Kenya Dig It: Mobilizing a community with one calf

Maasai men gathering to start the greeting dance

Maasai men gathering to start the greeting dance

As many of you know, I had the opportunity to visit Kenya last summer. I was there to work on a water project and in the preschools. It was an intense experience yet somehow I long to return early next year.

I opened up my google reader this morning and here’s the first article that literally mooed at me (yes I did say moo). I just wrote about Maasai last week and I did not know about this moving story about how a tribe in Mara Mara, where I met the Maasiai, helped us after 9/11. They reached across the world to help us, by donating their most sacred possession, a cow. I’m practically speechless.

Did I say cow? Yes…so I did a little digging and came across the original story in the NY Times. I think it’s an example of someone with little means, but a big heart and a sincere desire to what he could to help. Kimeli Nalyomah was in NYC on 9/11 and was so moved by the attacks, that when he returned to his tribe some months later he was determined to do something. So he asked for the blessing of his tribe to give away his only calf, (cows are very sacred and the Maasai would never give one away) and 13 other tribesmen followed suit. While I’m moved by the gift, I’m in awe of how Nalyomah’s community joined in to help. His sincere desire to help us after experiencing that horror inspired an entire tribe to respond as well.

Maasai Homes, Amboseli

Maasai Homes, Amboseli

I’m speechless, because I have seen first hand how the Maasai in Mara Mara live. I’ve walked among their cattle and listened intently as the shepherds described how important their cattle are to them and their survival.  Their homes are made of cow dung and built by hand by the women. They have no electricity or running water and their life is very primitive. I have experienced their hospitality and generosity first hand by being invited inside the home of the Chief’s son Wilson for a tour of his home. He and his wife and four children living in a space half the size of my garage. The Maasai are a tribe of little means yet they wanted to do their part to help us – a nation of plenty and excess.

Is there some issue or cause tugging at your heart these days? Have you shared that with your communities? You might be surprised to find that others are feeling the same tug. What’s so poweful in the Web2.0 age is, that you could share that tug on your Facebook, Twitter or other online community and I am sure you would be surprised at the response, as well as the new relationships that might form.

Community is no longer defined by your zip code, and relationships can reach across oceans, continents and language barriers. My encouragement today is act on that tug and see what develops you might be surprised.

The rest of the story: The US embassy accepted the cows but asked the Maasai tribesmen to keep the cows and tend to them on behalf of the American people. Today the herd of cows is 35 strong and they are marked on their ear with a symbol of the twin towers. You see not only will we as a nation not forget what happened on 9/11, neither will the Maasai.

New friend, Wilson and Me July 2008, good times

New friend, Wilson and Me July 2008, good times


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Beth Mulhern September 14, 2009 at

This is an amazing story, and so incredible in illustrating the power of building community. I am also speechless! I so understand why you are anxious to go back to Kenya.


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