Cows and Common Courtesy


Though their numbers are small, the Maasai people are a rather remarkable bunch. They live along the border shared by Kenya and Tanzania and celebrate a rich traditional culture—one focused upon rituals and traditions that’s highly dependent upon livestock (especially cattle) as a source of both sustenance and revenue. Many Maasai lead notably nomadic lifestyles, dwell in impermanent homes, and have thus never seen skyscrapers or visited cities as we know them in the United States. However, in the months following the devastating attacks of September 11, 2001, the people of this tribe learned about the great loss Americans had suffered. As a result, they donated fourteen of their limited cattle. They gave not only whatever they could, but they also parted ways with something of great value to their own people and culture in favor of helping the hurting people of a place far, far away.

   These events transpired nearly two decades ago. Yet in terms of the rapid pace of news today, it feels like it happened a century ago. That being said, while watching the fast-paced news this past week, one of my favorite programs concluded with an update on the devastation and still rising death toll in Indonesia as a result of a series of catastrophic events, including an earthquake, tsunami, and recent volcanic eruption. Never fear, though, for the broadcaster left viewers with an optimistic message that essentially boiled down to: “…don’t worry. The U.S. is going to help.” Part of this message was anticipated. After all, the United States always seems to extend help to foreign nations in times of need. However, a much larger question arose: has the favor ever been returned? Was aid ever delivered back?

     Many people did not know that the United States had been sent cows in the wake of 9/11. Most remained ignorantly unaware of the fact that over 150 countries stepped up to help out after Hurricane Katrina, offering aid as varied as navy ships full of supplies (medicine and clothing and food), helicopters and planes loaded with doctors, construction workers, and other professionals otherwise well-versed in handling natural disasters, and wide-ranging monetary donations. Even Cuba, at that time a nation with which Americans still maintained a hostile relationship, extended offerings of doctors and even blankets.  I did not know that the United States often receives more foreign help in times of hardship than it is prepared to organize or even (on occasion) accept.  Many people certainly did not know that Americans have received an outpouring of support from nations in the immediate aftermath of nearly every natural disaster and humanitarian crisis in the modern era.

    Americans find this infuriating, because the vast majority of them are not introduced to these contributions in school. Frankly, it was quite challenging to find more than a few articles supporting these contributions in preparation for writing this article!

   Ultimately, I found it rather unsettling that we do not celebrate these actions performed by members of a global community that stretches beyond our borders. It is as if, by practicing such increasingly isolationistic beliefs, Americans have grown complacent in accepting that we are somehow better than our donors or too good to accept and acknowledge the gracious help we have been given—time and time again.

        Rather, many of us persist in griping that other nations do “nothing” for us in ongoing (albeit fruitless) attempts to dissuade foreign aid or block access to immigration for legitimate refugees. As such, I feel it is high time for us to accept that these foreign entities have indeed helped us, and it is only fair that we have the common courtesy to return the gesture. If not only for the sake of the survival and wellbeing of people worse off, we should cease to practice such isolationistic ideals for the sake of our own national security and maintenance of existing alliances. With each exchange of goods and foreign aid, we bolster America’s foreign relations with the rest of the world—relations that need strengthening more right now than ever before.

      With that in mind, I propose that is time to accept that the United States does indeed exist in a web of interconnected nations. In times of emergency, therefore, we can and should welcome support in whatever form it comes. We should be grateful (not embarrassed) that our neighbors are empathetic enough to continue to give.