I fell in love with Falafel on Thursday the 12th of January 2017, on an afternoon of clamouring with university coursework, alongside my Turk friend and her Pakistani companion.
It meant more to me than the delicate texture of the carefully knit together fried chickpeas dancing in a salad of tomatoes, cucumber, pickle and onions. It meant more than the hummus it was bathed in and the wrap within which it was clothed – even more than the chilli sauce that ran through the middle in a manner like the Red Sea. And when my name was written in Arabic on the papyrus-like paper in which it was cocooned, I was transported into a hurrying of waves of lost memories – each swooping over and through my mind in an epic frenzy as to say, hello and who are you?
See, there was a time the name falafel was associated with the unmentionable.
I admit I didn’t follow the rule. You know – the one that says,
don’t kick it until you’ve tried it
Well.. I kicked it. I kicked it over the hills and far away because my taste-buds were weaned by a man who had my heart at said point in time, who was a lover of double cheeseburgers and medium fries.
Upon meeting my 20s head on I’ve come to realise that sometimes, we hold onto things in the past not because we still live there but because it’s found a way into the workings of who we identify ourselves to be. I didn’t necessarily miss said man (and we’re still friends to this day), but I love double cheeseburgers (shout out to Mcdonalds) and up until 21 I dared not look at a falafel yet alone have a bite.
Ironically, I fell for the Arab world long after our relationship was over and yet still, held onto my ways. It was a part of me. At the mention of the name falafel, my system would automatically respond to the poor victim who offered it to me, brave enough to look at my face of disgust, with the words,
Falafel??! have you heard the name?
I never once thought to point that question mark at me.
Had I really heard the name? Had it ever occurred to me that the name falafel rouses itself from the Arabic root word falafil – to refer to a pepper? That by recognising these roots I would be able to trail it back to its country of origin, Egypt. A country responsible for the birth of civilisation, which formed the borders around the rich soil and sand that graced the feet of Ancient kings and queens; royalty that not only called it home but with it, built an empire.
It’s needless to say Arabic in and of itself is a beautiful language. They say Italy speaks the language of love but I say it’s the Middle East. Because there lies an Arab spring that knows what it means to fight for existence. Behind each roll of the tongue uttering the greeting Marhaban (مرحبا) echoes sounding cymbals of years of cultivation and never growing weary. There lies a group of countries that know how to get up from the aftermath of a war, to live on from the battlefield it has made of them. And at this reunion of broken parts, they emulate the invention of algebra (al-jabr/الجبر) a unifying thread between difficulties, uncertainties and familiarity. Because, for the first time if numbers always left you lost, at the very least, you always knew where to find the location of x.
In the end, unlike a few of its ancient counterparts (in some respect), Arabic has held on. And if I’ve come to know anything about love at 21 years of age, I know this: Love endures through every circumstance.
So cheers to falafel, a nourishment that not only taught me the need to let go but the necessary importance of holding on.