- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 5, 2002

Please call the U.S. State Department (Bureau of African Affairs, Chief of Bureau Walter H. Kansteiner 202-647-7371) and tell him not to sell the 14 Masai cows. Let me explain.

Earlier this week the New York Times reported that a tiny village of Masai tribesmen, located in the remoteness of the Uganda/Tanzania/Kenya border areas, had only recently heard of the terrorist attack of September 11. At first they couldn't understand how people could die jumping from a building (they live in huts a man cannot even stand up in).

Once the horror was described to them, they quickly collected 14 of their finest cows as a gift of condolence to the American people. Our man in Nairobi, a Mr. William Brancick deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy drove out to the village to receive the gift. According to the Times report, Mr. Brancick received the cows, but explained to the tribesmen that transporting the cows would be difficult, so he would probably sell them, buy some local jewelry which he would send back to America. Mr. Brancick's act of ingratitude and insensitivity (on our behalf) must not be permitted to stand.

Not only are 14 prize cows a major asset for the Masai tribesmen, the cow is a sacred object to them. The three most cherished gifts a Masai can offer are a child, a plot of land and a cow. The life of the Masai revolves around their cattle. Their religion teaches that God entrusted His cattle to the Masai. As a tribesman explained: "The cow is almost the center of life for us. It is sacred. It's more than property. You give it a name. You talk to it. You perform rituals with it. It's a sacred food … ."

But our Mr. Brancick saw fit to plan to sell them because "transporting them would be difficult." If we can get 80,000 men and machines into Afghanistan, we can get 14 cows out of Kenya.

The Masai, a famously brave and intelligent warrior tribe, not only gave us this precious gift, but the village's chief warrior a man named Oltetia said: "That guy [bin Laden] surely we would have to kill him. We as the Masai have ways to kill, just using a spear and bows and arrows. He is a strong man so we couldn't do it directly. We would surround him in the bush."

Although in all our history we have never done anything for these Masai, in all the world they are the only people (to my knowledge) to offer a sacred gift of condolence to us after the September Terror. And, without any offers of foreign aid or trade credits, their first thought was to get the man who did this terrible thing to us. But our Mr. Brancick thinks it would be too much bother to accept the sacred gift: Why not just cash them out, buy some local trinkets and mail them to a government warehouse in West Virginia where every 30 years the Inspector General will see how many of them have been stolen?

In case Mr. Brancick doesn't know, there are Americans who are expert at safely transporting livestock even valuable race horses. Fourteen cows that are only two hours from an airport shouldn't be beyond our capacity.

Once shipped to America, they should be treated with the same care with which they were given to us. Why not let them graze for a few weeks in special facilities at ground zero in New York? Perhaps a few weeks on the South Lawn of the White House would give the Washington political class a chance to see, first-hand, what an act of selfless grace looks like. (Woodrow Wilson's wife, Edith, grazed 20 sheep on that lawn during World War I to boost war morale.) Finally, the sacred cows could be set up next to the pandas at the Washington Zoo for all to admire, and as a reminder that we are not alone in this world.

If the cost of this procession is too much for the federal budget, surely there are American corporations that could fund the effort. Perhaps McDonalds' could provide the first donation as an act of contrition.

These are hard and anxious times. Americans are feeling unloved and abandoned by our friends. Mothers (and fathers) worry whether it is safe to take their family flying on their summer vacation.

Yet suddenly, with the gift of these 14 cows unexpected, unasked for, undeserved our hearts can be touched as no calculated and purchased benefit could affect. From the other side of the globe, one noble warrior people reach out and touch us another noble warrior people with a sense of the sacred. Surely we will not profane that gift.

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