Friday, September 5, 2008

Soapbox: Russia’s invasion of Georgia

Posted By on Fri, Sep 5, 2008 at 3:29 PM

Guest blogger Charles McNair gives his eyewitness report from the front.

The little community of Flounder sits only a few miles off I-75. Here, short weeks after the Russians pulled out of Georgia, signs of invasion remain widespread.

Morning sunlight streams through a dozen bullet holes in the Welcome To Flounder sign. The town lies in ruins – apparently the Russians caved in most awnings on the old brick buildings along the town’s only paved street, and their cruel vandalism collapsed several roofs. Refrigerators, tires and mounds of valuables — obviously forced from houses by the ransacking soldiers — litter roadsides. The only sign of life is a lean hound, her teats nearly dragging the ground. Is she searching in vain for her newborn puppies, brutally seized by the invaders?

A burned car sits by the road, and other disabled vehicles of all shapes and sizes – pick-up trucks, all-terrain vehicles, even school buses – clutter front yards. Up a wooded hill, a black tornado of vultures circles something dead or perhaps just very smelly.

I hear the eerie cry of a rooster.

Flounder’s main street is a shell of its past grandeur. Broken glass crunches underfoot. The pavement is broken and pocked, clearly stressed beyond its capabilities by unimaginable weight. Who could imagine a stream of invading Russian T-90 tank convoys, troop transports and artillery vehicles could be so destructive to the durable brand of asphalt poured by the Georgia Department of Transportation?

I see my first body. It lies on its side, an old man with a grizzled white beard and shabby clothes characteristic of ethnic Georgians. The man appears to have died bravely, defending himself with the lone empty bottle that now lies next to his still form.

To my surprise, I find several Georgians huddled inside a small, grimy café, blowing on cups of coffee and plates heaped with interesting ethnic dishes.

I step inside. A wizened old peasant eyes me suspiciously when I ask what post-invasion Georgians now eat to survive.

He explains, in his rough language, that people here have been reduced to a staple food product created by soaking corn in a lye mix until it puffs up and softens like a bunion in a foot bath. The Georgians crush the balls of “hominy” into “grits” – small dry flakes resembling dandruff. These are boiled and eaten with salt.

The ethnic Georgian also confesses that he and many others consume the entrails of pigs, stuffed with meat from less attractive areas of the animals.

I point at a crusted object, split in half, a wound of purple oozing from it. (One cannot escape the lingering post-traumatic impressions of invasion.)

“What’s that?” I ask.

“Biscuit,” the Georgian mumbles in his rude English.

“What’s it made of?” I ask.

The old man glances around at his companions, silent as corpses, before carefully answering.

“Doh!”

I laugh heartily, clap him on the shoulder. Clearly, not even the horror of Russian invasion has robbed the ethnic Georgians of their sparkling sense of humor. And who would have imagined Homer Simpson would prove an inspiration and a source of levity at such a time, in such a place?

Other ethnic Georgians on the derelict streets of Flounder prove more reticent. I ask one small lady with the nervous eyes of a titmouse, “What did you do when the Russians were here?” Visibly uncomfortable, she looks in all directions, color rising to her cheeks and tiny cries escaping her lips, before she wrenches her small brown arm from my grasp and flees.

Oh trauma! What suffocating fear I find here, just 100 miles or so south of Atlanta.

Why hasn’t the world heard? Why didn’t Bush and Condoleeza send help? Where is the moral courage of the international community?

Still, this reporter gets the feeling that Flounder will be ready next time.

Behind the tumbledown hardware store, I find men and boys in ethnic Georgian costumes – camouflage jackets and the curious protective headgear endearingly known as “feed caps.”

The men have a dozen rifles and pistols. They are shooting at a life-sized target outlined in black paint on white butcher paper, fastened with steak knives to a tree.

Boom! Boom! Boom boom boom!

Gunsmoke fills a Georgia morning yet again.

I point at the target, half its head now missing, scraps of paper fluttering above it in the bright sun like little white doves of peace.

“What’s the target?” I yell excitedly. “A Russian invader?”

An ethnic Georgian spits tobacco, squints down his barrel.

“Fool,” he says. “That’s Bigfoot.”

Charles McNair is an Atlanta-based novelist and business writer, and Book Editor at Paste magazine.

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