Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Chilling with Stalin

When I first decided I was going to come to Georgia I was really excited to tell anyone and everyone that I was about to go on an adventure and teach English for the year. The funny thing was that most people didn’t really know anything at all about the country. The responses I got were limited to the following five statements:

a)      Georgia? Where is that?
b)      Georgia? Don’t people in Atlanta already know English?
c)      Georgia? Are you insane?
d)      Georgia? Isn’t that where the winner of Project Runway was from?

But the most common I response I got was the following:

e)      Georgia? You know who comes from there? Stalin.

Yes, that Stalin. Despite the fact that Joseph Stalin was a man of questionable morals (to put it kindly) he’s definitely an iconic leader who had a huge influence on history.  Ever since I got to Georgia I’ve been eager to go the Stalin museum in Gori (the city where Stalin was born) and see how the museum presented him.

See, before I came to Georgia my parents gave me the following advice: “Never bring up Stalin. You never know who loves him and who hates him”. In my five months here so far, I’ve encountered both deep admiration for Stalin and extreme disgust for the man. I was honestly just curious to see how native Goriebi felt about the man.

On Saturday I finally made it to Gori. The girls and I actually got to the museum before it opened so we spent some time walking around the museum grounds and snapping photos. The house Stalin was born in and the train car he used to travel (he was terrified of flying) are actually in the museum courtyard.
Stalin's house!

Love him or hate him...

 In fact, I was so excited to see the train car that I didn’t notice the huge strip of black ice just in front of the train. Of course I slipped and fell flat on my back. Tara watched the whole thing in shock. It was rather painful and I ended up just lying there for a minute screaming some rather crude sayings blaming Stalin and his damn train for my intense back pain. If I wasn’t wearing two shirts, a sweater and a puffy winter jacket, I’d probably still be lying there blaming each individual member of the Bolshevik revolution- but since I was practically wearing padding I rallied from that fall ready to get my Stalin on.

Our admission to the museum included an English speaking tour guide who told us all about Stalin’s background; how he became a leader and how we went on to influence so many people. The tour was very informative, but didn’t touch upon any of the ‘bad things’ that Stalin did. Our tour guide, Tamuna, only casually mentioned that he was responsible for killing 47 million people but nothing in the museum actually noted this fact. Tamuna told us that the purpose of the museum is not to focus on the questionable actions of Stalin, but to show his sense of character and his journey to become such an influential person.

It was definitely interesting if not a bit surreal to hear someone talk about Stalin in such a glorified manner. With my western education I can only really compare Stalin with Adolf Hitler and I’ve yet to meet anyone who even marginally praises Hitler for being a great leader and omits the fact that he was also responsible for an entire genocide.

In addition to the museum we also went to Uplistsikhe, an ancient cave city from the third century. Uplistsikhe was just really cool and so beautiful. It’s pretty well preserved and you can see where the ancient apoteka, amphitheatre, winery were. We also had a great English speaking tour guide to tell us about the caves but I couldn’t help but finding his name to be so strange.

So get this- our tour guide’s name was Stalinberia. I was pretty taken aback when I heard this. For one thing, having ‘Stalin’ as part of your first name is pretty crazy, but the weird thing is that his name was Stalinberia. See, Beria is the last name of the man who supposedly poisoned Stalin who’s responsible for his death.

Sometimes I have a huge mouth with no filter and that happened to be the case when Stalinberia introduced himself. I think my exact words were, “Stalinberia? Like Stalin and his supposed murderer? That’s like being named Caesarbrutus!”

I probably should have kept my mouth shut but I couldn’t help it; all that kind of slipped out. His name surprised me so much that my mind started wandering on the tour thinking of other combination names encompassing a killer and his victim. (Other bizarre combo names I thought of include Lincolnbooth, Abelcain and Mufasascar). 
This one is for Barbara.
Right where they're standing is where human sacrifices took place way back in the day.
The whole gang (and Melissa's backpack)
Anyway, right after our tour the girls, Taylor and I actually stumbled upon the slaughtering of a cow. I can honestly that one of the saddest things I’ve ever heard is fellow cows mourning over their slaughtered companion. The “moos” they emitted were so woeful and full of sorrow; even the nearby stray dogs were whimpering over the dead cow that was just lying there spread-eagle.

Ironically enough, my day of Stalin and cow slaughtering was one of the loveliest days I’ve had yet. Granted, it might be due to the fact that the rest of our day was filled with adorableness. We met up with a sweet Fulbright scholar who is teaching English in Gori and already working on her PHD (she’s twenty-two) and later we cooked two huge pans worth of Israeli shakshuka at our hostel. (The easiest way to make friends at a backpacking hostel is to cook dinner and invite people to help you eat it). Then with our new hostel friends, we hit up a few bars in Tbilisi and just had a great, great night.
Meeting up with Fulbright scholars in Gori
Oh and in case you’re wondering, I rode the metro escalators all weekend and I didn’t shed a single tear.

1 comment:

  1. See? You do not F@k with Stalin. The Old bastard was truly Evil dude. Honestly I can hardly think of anyone liking him... (except for some 90 year old idiots in Gori... they where brainwashed in their time... hard to cure that i guess... but who cares?)