Coffeebeans Routes

Bonteheuwel by night

Mon - Fri | 10:00 - 18:00
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70 Wale Street | Cape Town
Coffeebeans Routes

Bonteheuwel by night

It's dark, it's raining, and we don't know where we are. The only way out is to tell tales.

I'm sitting with a 5 year old at my knee.  Jody is our self-appointed MC tonight, it seems. After weaving between our legs and announcing our arrival to all open ears, she's settled down studiously to take notes with a pen she's still learning to hold. Her highlighted points are a revelation of curls and twirls. She feels my gaze, looks up sheepishly and gives me a gappy grin.

"What's on the menu?" I ask the diminutive darling. Her family is hosting our party of five as part of the Coffeebeans Routes Storytelling tour.  She looks to the doorway, where the official hostess (her mom) is standing with a clear glass bowl of steaming stew.

"Lamb" she says, suddenly shy, and returns to her studious note taking as if she can't hear my stomach growling to get at the delicious dinner.

We're in Bonteheuwel, under Hazel and Sedrico Allies-Husselman's asbestos roofed house. It's a dinner-on-the-lap kind of affair; a humble home bursting with the chit chat of more than twelve faces familiar and newly met. What are a Liverpudlian, a Capetonian, an Australian, a Slovakian, an Argentinean and a prodigal son doing in a coloured township on a rainy, chilly winter's night? We're sharing stories, of course.

The first tale is a colourful one. It starts on the way there in the minibus.

"Could you explain the term 'coloured'?" our Australian tour mate asks.  Lunga Tyelo, our chauffeur, bodyguard and guide gives us a quick overview of the history of what could arguably be called a truly South African people. I add my two cents worth, intrigued to swap notes on what constitutes the genetic and cultural makeup of 'coloured' in a mixed blood, mixed heritage culture that cuts across all South African boundaries.  We agree that in our day-to-day lives, the distinctions (and commonalities) we do notice are cause for celebration, not conflict.  The family about to shower us with hospitality underlines our overview without seeming too hard-pressed to prove anything.

We arrive, dripping and disoriented, after driving off the N2 through a maze of streets and roads for far longer than most of us have yet ventured off the known national vein. My natural inner navigator is wondering if I would be able to find my way back; my natural inner traveller is marvelling at an apparently vast landscape of houses, buildings and roads that it hadn't calculated into its pristine Cape Town snapshots. There's nothing better than travelling in your own back yard.

We go through Hazel and Sedrico's front yard into their living room. Seated comfortably and closely between a proud television display cabinet, a table and the doorway, we're watched over by bright, happy family photos. We swap names, professions and opinions on everything from the weather to the World Cup.  Dinner does its bit to bury any of our latent awkwardness, and fill any empty bellies. A bit later on I chat with Shiree, who is on the tip of being a teen, and already far handier with a mobile (cell) phone than I'll ever be. She shows me her hoard of celebrity vampire photos, and we discuss braiding hair and extreme sports.

Her mum, Sally (Hazel's sister) leans over to me and says, "This one is going to be a handful. She's too clever."

"I've started skateboarding," she states matter of factly, and then in a quieter voice, "my mother doesn't like it."

"Is it," I answer Shirree, realising that there's no point trying to stave a new passion in a budding teen, "that's cool! Make sure you get knee guards, elbow pads and a helmet."  We dig into a sweet, subtle sago desert, for second (and third, and - uh - fourth) helpings. Suddenly it's time to go, and we pose for photos and disappear out into the night, over a few more endless intersections to Phila's house in Gugulethu.

Phila is a poet, a performer,  a  PR consultant.

Phila lives in Gugulethu with her gogo (xhosa for 'grandmother'). She opens our session with poetry set to guitar, and commands the spotless lounge with her calm. A sensitive, reflective person, her delivery of original poetry is captivating and clear.  In a tone that's convicted yet confidential, she tells us about her world and her work. She schooled privately, went to university, and then rediscovered her roots and herself through art.

After a stint of acting and theatre administration, she now handles PR for the Baxter Theatre, and practises her talents in conjunction with an art centre in Gugulethu.  She speaks of her reintegration into her home suburb - a slow reawakening, one that runs themes of hope, confusion, dedication and drive through her spoken word pieces. It's moving to have someone be so open and honest about personal processes. We swap notes on up-and-coming hip hop acts that rap in Xhosa and chat about identity in evolution. She's a special soul, a generous, gentle one. I hope to see her as Lady P, her stage name, telling her stories on a stage somewhere soon.

After tea with her, we head on home in the rain and I reflect on the evening, the stories, the sharing. It seems that with courage, openness, art and expression, the sun can always shine in our spirits, despite prevailing conditions. We each have a story, after all. And we are lucky to share it.


Jess Henson


My colleague, Lisa, didn't only eat most of the Lamb stew, she wrote about her experience of the Coffeebeans Storytelling tour. Remember we were talking about extreme sports? Make sure you know more than the 13 year old does about extreme sports in Cape Town. Hungry for more? For the world in one small city bowl, take a bite out of our Cape Town restaurant overviews.

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