Yes, it became common knowledge rather rapidly in Georgia that I would do just about anything for Thai food. If I could swing a meeting in the capital, which boasted exactly one great Thai place, I would be pretty sure to time it such that a meal was in order.
Even when I had dysentery I managed to squeak in a visit to the Thai place. At that time, I could barely even handle the scent of food, and plain rice was all I could stomach. Still, I was there.
When I returned to my site–the name Peace Corps gives the village, town or city in which a volunteer resides–my host mother asked me if I’d really gone for Thai, sick as I was. I sheepishly admitted that I had.
“But what could you eat?” she asked, shaking her head.
“Rice with dry bread,” I thought I said. “Rice with joy,” I actually said. She collapsed in mirth and I left her for the facilities.
The only problem with my Thai addiction, other than the dearth of Thai food in Georgia, was that half the time I was there, the country managed to be politically unstable.
As a result, volunteers were pretty much told to steer clear of the capital for the most part. Tragic. So beautiful a capital, so ancient, and so beneficent in Thai food.
Finally the day came when we were allowed in Tbilisi (with restrictions.) I stormed the city. By this I mean I climbed into a shattered yet miraculously moving minibus and hurtled down the potholed highway to Tbilisi, where I fell out shaking and breathless about 45 minutes later.
“Come,” I said, and began the march from the river up through Old Town to the Thai place. “Nothing can keep me from Thai food now! Nothing!”
My companion said nothing as we saw the first signs of a noticeable police presence. I too maintained a prudent silence. He might have cleared his throat as we ran past a barricade. I may have glared back at him, but my memory’s hazy on that.
“Nothing,” I repeated firmly, and stalked forth. We told ourselves everything was normal.
Old Town was pretty desolate. We walked those tiny alleys and gorgeous balconied roads, finally emerging just a few streets down from the restaurant. My internal soundtrack was almost back in happy gear. Thai food was so close, so tantalizingly, deliciously, irresistibly close. And everything had been calm and normal. We’d been overly sensitive to the sight of the police. I relaxed my shoulders.
Then we passed a huge swath of dark buses filled to the brim with soldiers. I frowned, but we sallied onwards.
“I guess you really meant it when you said nothing would stop you,” my companion remarked. I nodded silently, but I was beginning to feel perturbed. I know: late.
We turned the corner. We had arrived. It should have been the most joyous of moments.
But opposite us, across from the Thai place, were two huge groups of swat forces, dressed head to foot in black gear, including such bullet-proof vests as I’d only ever seen on Batman. Huge truncheons, machine guns, glass barricades, the whole shebang.
We looked at them. They looked at us. My companion raised his hand to knock at the door.
“What are you doing?” I hissed.
“It’s locked,” he answered, as if we weren’t gazing at two hundred deaths’ worth of men in black.
“Gah!” I responded reasonably. And grabbed his arm and began pulling us down the street and away.
“But I thought nothing would stop you–!” he protested.
“Nothing but swat teams,” I answered irritably, “Swat teams will stop me.”
We broke into a desperate jog. No Thai food for us. Not for weeks.