Wait before you yell racist, breathe. Don’t judge an article by its title. It is not a racist article. Breathe again. I am that black man. I want to tell you how a cafe in Belfast made me fall in love with Northern Ireland and its wonderful people.
am originally from Nigeria but also consider myself a South African as I have lived and worked in the beautiful country of South Africa for many years. I moved to Belfast earlier this year on a UK Global Talent Visa and am loving it so far.
Northern Ireland has a storied past as a hotbed of sectarian violence. Today it is one of the most peaceful countries in the UK. Belfast has been consistently voted one of the safest cities in Western Europe. Northern Ireland is also very homogeneous.
Although the nation has become increasingly multicultural, it is still one of the most homogeneous countries in Europe.
Not surprisingly, many of my friends wondered why I chose Belfast as my place of residence in the UK. Why not London or Manchester? How about Leeds or Liverpool? Indeed Glasgow would have been better! Despite the misgivings, I chose Belfast.
I wanted a city with a sense of community. Small enough to get around and big enough to be called a city. I also liked the bliss of anonymity. I wanted a city where I didn’t know anyone. The goal was to hit the reset button and start on a clean slate, alone and alone. Belfast seemed like the perfect place for it.
I live just off Lisburn Road. That’s where my Belfast story began.
My first impression of Belfast was the warm friendliness of my Airbnb host, a purebred Northern Irishman. He treated me with kindness and told me how to get around the city.
He also told me where to get good coffee. That’s how I came across Café Melrose on Lisburn Road. It’s a warm and cozy cafe and restaurant just on the corner of Melrose Avenue.
The team at Café Melrose exists for the café.
From Mark and Danielle to Sue, Kostas, Rebecca, Connor, Sarah, Camila, Martin and Chris, all of the staff demonstrate an incredible level of professionalism, kindness and humanity. You’d think they were family.
When I first went to the cafe, I sat at the table near the huge window overlooking the bus stop. It soon became my favorite place as I went to the cafe every day. It became a kind of ritual.
My day only started after spending at least an hour in the cafe drinking two cups of coffee and people-watching. Well I thought I was the only one watching. I didn’t know people were watching me too.
One afternoon, as I was finishing my daily walk at the Botanical Gardens, I sat down to rest before heading home. Shortly after I sat down, a middle-aged woman came up to me and said, “Hello, aren’t you the black guy who always sits by the window of Café Melrose? I see you there every day when I pass by.”
The man next to her gasped. I can imagine him thinking, ‘Oh, no. She just mentioned the ‘B’ word.” But I knew she didn’t mean it. I was the black guy at the window. She was right. Also, she had the prettiest smile I’d seen in ages.
So, in a mix of my Nigerian and South African accent (I think I sound like Wakandan now, I said), “Oh yeah, I’m the black one.” We all laughed, and then she said, “Because of you, I started in to go to this cafe. Seeing you at the window every day made me feel like you felt at home here.”
As I walked home that day, I reflected on my experience as a black man in Belfast. I’m not saying that Belfast is a perfect city. Also, my experience is by no means ‘the experience’ of blackness in Northern Ireland.
I am very sure that people have different contextual life experiences.
For example, it would be unwise to assume that my experience can be generalized as the possible experience of a black woman in Belfast.
However, from a personal point of view, I felt safe and welcome in this beautiful city. People were generally friendly and helpful.
Of course there will always be uncouth people, but the Irish are some of the most incredible people in the world. I also wondered how my constant sitting at the window side of the cafe was affecting their business.
Does it show that the café welcomes people of all cultures and colors? I sincerely hope that is the case. In my time at the window side of the cafe (it feels like I own the place now) I’ve seen women in hijab come in and be served. I’ve seen black people like me walk in and have loud chat moments. It delights my heart.
I’m not saying it happened because of me, but I’d be happy if that’s one of the reasons. Belfast is a beautiful city with amazing people. Also, Café Melrose has the best coffee in the world. This proud Wakandan says so.
Belfast: In focus – As a city with a long history of reinventing itself, in 2022 Belfast is under renewed pressure to clean up its act and realize its potential as a thriving hub for residents and visitors alike. The Belfast Telegraph examines the challenges facing the city, sheds light on the projects and strategies driving it forward and envisions the Belfast of the future.
https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/life/arent-you-the-black-guy-always-sitting-at-the-cafe-window-42030586.html Aren’t you the black guy always sitting at the cafe window?