The News as Inspiration?

by Lucy Blomfield

War with Iraq, the falling Stock Market, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the shootings in the Washington D.C. area. The news as "inspiration"? "Forget it," you say. "The best way to be inspired these days is to turn off the TV and radio."

To what degree does the media contribute to the chaos? Most networks are ratings-driven, and it appears that sensationalizing conflicts increases viewer ship. Hyped-up TV productions and their many re-runs - highlighting explosions, war and death - accompanied by loud discordant music and narrated by equally on-edge presenters -- is the customary pattern.

If anything good came out of the September 11th attacks in the US, it was the elevation of -- and interest in - the ordinary man. We witnessed the heroism and nobility of firemen, policemen and emergency workers. We read about those who died, and were impressed and touched by the beauty and nobility of their ordinary and yet extraordinary lives. The New York Times' "Portraits of Grief" series -- a picture and short story about the people who died in The World Trade Center, poignantly reminded us of the uniqueness and value of each human life.

In the midst of the harsh, disturbing reports, were quiet stories about people who wanted to help New Yorkers. One such story was the response of members of the Masai tribe in Kenya to the 9/11 attacks.

Kimeli Naiyomah

Kimeli Naiyomah is a young elder in the Masai tribe in Kenya. He is taking pre-med courses at Stanford University. He plans to return to his village after medical school. He was visiting New York on September 11th.

Kenya and the Masai Tribe

There is evidence to point to Osama Bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network as the organizers of the attack in New York. They are also thought to have planned the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed more than 200 Africans.1

Kimeli Naiyomah returned to his village of Enoosaen - near the border of Tanzania. Members of the Masai tribe in Enoosaen are nomadic cattle raisers. Many have no running water, electricity or telephones.2 Many villagers had not heard of the September 11 attacks that killed 3,000 people until Kimeli told them about them. He described the huge fires and the sight of people jumping from tall buildings. "They couldn't believe that people could jump from a building so high that they would die when they reached the ground," Kimeli said. 3 Skyscrapers are a foreign concept. Most of Kimeli's audience did not know what a skyscraper was.4 The tallest things they know are the acacia trees and the giraffes that feed on them.5

Members of the tribe wanted to do something to help the Americans. "We're out with our cattle every day so we're not always up to date on the news," said Vincent Konchellah, who raises cattle in Enoosaen. "We had heard about a disaster in America but we didn't know much about it. Now we feel the same way we would feel if we lost one of our own."6

"I knew my people, I knew they are merciful -- they can be fierce and deadly when provoked -- but they are also the type of people who can easily cry for the pain of other people," said Mr. Naiyomah.7

The Gift and the Value of the Cows

In June 2002, after hearing about the attacks in New York from Kimeli, members of the tribe decided to send some cows to the US as a gesture of solidarity.8

Kimeli Naiyomah helped to organize the gift of the cows. He contacted officials at the US Embassy.

There are three most cherished things that a Masai can offer as a gift -- a child, a plot of land and a cow.8 "They gave what is truly sacred to them," said Ibrahim Obajo, a freelance reporter working in Nairobi.9

"The cow is almost the center of life for us," said Mr. Naiyomah. "It's sacred. It's more than property. You give it a name. You talk to it. You perform rituals with it. This is the ultimate gift a Masai can give."10

"I know that for the Masai people the cow is valued above all possessions and that the gifts of a cow is the highest expression of regard and sympathy," said William Brancick, the deputy chief of mission to the United States Embassy in Nairobi.11

The Ceremony

The ceremony was attended by hundreds of Masai who held banners, some of which read, "To the people of America, we give these cows to help you."12 Fourteen cows were blessed by the tribal elders, and then they were given to William Brancick. The US national anthem played as the herdsmen gave the cattle.13

"The cattle will not be taken to America but will be sold at a local market and the proceeds used to buy beads. Masai women will then fashion traditional beadwork with commemorative messages, including perhaps the Stars and Stripes of the US flag. Tha Masai craftwork will then be handed over to the people of New York for display in the city."14

The Value of the Cows to New Yorkers

A website was set up for New Yorkers to thank the Masai for the cows. Many expressed their appreciation.

Some New Yorkers said they wanted the actual cows.

"The cows are the most amazing gift we received -- I mean, who else sent cows?" insisted Ed McCormick, a construction worker from the Bronx. "If those guys wanted us to have jewelry, they would have sent it. They wanted us to have cows. We should take the cows and raise them on a nice farm upstate and then send the cow puppies back to them someday."15

"I've been so supported by the many emails and calls and expressions of love from around the world," said Maureen Esposito, who lost her husband, Joe, in the attacks. "It really matters that these folks sent us something so tangible. I guess cows are just better than e-mail sometimes."16

The News as Inspiration and The Journalism Exchange

There are many inspiring stories in the news. Although these reports are unlikely to be front page or Six O'clock "lead' material, they are important and valuable. If you have read such a memorable account, and would like to send it to us, our e-mail address is:

References: 1,2,3,7,11,13,14: "Kenyan Masai Donate Cows to US" -
3,5,6,10: Lacey, Marc, "Where 9/11 News Is Late, but Aid Is Swift," New York Times, June 3, 2002.
8,9,12,15,16: Delio, Michelle, "How to Thank Kenya for 911 Cows" --,1284,52984,00.html

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