Cafe Series 2: Longer tables, loving thy neighbour

Cafe series: I’m writing from a different cafe each week, as a form of discipline, and self-care, and time management (when I’m here, in a cafe, I can’t distract myself with the books on my bedside or the dirty laundry basket. I’m just here, with a laptop and my words.).

Cafe: Twig & Sparrow, Woodpecker Avenue, Willetton
Drink: Chai lattes for two; Eden has joined me rather than go to school with a cold

Our new nearer-to-the-city suburb has pockets of higher density living than we’re used to. Our old house sat on an almost-sprawling block with a leafy backyard and room for cartwheels in the front yard, too. Here we’ve a pocket of lawn out the front, and the back is entirely paved, save for a tiny garden bed from which two pomegranite trees grow. We are one of four houses squished on subdivided blocks, and though our fences separate us, we are close. Close enough to be familiar with neighbour voices that float from living rooms, and food smells that waft from barbeques.
We’ve said hello to our neighbours in passing, had a chat at the letterbox or as we’ve wheeled bins to the curb, waved from cars coming and going.

One family is shy. They have been in Australia for years but the English language barrier still brings insecurity. Their faces are open and friendly, their four year old daughter remembering my name easily because of her love of Emma Wiggle.
Another are emigrants from the UK, friendly and warm—they’ve lived in their home for 12 years, and know all of the gossip about what once was, the history of our houses and their former owners.
The third family, our next door neighbours are gregarious, generous. “Come for Indian tea!” they said, “We’re inviting the neighbours!”
And then there we sat on a Sunday evening. With a merchant sailor, a doctor, mothers and husbands and us; sipping tea with crushed fennel and cardamom, and eating vegetables disguised deliciously and fried until golden.
And it was golden.
Listening to the stories of others.
Embracing their language, their food.

I looked around at my literal neighbours, our diversity, our obvious differences and the not so obvious ones – the journeys we’ve each walked, the experiences we’ve had. From colourful Mumbai to the cobbled streets of Manchester. To us, who have been born and bred here in our tiny city.
And it made me realise the beauty of the table, of invitation, of swinging wide our front doors and allowing others to enter our stories.
There is such a wild beauty in diversity, and it’s not until we sit down together, and look into each other’s eyes, listening to the stories of each human experience that we can truly acknowledge it.

There’s so much ‘other’ online. There’s so much ‘them’ and ‘us’. There are fences springing up all over the place, between communities who’d once smile and wave through all their comings and goings, but now look the other way, or worse. Fences are heightened, walls are built, doors are closed and blinds are drawn. As if differences in opinions, in backgrounds, in skin colours, in language, in religion, somehow all makes us too different to share a table; to bring our food, and our stories. To apprehensively taste something we haven’t ever tried before and discover new flavours dancing across our tongues, and a new generosity flowing from them.
“Your English is great!”
“You should come to our place soon!”
“This is delicious, what do you call it?”
“No, I promise we don’t hear you yelling at all!” Laughs.

Fences are barriers between us, but we can yell over them, across them – open them, walk around them. Tear them down.
With generous open lives, that make the effort to cross boundaries, move past discomfort, listen—no really, listen.
Because our children are watching, and embracing, and learning to tear down fences, too.
“Mum, my friend wears a scarf on her head and it’s called a hijab. It looks really pretty on her.”


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