The True Price

الإثنين 13 نيسان 2009

Written by Ramsey Tesdell

It would be one thing if I was blonde, blue-eyed, and had terrible/no Arabic. But I’m not; I have long curly brown hair, brown eyes and a complexion that a paint catalog would describe as ‘warm olive.’ It is for this reason that I become irate every time I am overcharged for something. Instantly, my typically cool and well-tempered demeanor changes into that of a startled mother bear.

It happens often enough that I’ve even named the phenomenon, the Ajnabi Tax.

When I’m by myself, I don’t usually get the Ajnabi tax, but when I’m showing around my father (who is of the blonde, blue-eyed type) we get picked out for the special tariff. Or recently, traveling with two friends from the US, we were picked out quite often as well. It happens often in the balad, Jebel Amman, and anywhere else on the well-trodden tourist trail.

My favorite deflection of the incessant “Welgome Welgome,” “Where you go?” and “Where you are from?” is any variety of greetings, but particularly, I employ the always fashionable “salam wa alekum.”

The things is, if it was just these random shop owners, taxi drivers, and other opportunistic people it wouldn’t be that bad. Once I start arguing in Arabic I can usually get the price down around that of a local. But it isn’t just that, it’s the institutionalized Ajnabi tax that really gets me fired up.

For example, in Aqaba, my friends and went to the public beach area near the town center to sit on the water and have a cup of tea. After enjoying the warm sun, the friendly family atmosphere, and a cup of tea, we were slapped in the face with the price. The little capitalist wanted one JD for each cup of tea. Needless to say, I went ballistic. The typically short negotiation escalated quickly into a full out battle.

There was no way in hell I was going to pay one JD for a cup of tea. We argued about the price and he did not back down. I asked him if I came with any of my family living here how much we’d pay. He replied 25 piasters. No luck this time. We paid the three JD bill and left.

Despite the seemingly discriminate pricing structure – like the Dead Sea marathon, for example, is 13 JD for a Jordanian and 110 USD for everyone else, or Petra, which is two JD for Jordanians and 26 for foreigners – and despite my anger, I understand why this happens and even believe it to be reflecting the true price of things.

Allow me to explain.

For those of us who have foreign passports, we come from extreme privilege, whether we recognize it or not. My father, being American and my mother Jordanian, I can’t receive Jordanian citizenship and have to rely only on my US passport. (A disgustingly discriminatory law) But with my US citizenship, I am afforded privileges and rights that most ordinary Jordanians will never experience. I am waved through security checkpoints, get paid more because we are ‘international staff,’ and most importantly, the American passport allows me to travel freely to nearly every country.

The American Empire has positioned herself (as Britain and Europe did in recent history) in such a way that has sucked out resources from across the globe, flexed her military muscle enough that when I pull out that bright blue passport, I am afforded the privilege that the passport brings with it. Sometimes it is difficult to complain.

As much as it raises my blood pressure to dangerous levels, as much as I can’t afford some of the prices for foreigners, I agree with the Ajnabi tax. Americans and Europeans deserve to pay a bit extra for the environmental damage they’ve (we) brought, for the destruction they (I) have rained down on nearby Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and for the culture of dependency they (we) have created in Jordan and across the Arab world.

I’m no economist, and I’m real bad with numbers (words too apparently) but maybe some really smart economist person could quantify a financial costs of these things, and calculate that just maybe the Ajnabi tax does a small bit to reflect the true costs. Even the ultra-capitalist, free market cheerleader, and writer for the New York Times, Thomas Friedman has realized that, for capitalism to not destroy our world, things like air and water needed to be quantified and valued appropriately, possibly through heavy governmental regulation – I never thought I’d hear Friedman say those words!

So the next time I get charged 1 JD for a cup of freaking tea or 110 USD to run 21K, my blood pressure will still hit the roof, my face will still turn bright red, and my demeanor will probably become just as belligerent as before. But in the back of mind, I’ll know the reason why and secretly agree with them.

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