14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy in collaboration with Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah, illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez
Kimeli, a young Maasai man, returns to his village in Kenya after being away for a long time with “one story [that] has burned a hole in his heart.” He remembers the “[b]uildings so tall they can touch the sky,” he saw the “[f]ires so hot they can melt iron,” he witnessed the “[s]moke and dust so thick they can block out the sun.” He was there in New York City on September 11, 2001.
The men, women, and the children are silenced in disbelief, until an elder asks, “’What can we do for these poor people?” For the Maasai, once a nation of feared warriors, “the cow is life” as the peaceful, nomadic cattle herders that they are today. Kimeli is the first to offer his family’s most valued possession, his cow. Others follow, until 14 cows are offered to the people of America – presented to a surprised American diplomat who arrives from the United States Embassy in Nairobi — to commemorate the 9/11 tragedy: “Because there is no nation so powerful it cannot be wounded, nor a people so small they cannot offer mighty comfort.”
“These sacred, healing cows … remain in … Kenya under the guidance of the revered elder Mzee Ole-Yiampoi,” the real-life Kimeli reveals in a note at book’s end. The cows have calved, increasing the sacred herd to over 35. “The Maasai wish is that every time Americans hear this simple story of fourteen cows, they will find a measure of comfort and peace,” Kimeli adds. The remarkable story continues on the associated website, 14cowsforamerica.com.
Carmen Agra Deedy, a bestselling, award-winning author who arrived in the U.S. as a Cuban refugee over 50 years ago, and her fellow Cuban American collaborator, artist Thomas Gonzalez, present Kimeli’s testimony of compassion with resonating efficacy and inspiring depth. With its richly-hued, vibrant scenes on every page, the book becomes a much-needed, compelling antidote to fear and dejection filled with thoughtful advice in any challenging situation: “To heal a sorrowing heart, give something that is dear to your own.” Wise words to follow indeed.
Published: 2009, 2016 (first paperback edition)