Felafel Math

Perhaps a symbol of Jordan’s position between the developing and developed world’s is the nature of the cost of living here. In many ways, it is much more expensive than other countries in the Middle East, though there are certain things that seem preposterously cheap. Alcohol, unsurprisingly, is extremely expensive, in part because the government adds a 20% tax on it. That means a glass of Amstel (a remarkably boring beer but the beer of choice here) will set you back roughly $8 in an Amman bar (there are no bars, as far as I can tell, in Irbid). Most goods at a super-market about roughly equivalent to their prices in America. Indeed, and once again unsurprisingly, things that seem more foreign or less common in everyday Jordanian life are quite pricey, while the bread and butter of Jordanian life costs pocket-change. For instance, while I paid 3 JD (roughly $5) for jar of Nutella in the nearby super-market (worth every penny) I was amazed that a kilo of pita bread cost me only 25 kersh (roughly 30 cents) and later learned that I was being over-charged and that I could get a kilo of fresh bread, still warm from the oven, near the souk downtown for 15 kersh!

The discovery of Jambo Felafel has only increased this trend. It is a take-out shop between the university and my apartment that sells two things: small felafel sandwiches and large felafel sandwiches (I always order large). For those of you who didn’t grow up within walking distance of the largest Armenian community in America and are befuddled, a felafel is a ball of ground chickpeas and spices deep-fat fried into a crunchy goodness. It’s one of the cornerstones of Middle East quisine and is eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and can be found at all of the hundred fast-foody places on University Street. What sets JF apart from the others I’ve tried is it’s glorious inclusion of vegetables (something quite hard to find in street or restaurant food here, despite the wealth of them available in the souk). It includes such great things as tomatoes in some sort of yoghurt-cream sauce, mint, and jarzeel (better known as arugula, the last thing I expected to see in the Middle East). I tried to explain the oddity of this bourgeois beauty at a fast-food joint to my Language Partner and he in turn tried to enlighten me on the, um, “medical enhancement” effects it gives to the maler sex (he plans to eat plate loads of the stuff once he’s married). The cost of this foot-long piece of Heaven? 50 kersh (65 cents).

Back in LA I would discuss the delimma of “taco math” with my friend Will Stahl who’s currently getting Ph. D in reading lots of German books from UCLA. He lives down the street from a truck selling phenomenal tacos a dollar each and visits it almost every day. This has created undue mathematical stress in the rest of his purchasing life as the price of all things boils down to an equivalent number of tacos. For instance, were he to purchase, say a high quality sandwich from one of our finer West-Side establishments (complete with the potency potion plant Aragula) for $10 he would have to debate with himself on whether said sandwich was really worth 10 tacos.

Such is my problem in Jordan.

I visited Amman last weekend and while it was nice to let my hair down, speak some English, drink some beer, have a pancake breakfast in togas, the felafel math crept up on me. I went to a nice, very hip, very “Echo Park/Brooklyn/Wicker Park in Amman” cafe where I was pleasantly surprised to find myself in the middle of a reading of a collection of stories from the last oral storytellers in Morocco, and loved the atmosphere and my giant glass of loose-leaf moroccan mint tea, but I couldn’t help thinking as I forked over my 3 JD for it that I could have eaten 6 falafel sandwiches for that price, hold the pickled turnips on each of them. As I began to think more I realized I’d just spent 8 sandwiches on a taxi ride across the city, had spend 12 sandwiches on a beer the night before, and was just about to blow a whopping 42 sandwiches to buy a copy of this book which while being extremely rewarding and opens the door a beautiful tradition which is sadly dying out and which will give me stories to tell to my children and my children’s children ad infinitum is still a LOT of sandwiches for a book.

And now my language partner tells me Jambo Felafel is over-charging me, that the felafal at HIS restaurant and at one down the street are even better, and that they only cost 25 kersh!

This math just got harder.

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