When I think of London, my reminiscences of cosy cafes, little corner shops and my hands hugging a warm cup while it rains outside makes me feel like it is a poets New Year’s eve…
Could it be that I can now take a car drive to Ranya to breathe in a sprinkle of London?
Bashdar Khidr Hama was 26 when he had the eagerness to open a unique yet extraordinary modern cafe in Kurdistan’s Ranya district. His beginnings reflect that of many youth in Kurdistan. Although, his ending does not.
You see, dearest reader, Bashdar, like the majority of youth in Kurdistan had not saved money to give his dream a push start in the reality he was living in. Family and friends resisted the thought (sounds familiar, right?). His idea was too modern for the district, and “who drinks coffee and reads books anyway?” asked the dearest to him.
I question Bashdar “then how did you begin?”
He smiles, “I called my sister, I asked her to make me Bryani then I visited her home. She was not convinced by my idea, but she was saving money for a car. She had $2 200 USD, she gave it to me. All of it. I think this is what big sisters do, they look after their brother.”
Bashdar’s smile is infectious and affectionate; a reflection of his inner determination and positive outlook to life. His personality is observed in every corner of Cafe64; beauty is seen in the simplest of things.
“Ranya is not Europe to have a cafe. It is not even in our culture to drink coffee,” they all said to me.– Bashdar, founder and owner of Cafe64 in Ranya, Kurdistan Region – Iraq
The little warm cafe, with its cosy ambiance and simple decor is located just off one of Ranya’s main roads. The location was originally strategically chosen as Bashdar could not afford rent in the populated areas of the district.
Bashdar continues to tell his story with his dimpled smiles without me asking a single question. He laughs and explains to me the uncomfortable situation of needing more to finance his startup after his sister’s car money was spent. “I then borrowed a little bit more from my cousin’s husband.”
This young man’s passion meant working until three in the morning in the cafe, sleeping on the floor to wake up as early as possible the next morning to continue to create his dream. A dream that was normal in the outside world, but a daring move for his local culture. “I could not afford to hire anyone to do anything for me. I did it all myself.”
With a few loans from loved ones who were not convinced of the idea, however assisted Bashdar financially from pure sympathy… the interior was eventually…almost done… except furniture.
“There was really no one else to borrow money from. I went to my mum and convinced her to give me the sofas and tables in our house at home right before the opening. I brought the little antiques I had collected over the years in my own bedroom. I emptied our family home to furnish the cafe.”
Made with love, passion, determination and a dream this cafe is filled with all the positive energy one can wish for. If this is not enough to make your heart skip two beats then wait until l tell you it is a Nargeela (hookah) and smoke free cafe!!! (This made me squeal)
I listen to Bashdar speak, I see him greeting his guests with warmth as he repeats “sar chaw” (on my eyes) a good four times until his customers take a seat.
When Cafe64 opened Bashdar was the only staff, he was responsible for managing the cafe, taking orders, preparing the orders, serving the guests, taking the bill, cleaning at night, wiping tables and baking all the cakes before the doors opened again 10 am.
Today, two staff take the orders and serve customers while Bashdar manages and Ahmad, his best friend, always supports!
The cafe, after one year and 11 months of its opening welcomes more than a hundred guests per day. It is home to birthday celebrations, book club gatherings, musical nights and a place where talent and minds come to celebrate life and coffee with drinks ranging from 1, 000 to 2, 500 Iraqi Dinars. A bargain for a London experience of a corner cafe in Kurdistan’s Ranya district.
The popularity of the cafe in Ranya is like that of a grandfather’s home that unites the entire family.
As for me, I am content that youth are posing for photos with books instead of hookah smoke making clouds appear out of their mouths. I am content that a young man could achieve his dream despite all the financial challenges and cultural confrontations. It is enough for me that I ask to be driven all the way to Ranya just to sip coffee at Cafe64, enough to feed my soul from autumn to spring.
As for the name Cafe64, it is a story you would never guess between two friends and their high school days. I want you to visit the cafe, ask for Bashdar, say hello, and ask him: “But why 64?”
When you know, you will fall in love with Cafe64, 64 more times!
Lots of love from
My Nest in Kurdistan
Sazan M. Mandalawi