Enjoy a nice warm soothing cup of local Celestial Seasoning tangerine tea in the Boulder Inn Chautauqua Breakfast Room before taking a quiet walk along the nearby Boulder Creek Path. Stroll downtown and discover in Boulder’s civic core not far from the historic Pearl Street Mall and next to the Farmers Market a Peace Garden, a Sister City Plaza, a beautiful rose garden and the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse.

How did such an exquisite magical Persian teahouse get built in Boulder?

All these monuments including the tea house are directly the result of Boulder’s own brewed foreign policy. Yes, a municipal foreign policy heated and fueled by citizen to citizen diplomacy. Boulder’s Sister Cities program, a member of Sister Cities International, is made up of Boulder residents who believe through mutual respect and cooperation, people across the world form meaningful relationships fostering peace and prosperity. Doing global diplomacy locally makes big changes from small steps – and shared sips – one sister municipal community at a time. Sister Cities International was founded in 1956 by Dwight Eisenhower to build a more lasting peace through people to people interactions. The point was to form legal and social bonds between disparate cultures, and promote relationships between former enemies such that they become friends forevermore. Deciding who your new sister is going to be however plunges local politics into international hot water. The City of Boulder has more than seven sister cities. Each has their own story but only one has a teahouse. Before you can have a cup of tea cold water must be warmed. Before the City of Boulder could have a Dushanbe teahouse citizen activists found a way to warm up a Cold War.

dushanbe teahouse

Boulder-Dushanbe Sister Cities was initiated in the winter of 1982, when two Boulder women, Mary Hey and Sophia Stoller, decided they’d had enough of the rhetoric and unease of the continuing Cold War. They had been involved in the Nuclear Freeze movement and had protested at a local and not so secret Rocky Flats nuclear weapons production facility south of Boulder County to advocate for halting the proliferation of nuclear weapons. At the time, many feared nuclear war between the US and the former Soviet Union was a very real possibility. The two women talked in a church basement about the frightening prospect of war with the Soviet Union and the ensuing environmental disaster of a nuclear winter. What could be done? They had been actively involved with the peace movement in opposition to war but wondered if there was something positive they could do instead of protesting against war that would increase peace. As they talked they were amazed about how little they knew about the US’s mortal enemy the Soviet Union and wondered if others felt the same. Would people like to know more about those people in the ‘evil empire’?

When the journey began war seemed to be looming and no one knew much about this “other” enemy called the Russians. What can an individual do? Boulder scientists were in connection with Russian scientists via the Soviet Academy of Sciences and other academies and regardless of the Cold War the scientists continued to meet and collaborate. Federal labs just a few blocks away from the Boulder Inn had scientists visiting their peers in Russia. These scientists were also active members of their church community and some were husbands to wives active in the nuclear freeze movement. These scientists had traveled to the Soviet Union a number of times when virtually no one else had been there. In 1982 few people had actually met a Russian.

Peace activists sought to understand the people of the Soviet Union by educating themselves, identifying specific fears people had about the USSR and humanize the Soviet people in our eyes by promoting a more rational understanding between people in the US and the people of the USSR. The Sister City project would be born from this educational effort. The peace activists would drop the politics of protest and disarmament to reach out in sisterhood to the Soviet Union with the belief that they love their children as much as we do our own. The actual introductions between the Sister cities would occur because of the interweaving connections in our respective scientific communities.

The initial local organizing group was small and just ‘mucking around trying to figure things out as they went’. They took advantage of any opportunity that arose to have someone who had been to the Soviet Union come and talk to them. They put on monthly educational programs expecting a small turnout and to their surprise 100 people came including ROTC students hoping to better understand this ‘other’ Soviet Union. The organizing group decided to be benign, apolitical and to serve Russian food and tea. It seems people are nicer to each other when they have eaten and have sipped some warm tea.

The group sought out people who were not ideologically committed in any particular direction. They sought out people who could open themselves up and have fun admitting their ignorance about the ‘other’ Soviets. Besides scientists they brought in mountain climbers anyone who had first had experience with the Soviets. Over time this educational group decided they wanted to have a sister city relationship with a Soviet city. With citizen persistence in 1984 Boulder signed a document creating the Boulder Sister City Program, by-passing bureaucrats at local, national and international levels who were unwilling to consider a proposal for friendship, the Boulder Sister City Program stubbornly made one overture after another until in 1987, the city of Dushanbe the capital of Tajikistan, a part of the then Soviet Union, as the Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic became Boulder’s Sister City. But the journey to sisterhood was not easy or certain. At the time Sister Cities International recognized only six pairings of US cities to the Soviet Union. All of which had been formed with a top down mandate. Five were established by fiat during the early 1970’s associated with the nuclear arms talks between Brezhnev and Nixon. The sixth set up as a labor to labor paring associated with some trade talks. None were very active because they did not have the interest of the local people to keep them functioning. Boulder had the interest of its citizens but there was no blueprint on how a local grassroots citizen initiative starts a Sister City relationship with the Soviet Union. The group just kept ‘mucking on’ by in part writing letters to the State Department, embassy and whoever they thought of asking for help on how to do this seemingly impossible thing.

Soviet citizens could not reach out in this way. Whatever they did had to be officially sanctioned. A small group of concerned committed citizens in Boulder however could. But what city do you propose adopting as your sister? It was Boulder scientists who led the way as the official path was getting nowhere. The scientists made the initial forays into Russian cities with mountains, bike paths, university, and science labs to see if there could be a match with Boulder. After some people to people connection had been made the next step was to call and visit the Soviet Embassy to get permission. This was a chilly time during the Cold War. Calling the Soviet Embassy meant you would have a FBI file on you for sure. And how did the evil empire answer the phone? They said ‘Hello’ in such a normal way that truthfully it made the initial call even that much weirder. The first call led to four years of visits to the embassy which were always surreal outings with the machine guns always present, the waiting room of two way mirrors on all sides and people around you in dark Dick Tracy like trench coats. The first city the group proposed to be a sister to Boulder was not Dushanbe but “Akademgorodok” which roughly means “university town” in Russian. Boulder is a university town too so this must be a good match, right?

The Soviet embassy was not interested in this at all. A representative from Boulder would show up at their door with letters of goodwill from the Chamber of Commerce, the Mayor and almost always with fresh Celestial Seasoning tea bags. Nothing was convincing the Soviets to be friends with Boulder. And Boulder persisted.

The Soviets hung on to the Sister City policy that required Sister Cities to be at least the population of 100,000 and at the time Boulder was about 85,000 people. Even if they wanted to be friends it was not possible because of official policy. And yet Boulder would not go away. This was a little bit of a nightmare for Soviet embassy officials. Boulder citizens kept coming back wanting to be in sisterhood with the town of Akademgorodok. A Boulder delegation presented the embassy with clippings of their most recent Russian festival which had grown to be about 700 people. The Soviets were not interested and nothing was going to change their minds. But laughter did.

During one Russian festival the Boulder Balalaika Band organized by a Russian language teacher at Boulder High School played traditional Russian music. When a very stoic Soviet official saw these news clippings about the band he began to laugh. “There is a Balalaikaika band in Boulder Colorado?” then he really began to ask questions. He said he would try to do something for Boulder but he also made it very clear that they don’t do any sister city under a 100,000. That is a rule. And the Soviets were sticklers to following rules. However with the next generation of Soviet leadership emerging there was a new openness happening in the Soviet Union but it was still a very cautious restructuring process. What is to be done with these pesky Boulderites? You don’t want to be impolite and close the door on their face while international negotiations are going on. And yet even the happy people of Boulder need to realize they can’t be friends to anybody they choose. Within a couple weeks of sharing the Boulder Balalaikaika band story Boulder gets a little notice saying again that ‘only cities of 100.000’ and then in parentheses ’(or maybe 80,000) will be considered as a Sister City’.

The Soviets had a face saving out and Boulder had a way in. Boulder was ready to be friends with Akademgorodok but the same Soviet official who added that parentheses discouraged Boulders first sisterhood choice because there were not many hotels there. This other city Boulder scientists visit in Dushanbe, Tajikistan would be much, much better, it has mountains, weather like Boulder and is also on the fortieth parallel like Boulder too. The Boulder Inn is right on Baseline road which is the 40th parallel and if you followed that road straight for 7,000 miles you would find a hotel in Dushanbe to stay at as well. A win, win. Well Boulder was just as thrilled to have a sister in Dushanbe as in Akademgorodok. One sister or another will do just fine. The Soviets were very relieved to change the focus of Boulder municipal sister relations. Akademgorodok it turned out had few hotels because it was a closed city due to its secret biological weapons manufacturing. There was a new Glasnost (“openness”) and Perestroika (“restructuring”) sweeping across the Soviet Union but they were not ready to share all their secrets with a new ‘sister’. The Soviet embassy knew Boulder had its Rocky Flats nuclear trigger manufacturing plant nearby but were totally freaked out that the sister city Boulder citizens initially wanted to have was suppose to be a completely secret place.

The mayor of Dushanbe, Maksud Ikramov, was very excited about the changes in Soviet life but it was a lot to manage. Dushanbe is much closer geographically to the mountains in Afghanistan than the central corridors of Soviet power. And Dushanbe is much closer to Islamic culture than Russian society. The Boulder scientists going to Dushanbe on business started to carry letters of introduction but for several years the mayor was never available to meet them. Too much was going on. The Boulder delegation went back to the Soviet embassy and then the next time a Boulder scientist came to talk to the mayor of Dushanbe he met with them, and said in English “You people in Boulder are very persistent!” Boulder was determined to make friends with Dushanbe either face to face or by Soviet embassy decree.

In the 7th Century BC, the area we now know as Tajikistan was settled at the eastern periphery of the Persian Empire. Situated a bit south of the Silk Road trails, the area has seen invasions by Alexander the Great, Mongols, Arabs, Turks, and Russians. Today, Tajikistan, with a population of 7 million, is about the size of Iowa, and is bordered to the east by China, to the north by Uzbekistan and Kyrgystan, and to the south by Afghanistan. At the western end of the Himalayas, its terrain is 93% mountainous, with peaks towering to 24,000 feet. The Tajik language is like Persian. Dushanbe {doo-shan-bay’} is the capital of Tajikistan. The name, meaning “Monday,” is derived from the day of the week on which a bazaar was held in the village on the site. The original village of Dushanbe was chosen in 1924 as the capital of the Tajik Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic within the USSR. In 1929 it became capital of the Tajik SSR and was renamed Stalinabad. In 1961, during the de-Stalinization period, the city reassumed its original name. With the dissolution of the Tajik SSR in 1991, it became the capital of an independent Tajikistan. Dushanbe now has a population of about 600,000 and its people are struggling with the aftermath of civil war following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

In the 1980’s Boulder citizens’ delegation with approval from the UN to the amusement of journalists everywhere traveled to Dushanbe. It was a long trip with many stops. The Boulder citizen delegation was uncertain about what their reception would be. When they finally got off the last plane in Dushanbe there was no official welcome at all. They barely were able to find their way on their own to the hotel. This trip was going to be them chasing after the mayor just like the Boulder scientists have done for years. They were dejected but still determined when they started to check in to the hotel. They were asked for their names and as they gave them big smiles broke out on the front desk staff. The hotel staff already knew their names because they had read about them in the government owned paper. But they did not just use their names but added honorifics to each name such that they were called the ‘amiable’ or ‘honorable’ Joan Smith. These beleaguered citizen activists were going to be treated like royalty and a new sisterhood between these two cities would be forged.

Dushanbe suffered from a tradition of prejudice in the Soviet Union because of their heritage of Islam. To have a sister City in the US with people interested and curious about their culture meant a great deal. And they showed it. A banquet was held in their honor with more glasses and silverware than some had ever seen on a dining table before. All these official government people were there standing around and Boulder citizen activists were trying to talk and schmooze with as many as possible to help forge forward the new sister city relationship. The deputy mayor of Dushanbe comes up to the Boulder citizens and tells them they have to sit. No one else will sit until they do and no one knows where to sit until they do too. Everything is very hierarchical and bureaucratic. People are jockeying around to see who could sit closest to the Boulder delegation. And then the whole lot of them drank a lot of vodka in celebration. It is one of those things in central Asian culture to drink to seal the completion of a new deal. You simply can’t refuse. There are rumors of dancing into the late night between the Mayor of Dushanbe and the future Mayor of Boulder but it is at best a blurred memory. It was nonetheless a great way to begin a municipal sisterhood.

Well one delegation deserves another so after a few years the Russians were coming to Boulder. David Grimm, Director of Communication for the City of Boulder recalled headlines declaring “The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming!” The New York Times headlines ‘Dateline stories’ made fun of “Dateline: Boulder, Colorado” as being in its own bubble for making these sister to sister peace initiatives. Who do they think they are? They wrote about Boulder foreign policy first as a human interest humor piece. Places like “Dateline: New York” or “Dateline: London” are not identified as “Dateline: New York, New York” or “Dateline: London, England” or “Dateline: Paris, France” but only as “Dateline: New York” or “Dateline: England” or “Dateline: Paris”. It is a subtle distinction but an important one. It is the difference between being anywhere USA and being somewhere exciting and cosmopolitan. Marketing professionals realized the city at the base of the Flatirons had made it bigtime when it had reached the peak of national interest and was no longer referred to in the press as, “Dateline: Boulder, Colorado.” But simply, subtly and powerfully “Dateline: Boulder” Apparently, the nation understood that “Boulder” was this world in itself probably much like Disneyland. But you didn’t have to say where Boulder was. People knew. Everyone knew not only because Boulder has its own foreign policy (chuckle, chuckle) but also because Boulder is a place where you want to be. And now also a place with an unexpected rare gift, a beautiful Dushanbe artisan built teahouse.

When the people of Dushanbe and Boulder lead their respective mayors will follow. Even when citizens do most of the work it is still the mayors following formal protocol who sign the final sister city agreements. It is customary, traditional and offensive not to. Dushanbe Mayor Maksud Ikramov came to Boulder and Boulder Mayor Linda Jourgensen hosted the formal signing event in a historic downtown Hotel Boulderado. Now nation states have their own interpreters but municipal governments don’t normally budget for such things. It seemed to not be a problem because the Dushanbe delegation brought their own interpreters. They also brought a KGB officer dressed in black with a black briefcase, who sat in back, said nothing but was clearly the Soviet overseer of the whole deal. After the signing ceremony there was a small exchange of gifts. Boulder gave the visiting Dushanbe delegation more gift bags containing Celestial Seasoning Tea and the Dushanbe delegation gave Boulder a small model of a historic Persian tea house. City staff thought it would look good in the public library display case to familiarize residents to Dushanbe culture. When all the formalities were done and the last people were starting to leave the KGB officer comes up to the table and opens his briefcase. Inside there are two bottles of vodka. Now that the signing ceremony is done it is their custom to drink an entire bottle. You are not allowed to sip the vodka you have to toss it. Not wanting to cause an international incident Boulder Mayor Linda Jourgensen complies with established protocol. When the bottle is done at around only 2 pm in the afternoon the Mayor decides to leave the hotel and begin to walk back to city hall which is only about five blocks away. However the sidewalk seems much more difficult to negotiate than usual. The city public relations guy, David Grimm, decides they cannot walk back in this condition in public and gets them a cab instead. This keeps the news of a tipsy mayor out of the press but gives city staff a lot of concern since no one drives that short of a distance. Bike, walk, skip, jump, leap, bound, bolt sure, whatever but something was wrong for the mayor to drive.

dushanbe teahouse
dushanbe teahouse

What was going wrong was not vodka induced. The real elephant in the room was actually a lack of translation between the two parties as papers were being signed, hands being shaken and final agreements toasted with abundant good cheer. It turned out that the city of Boulder had not signed an agreement to accept a scale model of a Dushanbe Teahouse it received on signing day, nor the shed sized gazebo they later thought they had to find space for but an actual marvelous full sized teahouse to be delivered later. The City had no idea about the scale of the gift because they did not have their own translator other than the universal language of love and peace. Sometimes with luck, especially amongst friends, that is enough.

Why did Dushanbe send Boulder a teahouse? Sometimes that question is answered with a story within a story. In town there is a mosque and one day it is gone. Later it is discovered that the mosque had been disassembled in the night and reassembled in another town. But people wondered why? Well the people in the other town are not very good Muslims and seem to need the mosque more. Did the mayor of Dushanbe think that although Celestial Seasoning tea is quite good but perhaps the citizens of Boulder need to know more about how enjoy their tea?

A couple years later, after the signing ceremony, David Grimm in the City Manager’s office takes a surprise phone call from a Port Authority saying they need to finish unloading this boat and there are all these crates on it labeled ‘Boulder, Colorado.’ “What is it?” Port Authority guy says, “I don’t know. I got hundreds of crates here from someplace—Tajikistan, or Jerkistan, or whatever. But they’re on this boat. We got them here. You gonna store them? You going to ship them? What are you going to do?” No one knew. “I don’t know. Can you pry off one of the sides of the crate and see what it is.” Silence. Comes back, “I can’t tell. It’s like painted stuff. It’s like ceramic painted stuff. I’m not opening any more. Store them or ship them?”

The City Manager had them shipped and a week later, the city had a warehouse room full of crates as big as a house. They were delivered to the wastewater treatment plant because it was the only indoor storage place available that was large enough. The City Communications Director, the Assistant City Manager and the Mayor go out and pry off the tops of these crates, and it is majestically beautiful ceramic work. Maybe it’s not ceramics or what, but hand-painted, just beautiful, which appear to be masonry pieces, and no one really know what it is. As more and more of the crates are opened the word comes back that apparently it is a disassembled building, because there’s a sheet in it somewhere, printed in Tajik, that connect slot A to corner B ect. And it’s this giant Lego set or Ikea project, but beautifully crafted. It didn’t take too long for the forensic scientists at the City of Boulder, in cooperation with the University of Colorado’s Eastern Studies, to figure out what had been shipped an actual, hand-made Dushanbe Teahouse, in pieces.

It has been cut up and shipped like a jigsaw puzzle with a sheet that tells you how to put it together, but no one can read the sheet. What to do? What to do? The City having David Grimm as a smart public relations guy didn’t tell anyone. Say nothing. Don’t go to the press. Don’t say, “We have a teahouse!” The Dushanbe teahouse lived out there at the wastewater treatment plant for two or three years in crates. Because now the City of Boulder had to finally translate and figure out that in fact it did agree to erect the Teahouse and find a home for it.

That is a huge process finding who will give a piece of land to put it on, and who is going to raise the money to erect the thing. Some gifts can be too expensive to accept and the city feared this might be the case with the Dushanbe Teahouse. However the mayor did sign the agreement and drink with the KGB to seal the deal so a way to build it in its new home in Boulder had to be found. But where? The Teahouse was a spectacular free gift but everything else associated with it costs money. Where does the money come from? Can the Teahouse be returned to Dushanbe without causing an international incident? Oh my! What has that drunken Mayor gotten Boulder into?

It took over three years for the Boulder city Council to agree to take the gift. The local paper called it a ‘white elephant’. The international mercenary magazine “Soldier of Fortune” headquartered in Boulder claimed it was bugged to gather intel regarding Rocky Flats. Others thought Dushanbe was too poor of a struggling nation to lavish their money on such a gift. Still others thought for the price of a cup of tea Boulder was simply a bunch of communist dupes willing to ignore the real plight of Tajikistan Soviet Jews. Others were concerned that although the teahouse was outside the 100 year flood plain it was not outside the 200 year flood plain which no other municipality used for planning. Celestial Seasoning offered to host it on his factory grounds just outside of town but others wanted it downtown near the civic core.

The City of Boulder truly did not know what it had gotten itself into and had one heck of a time trying to figure a way out. Where citizen activists lead eventually the city is forced to follow and even fund but not without first considerable debate. What had happened after the signing ceremony is forty plus artisans from Tajikistan hand-made the teahouse over a period of two years, took it apart, and then packed the pieces into about 200 crates to be shipped to Boulder. The trades used by the artisans were passed from generation to generation within families, such as the use of nature, and repetition of patterns, descendant from traditional Persian design. It is also important to note that no power tools were used in the original construction of the tea house. It is truly majestic but in its 200 crates very hard for the city to describe to the general public of Boulder. The Boulder Dushanbe Sister City program and a local architect visited Dushanbe during the construction of the teahouse and were surprised by its grandiose design. Their initial reports to Boulder City Hall however were either not read or not taken seriously. Bureaucracies sometimes don’t know what one department or another is doing much less a citizen powered sister city program visiting a foreign land. The teahouse was going to be larger than a backyard shed. People thought it was going to be the same size a one recently given to Klogenford, Austria. It turned out to be four times larger. It turned out to be the largest gift given by the Soviet Union to the people of the US and once the reality of the gift settled in people realized with such a gift came certain responsibilities.

Local politics regarding development in Boulder is very difficult. Always has been. Had the Teahouse been the size of a shed or small gazebo it would have still gone through a formal city planning approval process. Boulder is probably the only city in the country that requires site design approval for sheds. Negotiating a Sister City relationship between Cold War adversaries may have been easier than securing a site and approvals to erect a full size Tea House. In the top down hierarchal society of Dushanbe it was very hard to explain these delays. Why can’t the mayor simply give an order and make it happen? That is how they built the teahouse in the first place. Planning obstacles and lack of funds meant that it took almost a decade to erect the teahouse. Many dedicated individuals kept the project alive by continuously promoting the unique gift in the community year in and year out. Rosemary McBride was one such volunteer who always wore a striped coat she got from Dushanbe around town and to all the public meetings regarding the teahouse. She promised to wear it until the teahouse was built. She would wear it for almost a decade. She was a very active community volunteer. People would recognize her and know what she was advocating for even as the jacket began to fray and its colors began to fade.

A new City Manager, Tim Honey, was hired in 1991 and he inherited this problem and as a new hire was of course told to fix it. His job was to get on top of the issue and either return the teahouse or get it built. In the end it would cost him his job to get it done and earn him another. He wanted Boulder to not just be a nationally recognized City but one with international stature. First he had to get a geography lesson to learn more about Dushanbe and take a field trip to the waste water treatment facility to open some crates and see what this fuss was all about. Only upon seeing it could he too really believe that yes in fact this needed to be built. That was true for all who saw it but the crates were opened only for a few. City Council repeatedly played the role of the Grinch and voted 5 to 4 that no public funds, not even a penny be used to get the teahouse situated, built and operational.

A local business man Frank Day, owner of the Hotel Boulderado where the teahouse papers had been signed and owner/founder of the popular Old Chicago pizza franchises offered to run the teahouse as a profitable pizza parlor. The offer was not considered very classy but he wasn’t that very serious he just wanted the city to realize how ridiculous it was to have this public treasure of art not have the city willing to ante up any of the funds. Because of his philanthropic commitment to the city he also submitted a genuine proposal to run the teahouse as a tea parlor business but not expecting it to be a profitable as his Old Chicago pizza franchises. He lined up all the financing from the banks and was ready to launch the venture for the greater good of the city when a pesky environmental assessment gave private banks wet feet of caution. The site for the teahouse turned out to be a superfund site needing clean up as it had been an ‘town gas’ refinery in the late 1800’s early 1900’s providing early Boulder homes with gas for lights and heating. The site has since been cleaned up but at the time traditional financing was not going to work for the teahouse. The city ended up having to finance the project by selling water rights for $700,000 to a neighboring mall development that turned around and built a mall that killed Boulder’s mall and the sales tax revenues it generated.

With all things lined up the City Council would still not budge. In 1997 over a fundamental disagreement with the City Council regarding a different issue the City Manager announced he was resigning and he was able to expend his remaining political clout to leave gracefully by horse trading one council member ‘no’ vote to a ‘yes’ and get the final agreement to build the Teahouse. It cost him his job but he got it done. After a year of travel and work abroad the former City manager took on his next job as the executive director of Sister Cities International in Washington DC. Sister city relationships work out in mysterious ways.

After nearly a decade during which the teahouse remained unassembled in storage crates, many members of the community supported erecting the teahouse by donating thousands of dollars in private donations, but it was not enough. Costs kept escalating. Finally, the Teahouse Trust was able to negotiate an arrangement with the City of Boulder that allowed lease revenues generated by a restaurant operator to pay for a substantial portion of the million-plus dollar funds needed to erect the structure in accordance with Boulder building code. This arrangement was in keeping with city government sentiment that taxpayer funds should not be used for the endeavor. The teahouse was erected on city property and opened to the public in 1998. The sister’s city’s project itself basically, in concert with the city, works out all these technical details. Now the City is going to assemble the thing. And it is worse than an Ikea project. The City can’t build it because the City can’t read the instruction sheet. So David Grimm recalls “we work out a deal—and I think there were 30 to 40 artisans from Dushanbe that came across the big moat. They don’t speak English. And they helped erect the teahouse. The artisans explain that “the purpose of the teahouse is to make our souls happy”. David Grimm former Communications Director for the city of Boulder explains “Now, having accidentally found this treasure washed up on our shores by accident of the signing of a pen on a day in the Hotel Boulderado, has to be one of Boulder’s finest art treasures that we have. I’m not sure the public quite understands this. They aren’t built anymore. The communists smashed them down in Tajikistan. We have an actual architectural work of art that the community—although it’s a lovely place to go to as a restaurant—it’s kind of like dining at the Lincoln Memorial. It is—I believe it’s that special. And we are blessed to have received that in Boulder’s own fashion by falling off a log backwards. The teahouse is the only Central Asian teahouse in the western hemisphere. Dushanbe gave a smaller teahouse about a quarter the size to Klogenford, Austria. It is more of a pavilion in a park than a full sized teahouse. According to one US government official it is the largest gift to the US from the Soviet Union ever. “

When the teahouse finally opened there were dignitaries from around the world. The proprietors Sara & Lenny Martinelli had not been able to work in the kitchen yet because they had yet to secure a needed certificate of occupancy. On opening day was their first time in the kitchen to prepare a feast for a grandiose celebration. They told their staff that if they could survive and get through this first day they could get through any day after. They did a great job and continue to do so. Celestial Season Tea came out with a new flavor of Tangerine Tea in honor of the opening of the teahouse. Sadly some dignitaries were not there. The former Mayor of Dushanbe suffered imprisonment after the collapse of the Soviet Union and upon his release would later be reelected Mayor of Dushanbe. He died of a heart attack before seeing his gift of a teahouse open in Boulder as did the chief artisan architect Lado Shanidze.

There are so many people to thank and so many stories to share about how the teahouse came to Boulder Colorado that it is easy to forget the teahouse is itself built upon the substance of legends and myths. The role of ornament in a magical building like the teahouse is to provide guidance on how people should live their lives in harmony with the world of nature and the rhythms of the universe. It is incredible that such lessons can come from a building but before written language became a common tool for communication buildings conveyed these messages through the images carved on their walls, floors and ceilings. The teahouse is an architectural wonder found within a rose garden. The teahouse is not separate from the roses outside but rather a rose itself as an indoor garden created by Tajik artisans whose craftsmanship has been passed on by generation to generation. The original teahouse design was open to the elements. It was enclosed to make the teahouse more suitable to Colorado weather. A master wood carver said “The teahouse is like a flower. We hope it brings people happiness and enjoyment. People will come, drink coffee or tea and look up and it will make their souls happy”. The garden in Tajik/Persian culture is special in part because within their desert climates flowers and trees are highly valued and appreciated. The garden is a metaphor for paradise. Central to this indoor garden surrounded by intricate ornamental design telling stories of creation and the tree of life are seven sculpted beauties bathing in a pond. Looking closely you see their eyebrows form one continuous line which is a sign of beauty.

The seven beauties are in the middle of these cedar wood beams holding up the teahouse. Cedar is not native to Tajikistan. The cedar lumbar was secured by the Tajik government by declaring a military emergency in the Soviet Union so Moscow would send them a truck load of cedar logs from Siberia to be used on the teahouse. It was that important to have the right beams surrounding the seven beauties. In the central pool of the teahouse surrounded by these beams are seven hammered copper sculptures based upon the 12th century poem completed in 1197ad “The Seven Beauties” which is the 4th poem in Nizami Ganjavi’s “Khamsa” which means “Five Treasuries”. The poems tell the adventures of Shah Bahram Goirr. The sculpture of seven women carrying water represent the seven beauties of the Old Persian folk tale from the 12th century in which seven women represent different parts of the known world. Nizami uses well documented events to explore themes of social justice, morality and appreciation for nature. The poem is notable for its deep content, rich composition and prominent poetic value.

In the middle ages the number seven was considered a sacred number. The world was divided into seven continents, there were seven planets, the week was divided up into seven days and a spectrum of lights revealed seven colors. In his youth the hero of the sotry sees portraits of the seven daughters in a luxurious palace and falls deeply in love with them all. When he grows up and becomes the Shah of Iran he sends for the seven women and marries them all. Each is given their own palace with their own color, and one day a week the Shah visits with one of them. Each woman tells the shah a story from her native land that inspires honesty, virtue and kindness while denouncing villainy, greediness and treachery. The stories not only entertain the Shah but help him to ponder the secrets of the universe and human nature while learning to be a good king. No one has been able to tell which of the seven beauties is which story and that is just one of the many mysteries of the teahouse. There are seven but they are all one and the same too. The teahouse is a great tribute to all seven of Boulder’s sister cities.

To this day the Dushanbe Teahouse is one of Boulder’s crown jewels and serves tea and international edible delights daily to the friendly, happy and most fortunate people of the city. Sip deeply amongst the company of dear good friends and tell your own stories while creating new magical ones. Reflect upon the beauty around you inside and out and imagine the possibilities of what happens when concerned groups of citizens in even different countries decide to start mucking around for peace. From our soul sister Dushanbe with warmth, friendliness and love for all the Tea House is Boulder forever.