Exploring community in Cape Town: a reflection on hospitality

Following our time in Ilha de Moçambique we had an inspiring week in Cape Town meeting lots of really interesting people and having loads of great conversations about community.

I feel the need here to narrow our definition of community a little and that is to say that for us there is something important about physical proximity. Whilst very healthy, supportive and life-enriching communities can exist in other ways (online, for example) we are interested to explore community that involves the daily face-to-face cup of tea-sharing doing life together.

Even within this definition, being intentional about community can look very different to different people, from simply knowing your neighbours better to shared living arrangements. In Cape Town we managed to see a wide spectrum of examples including homes practising open-door hospitality, extended household living, co-housing, and residential eco villages. I thought I’d be able to write about all of these in this single post but alas, there’s too much to write about here. Instead, I’ll split them up over several posts as they all deserve attention and I’ll start with community through hospitality.

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We had the absolute pleasure to share the majority of our time in Milange with Nana and Kobus, a South African couple. We got to know them well over our time together and one of our fondest memories is the time we all spent together over Christmas 2014 when Andy and I stayed in their house for a couple of nights and we just hung out like family, playing board games and eating too much food. Their hospitality and generosity meant that were welcome to arrive at their house after long trips, tired and lacking the energy required to ‘operate’ in our little house, and stay for dinner, then the night, and maybe another night until we felt ready to leave again. Their generosity and constantly open door were pretty instrumental in us feeling part of their community in Milange.  They left Milange in November 2015, moving to a small apartment in Cape Town, but it has not reduced their attitude towards hospitality one bit. We stayed with them for a week after leaving Mozambique and had a lovely time catching up with them and getting a long awaited Nana haircut!! They are a hospitality inspiration to us.

We shared a wonderful anniversary weekend with Nana and Kobus in Zomba last year. We share a love of games!

We shared a wonderful anniversary weekend with Nana and Kobus in Zomba last year. We share a love of games!

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The four of us at Kobus’ parents house in Tulbagh near Cape Town

There were 2 particularly poignant moments during our stay in Cape Town that made us consider the role of hospitality in supporting community or even as a form of community. The first was when we visited a lady in her 50s with a lifetime of stories of her experiences of intentional community in various forms (more of which to come). We arrived at her home which she had shared over the years with other families and various short- and long-term guests and before we’d even sat down she said, “Let me show you something.” She led us to the kitchen and opened a cupboard and grinned. She had probably about 30 or 40 plates, ready, she explained, to host however many people turned up. Community in its current form for her, having recently lost her husband and now in a different season of life, was hosting evenings of food and fellowship for up to 40 people from the surrounding streets, opening up her garage to be used for community exercise classes and renting out a granny flat to families in need.

The mountains in the Eastern Cape helped with our pining for Mount Mulanje. This photo was taken in Tulbagh.

The mountains in the Eastern Cape helped with our pining for Mount Mulanje. This photo was taken in Tulbagh.

The second ‘ah ha’ moment occurred whilst visiting Kobus’ parents who live in a village called Tulbagh about an hour from Cape Town. They laid on a delicious meal and just as we were clearing away and putting out desert plates there was a call at the door. A man from the village who Kobus’ dad had helped out had come to say thanks and he had brought with him his wife and 2 sons. Within seconds there were 4 more chairs at the table, 4 more plates and Kobus’ mum divided the apple cake between us all. We all had plenty. Just then it transpired that the man had 2 other people in the car: a lady with a bad leg and her son. They were brought inside and somehow 2 more chairs appeared and the table seemed to grow to accommodate them. I started panicking. There we were all tucking into our dessert but now it was all served up. How could we get enough for 2 more people!? Should I offer mine? How awkward. Just then Kobus’ mum produced a second apple cake out of nowhere and everyone ate with more to go around.

The funny thing about these two stories is that to the people involved they weren’t that special. But those moments stuck with us, they seemed so profound as we thought about how we can approach life back in the UK. Sometimes creating community is as simple as extra plates in the cupboard and a bit of extra ‘just in case’ dessert.

It was wonderful to visit Cape Town again after a 6 year gap. It is a beautiful city albeit with its challenges

It was wonderful to visit Cape Town again after a 6 year gap. It is a beautiful city albeit with its challenges and we were struck again by the huge wealth gaps between rich and poor.

We spent a wonderful day with the Lewin family who we haven't seen for 6 years but who hold a special place in our hearts. It was great to catch up with them, hear their news and we had lots of meaningful conversations.

We spent a lovely day with the Lewin family who we haven’t seen for 6 years but who hold a special place in our hearts. It was great to catch up with them, hear their news and we had lots of meaningful conversations.

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