessed in September during a visit to New York. He told them how "buildings that almost touched the
clouds" tumbled down after terrorists crashed two planes into the World Trade Center, how desperate people jumped out of the burning buildings to their
deaths and how hundreds of rescuers died trying to save people.

"Everybody was shocked," said William Oltetia, the 20-year-old chief of Enoosaen's warriors. Oltetia said that he had not heard about the terrorist attacks.

Others in Enoosaen said that they knew vaguely about Sept. 11 but that Naiyomah's account brought the tragedy to life.

Osama Bin Laden became a household word. People who are unpopular in the village are now known simply as Osamas.

"We don't have anyone as cruel as him," said James Ngodia, 44. "This man is a world enemy. If he comes to Masailand, we will surely kill him with our spears and

Naiyomah proposed to village elders that they do something to help America.

Within a week, 14 people pledged their cows. Those who donated said they wanted to express their condolences but also show their gratitude to the United States for
taking care of Naiyomah and for helping the village.

Naiyomah has used money donated by American friends to build a three-room schoolhouse and set up a water-purification system that could help reduce illness.

"When America is hurting, we want to share their pain," said Ngodia, who donated two cows from his herd of 22. "Human lives are the same whether it's in America or Masailand."

Ngodia trades his cows for land, food and other goods to support his three wives and 11 children. "A cow is like a bank account," he said. "You treat it well and it gives you interest."

On Sunday, the 500 people, some of them from nearby villages, gathered on a hillside here to present the cows to Brencick.

Naiyomah used his rungu, or fighting stick, like a conductor's baton, directing people to hold up signs that said, "September 11 tragedy," "We are touched by your loss" and "We give these cows to help you."

Evaline Kantai, 63, who sat under a guava tree observing the ceremony, said the gift was so generous that it could have financed the dowries for three sons. But she was happy that it was given to the U.S.

"The cows should be taken good care of and used the Masai way, to get the milk and to get the meat," she said.

Brencick later told the gathering that "it is not easy to take these cows to New York across the sea."

The cows instead will be sold and the proceeds used to buy beadwork from the village, possibly an American
flag that will hang in a public place in New York, and other items.

"The world has not been divided by this tragedy," Brencick said. "You and we are helping to bring it together."

-- Stella
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