LAST EDITED ON 09-28-02 AT 03:26 AM (EST)
Kenyan Villagers Honor 9-11 Victims
Last Updated: June 3, 2002 at 1:38:46 p.m.
NAIROBI, Kenya - Willson Kimeli Naiyomah is a Maasai warrior, raised to respond to every emergency. But his upbringing was of no use Sept. 11, as he watched people crying in the streets during a visit to New York City.
The feeling of helplessness stayed with Naiyomah, and when he returned to his village last month he told elders about the attack on the World Trade Center that killed more than 2,800 people. Many of the Maasai of Enoosaen, a village 250 miles southwest of Nairobi, had not heard of the terror attack.
Captivated and saddened, they decided to show solidarity and on Sunday presented the American people with 14 cows, the most prized and sacred possession in Maasai culture.
Acting U.S. Ambassador William Brencick accepted the gift. He asked to give the cows back to the village in exchange for a beaded American flag made by local women and other traditional Maasai goods, such as braided belt worn by grieving women.
``Most of these people like America, they associate what I have done with America,'' Brencick said, referring to a project to provide fresh water to the village and building a school.
Naiyomah was in New York to visit Kenya's U.N. ambassador. He is studying pre-med at Stanford University in California.
``I felt helpless ... people were crying in the streets, dying,'' said Naiyomah, recalling the hours after hijacked planes slammed into the World Trade Center. ``And there was nothing I could do.''
He said that ``as warriors, we respond to every emergency.''
Naiyomah's story began in Enoosaen, a small village that is mostly a collection of mud huts just outside the Masai Mara game reserve, where tourists go to gawk at lions and zebras. The village got electricity just a year ago.
The son of a poor single mother - a rarity among the Maasai - Naiyomah's schooling began under a tree. Over time, the open-air classroom gave way to a high school, which helped him win acceptance to a university in Nairobi, Kenya's capital.
Villagers began selling cows to cover the cost of Naiyomah's university education, a story that caught the attention of an American journalist. When administrators at the University of Oregon learned about the effort, they offered Naiyomah a scholarship.
He has since transferred to Stanford and hopes to become a neurosurgeon.
``America has given me what I have, my education, my chance to become a doctor,'' he said. Now, ``my people shall forever be connected to America.''
Sunday's gift was more than the transfer of a few head of cattle. It took place in a Maasai ``manyata,'' a sacred place where warriors, such as Naiyomah, go through secret rituals to complete their transformation into elders.
Foreigners are almost never allowed into a manyata. On Sunday, a few Americans received the cows in Enoosaen's manyata, beneath an American flag that had been raised for the occasion.
``We've spoken all along about how the events of Sept. 11 have brought people together,'' said Peter Claussen, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi. ``Here is an example ... a small village in western Kenya cares about what happened to the people in New York.''
SMILES ARE FREE
edited to include link: