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CNN SUNDAY MORNING

Interview With Kimeli Naiyomah

Aired June 9, 2002 - 11:14   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: People all over the world responded with sympathy after the September 11 attacks, but none quite like the Masai tribesmen of Enoosaen, Kenya. They only recently learned about the attacks from Kimeli Naiyomah, a fellow tribesman who is a student at Stamford University. But on September 11, he was in Manhattan, and with his help, the tribe in Kenya voted to donate 14 cows to the U.S. in their show of sympathy. Kimeli Naiyomah is our guest this morning and he joins us from San Francisco to tell us more about this very special gift. Jambo (ph), Kimeli.

KIMELI NAIYOMAH, PRE-MED STUDENT: Jambo.

WHITFIELD: Well, thank you so much for joining us. Now why is it you were in Manhattan at the time of September 11? You go to Stamford University in Palo Alto, California. What is it that you experienced and witnessed while in New York on September 11?

NAIYOMAH: I was in Manhattan on September 11. I had gone to pay a visit to the Kenyan representative for the United Nations, and basically, I was there early in the morning. I had an appointment at 8:00 in the morning, so I had to be in the building before 8:00 and that's when the tragedy happened.

WHITFIELD: And you felt rather helpless at the time. You wanted to do something but felt you couldn't. So your village in Kenya used you as sort of as a conduit for information as well. You went back to your village and you communicated to them what had happened on September 11, and how is it that helpless feeling you once had kind of translated into me and the village are going to do something to help out in any way we can?

NAIYOMAH: Yes. Since I was in New York and I watched this tragedy very close to me and I am a child that was raised in my tribe and became a warrior, and that day I felt that I wouldn't really help in any way because I wasn't a firefighter or anything, and that day was a very tragic day, not only for America but even for myself just looking at what's happening in America and that this country that has become like my home was under attack. And there was that transformation within me, that pain that felt like home had been attacked.

And so, having done nothing that day, I kind of carried this feeling of kind of guilt or pain within me and actually I had to go back to my people. So when I went to Kenya and went to my village of Enoosaen, I had to share this pain with the people who raised me, with my mom and dad there. I was also raised there and spent all my life before I came to America, and so I went back to the people who raised me and I shared this pain with them and I brought up the idea of doing something for this country that is taking care of me. America has become like my home away from home and that's when people responded with a lot of sympathy and a lot of grace in donating cows for this nation.

WHITFIELD: And in your village, to do something to offer a gift, a very precious gift would be the likes of a cow would be giving land and even in some cases, the Masai would give a child. So you all collectively decided that giving a cow would be the most appropriate thing, but how is it you ended up with 14? Who were all these village members who decided that they wanted to give something that was very sacred, very valuable, a symbol of wealth in the Masai culture, that 14 would be the number? How did you come about that?

NAIYOMAH: Fourteen and counting, because actually I just got back from home this week and there are not only 14. There are 14 as of that day that we presented to the American president, and people are giving. The idea, I started by giving my cow. I actually don't have many but I gave my cow and people started giving these cows in a cultural setting in a place called (UNINTELLIGIBLE), which is a place that's sacred. It's a place of the warriors counting.

WHITFIELD: But then, Kimeli, you discovered that the cow would perhaps not translate, you know wouldn't be able to make it over to the U.S. and people wouldn't know what quite to do with it. So instead of the cow, you ended up selling back the cows to the village people, exchanged for money and then to buy beads, the beadwork, the jewelry is a very valued property among the Masai. So how then will this now jewelry, the beaded jewelry be that gift received by the U.S.?

NAIYOMAH: Actually as of now, we're still figuring out exactly what to do with the 14 and counting cows. The jewelry will be made by the women. The men give the cows and the women will give the beadwork. They will sit down and make a beadwork that is very special and specifically for America. And as of now, it will be something very special. We'll be trying to make a replica of the American flag, the one that got burned and was replaced in New York and also in the flag will be written words of sympathy from my people the Masai and I hope that that will arrive in America.

So basically, it is because of the difficulty of transporting the cows here, even though as of yesterday, I received more than 1,400 e- mails from across America.

WHITFIELD: Wow.

NAIYOMAH: And I'm still receiving a lot of e-mails of people sending very sincere thank-yous and I'm very touched and I want to tell those people that I will share those e-mails with my people back home.

WHITFIELD: Oh, that is so wonderful. NAIYOMAH: Yes.

WHITFIELD: And you all have been so generous and such an inspiration and you as a Stamford University pre-med student, as if you didn't have enough on your hands already, here you are now galvanizing an entire village to help out and reach across the waters to the people of New York and country. Thank you so much for joining us, Kimeli.

NAIYOMAH: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Kimeli Naiyomah at Stamford University, thanks for joining us and good luck with your project.

NAIYOMAH: Thank you.

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