Guest post by Ruth Lukom
A new coffee bar has opened at the bottom of our road. It is modern, stylish and the smell of coffee and cakes is very inviting. It is a Women Only café.
I live in Waltham Forest, an area with a high Muslim population. For the past 20 -30 years they were predominantly from Pakistan. But during the last 10 they have been joined by people from North Africa – Moroccan and Algerians. These have brought with them their cafe culture. Dis-used pound shops are now intimate, quirky little coffee shops. They have cake displays with sticky gooey tarts that leave you salivating. Sometimes, with barely any room, they will place small tables and chairs on the grubby, chewing-gum (and worse) strewn pavements outside. People – men- sit and smoke and idly watch the world go by. My favorite is the one near my home which faces a busy junction. Traffic lights in east London are thought of as wallpaper. They are an interesting backdrop but should not directly influence your actions. The customers nonchalantly sip and smoke like Roman Emperors at the Coliseum as cars collide, drivers shriek abuse and pedestrians run for their lives.
More importantly – the café culture has brought us people who understand coffee. Coffee in cafes and restaurants in Waltham Forest was served from tired, badly-maintained filter machines and the colour of an east London puddle. At our local fast food curry house where they do wonderful things with chickpeas and chicken we once ordered coffees with high hopes as we saw an authentic expresso machine. The waiter dumped a spoonful of Nescafe in a cup with some milk and used the machine to froth it up a bit. Now you know you can walk into any of these cafes and be served with something that is direct from a coffee bean. The steam and aroma is intoxicating. The coffee is scalding and will land on your nervous system like a guided missile. So ‘yeah baby’ for these cafes and ‘good – serves you right for your frappo, frothy nonsense’ to the Starbucks/Costa places which play John Coltrane because the marketing people told them it would give the place a cool ambience.
But only men go to these cafes. You never see any North African women. European women will go in and be treated with smiling courtesy but where are these café-goers wives, sisters, and mothers?
This same culture that nurtures and respects coffee, conversation and a civilized social interaction that doesn’t need alcohol or a computer will not allow their women to participate. So the women have opened their own café. What do I think ? Do you know – I’m not sure. I always hated male strippers because they legitimized female strippers. I loath and despise all forms of segregation. Will this café reinforce this oppressive structure ? Maybe. But cafes have always done something much more than serve snacks. Artists and writers and revolutionaries meet in cafes. They argue and develop ideas and gain strength from each other. Go for it girls and serve it up hot and strong .