Friday, September 10, 2010

Marking a Difficult Milestone

As a New Yorker, there’s a part of me that would like to be able to think of September 11 as another day in my favorite season in the city. But it’s not just any autumn day. And this year, with the controversy surrounding the building of the Muslim community center downtown, the event does not seem like it happened nine years ago. It feels very fresh and raw.

So how do we talk about the events of that day with our young people? Especially those who were either not yet born or too young to remember? Do we try to shield them from it? How can we when the images are so powerful and prevalent? 14 Cows for America by Carmen Deedy and Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah, makes an ideal choice to address these questions because of its language and simplicity.

In the book, Kimeli has been studying in America to become a doctor, and he returns to meet with the elders of his Maasai tribe. He describes the events of 9/11 to villagers in Kenya who were not there, in words that a child can comprehend:

Buildings so tall they can touch the sky?

Fires so hot they can melt iron?

Smoke and dust so thick they can block out the sun?

Kimeli requests from the elders that he be able to give his only cow, Enkarûs, to the Americans, to help them heal. And the elders respond by also giving a gift to the Americans. Fourteen cows in all. They do not ship the cows to America—it is a spiritual gift. They guard the cows for the Americans, and the herd grows in number. As Kimeli Naiyomah says in an endnote in the book, “These sacred, healing cows can never be slaughtered.”

If you and your child were to travel to Kenya, you could visit these cows--your cows--guarded by the Maasai, growing in number.

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