by Alexei Altonen

      WHEN WAS AMERICA DISCOVERED? The right answer I would insist on to the dismay of my dear schoolteachers is in 1989. It was then that, in addition to the rich but still incoherent American mixture in my fullto-the-brim head (thanks to Stevenson and Twain, schoolbooks and mass media, Dreiser and Updike, rare American movies and my father's just-before-death stories about his childhood in remote Detroit), I got an invigorating jolt from an extremely powerful personal experience that not only informed but transformed me. At the end of August

      1989 at the Sheremyetovo 2 airport in Moscow I discovered "my America" - when I met "real Americans" for the first time in my life. They were an athletic trainer and a track coach, leading their small ISU track team. Bob and Joyce Kief turned out to be the most charming couple Sister Cities or the CIA could possibly recruit to capture my and many other hearts.

      B&J are very beautiful people and so were all the track and field athletes of their team. If not for their impressive results during the competition some days later, I would have suspected that the girls had been carefully screened to first of all match top beauty standards. Although the American athletes' way to Russia was really tiresome and stressful - Yuri Gorbashov (head of the city sports department) and I enjoyed it from the very first moments in Moscow, they radiated energy and warmth. There was no hint of what is called American formal smiles and arrogance among the genuinely sunny American athletes - or especially Bob and Joyce. The team's friendly demeanor was undoubtedly a reflection of the special warmth of their coach. When some years later I ran into Patty (once a member of that ISU team and now a PE teacher) the happiness of our unexpected meeting resulted in an impetuous kiss which was probably inappropriate within the school walls but genuinely reflected the warmth of her coach's personality.

      In 1989 the Kiefs within a week cleansed our brains and hearts of Cold War's pollution. Since then we have met and made friends with so many wonderful people from B-N and all over the USA, but honestly the Kiefs, who are themselves our greatest American discovery, remain the most caring and generous guides in our now almost 20 year long American expedition. The skyscrapers of Chicago and the riverboats in Hannibal, the snowy mountain peaks in Colorado and the alligators of Florida, the sights of Springfield and the spring blossoms in Chattanooga, the smoked ribs in Kansas City and the grapefruits of Sarasota, and, and, and... We owe B&J more than anyone else for what our eyes, ears, noses, stomachs and "kidneys" (i.e. brains) have absorbed in the US. With B&J planning, driving, feeding, leading us, we have accumulated tons of first-hand impressions to digest and tons of photos to revive them.

      There is no danger in praising truly great people, for they are people of dignity who hate puffing up.

      Since their youth (when it fell to Bob's lot to fight in WWII, probably the only period in his life not subject to his witty jokes) they have been working hard doing things they find necessary. Honestly and enthusiastically, all their souls fully invested. They keep living their own way - "lifefully" and "love fully" - despite any challenges. Never meaning to "teach" anybody, they can't but gladly and generously share all they possess with other people and here they are extremely high achievers. They have given Galya and me so much! We owe B&J so much joy and wisdom! We are very fortunate to discover America through this extremely noble couple and thus forever inseparably connect it with them!

      Isn't America very fortunate to have such great citizens and ambassadors!?.


1989 - 2009


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