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February 22, 2002
The Iranian

Ara Serjoie has been chronicling his experiences as a volunteer at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Here's an email he sent to a group of family and friends. See photos

I thought that things would be getting quieter with the Closing Ceremonies coming up... WRONG!!! It's almost like everyone is scrambling to get their partying done before they have to go back home...

I have been playing a tape for my AZE delegation which they love. It is a bunch of very old Azeri songs, and the singer Rashid Behbudov has a phenomenal voice. One of the songs, Ayrilikh, was written about 80 years ago, when the USSR closed its borders to the rest of the world and the Iranian Azeris could no longer visit their relatives up north. So an Iranian Azeri man, wrote a song about the pain of separation:

Thinking about you at night, I can not get any sleep
With all this pain in my heart, I can't even stop to think

This song has become a legend in all countries which have a Turkish based language. So, when I met athletes from Turkey the other day, they also knew it very well...

Anyway, the bigger delegations have their own little camps in addition to their residences. So there are lots of little houses around Salt Lake City and Park City known as the DeutcHaus, Japan House, Swiss House, etc... This is typically where the delegations host their parties and also recognize people from within their delegations every night for their achievements.

Some of these are very elaborate places. DeutchHaus of course has A LOT of beer around. They brought in the flooring and walls from Germany, and will take it back with them (lots of Olympic insignia and sponsor logos on them). The Japanese delegation bought 7 massive houses next to each other in Park City for the Olympics...

Last night I went to the Russian Club House. It is the home of the Kiriev Family here in Salt Lake. They have been dubbed as the official hosts of the Russian Olympic Team. This is a beautiful home in a very affluent area. Anatoli Kiriev is the Deacon of the Russin Orthodox Church in Utah (I did not even know they had such a huge Russian population here to need their own Deacon!).

Anyway, after about an hour of speeches, presenting gifts and flowers to medal winner, coaches, etc... they started with the elaborate feast they had prepared: lots of wine and Russian vodka, and a live singer (who actually had a beautiful voice).

I met a few new people last night, from Russia, Armenia, Kyrgystan (Ghazzaghestan), and Turkmenistan... Interesting thing though was when I was introduced to the lady of the house Margaret Kiriev. She started speaking to me in beautiful fluent Persian. Then she proceeded to tell me that she was born in Tehran, to Russian parents, and lived there until she was 18. She has lived in Utah for 25 years.She said she considers Tehran to be her second home and misses it very much! We are going to catch up after the Olympics...

Then, I met another lady, Tanalia, who was also born in Tehran. But she went back to live in Moscow. Her parents met during the Tehran Conference (Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin in Tehran during World War II to discuss military strategy and political issues. Stalin agreed to launch a military offensive from the east to coincide with a planned invasion of German-occupied France from the west) Her father was the interpreter for Stalin and her mother was a resident of Iran... They lived in Tehran where Tanalia was born and then a few years later moved back to Russia...

The connections between people of the world goes much further than I thought. I still get excited when I hear stories like this. I guess it still is exciting for me to meet people who come from such different walks of life, and yet have something in common with me. It helps me realize even more that we live in a very small world, where borders are only defined by governments and due to logical reasons. Yet people's hearts and their emotional and spiritual connections go beyond those borders and that we can build on those commanalities for our friendships, and reach a point where we can also accept and respect the differences...

I am in a way sad that this is all coming to an end. I have become very close to my Azerbaijani friends who all call me Ghardash (means brother). Meeting new people has been the best part of this... But then, I realize that I still have a lot more going on and getting a little calmness back into my life, and getting back into a normal routine would probably do me good...

I hope you are all doing well. Your emails are wonderful. I appreciate them and thank you for your support. By the way, I heard that I was on the TODAY show on Tuesday morning! I'm a celebrity ; - )



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