The Mel in Melograno

The Mel in Melograno


Mel and Mansa dining al fresco at Café Melograno

Mel, Mansa, and I spent the whole month of February in Australia. Why Australia? Because 11 years ago, a feisty 19-year-old Kenyan landed in Perth at the peak of summer, the heat barely melting her excitement. All her hard work paid off, and she got accepted at Edith Cowan University. Over the next five years, she earned her tuition, studied, and graduated nearly top of her class. Years later, she captured my heart, and we started our life together. This feisty woman is Mel. This trip was a journey into her early years.

One of the first places we visited was Café Melograno, a cornerstone in Mel’s early adulthood. She worked here four out of the five years she spent in Perth. When I first saw it, I realized it was much bigger than what I’d pictured from Mel’s stories. It felt like I was visiting the set of a movie I’d watched countless times. I saw the iconic La Marzocco coffee machine, where she excelled as a barista, and the royal blue awning, which took months to set up because of council restrictions. I also recognized the “dog parking” tree at the front, where patrons left their loyal companions for the company of humans.

In the time I’ve known Mel, I’ve come to recognize that Café Melograno is hands down the best place she’s ever worked. A big part of that is the people, so I was excited to get to know characters I’d only heard of in stories. I met the stylish Wes and “turbo” Tash, Mel’s former colleagues at Café Melograno. Stylish Wes because he and his partner Simon were always the best-dressed couple at parties. The “turbo” prefix for Tash because she runs an average of four minutes a kilometer, a pace I can only dream of. We had the chance to spend time with Tash and reminisce about the good old days at Café Melograno. It was easy to see that Mel made lasting connections here.

One of the principal characters from Café Melograno is Sue, or as Mel calls her, “my Australian Mother.” Sue was a part-time waitress at the cafe and a part-time teacher at an early childhood care center. Instead of planning a meeting, Mel chose to surprise her. Sue believed she was meeting Mel’s sister at King’s Park to receive a gift from Kenya. There was shock, disbelief, laughter, and a lot of hugs. We sat with her for about an hour, and I had plenty of time to appreciate why she and Mel were close. Sue was a constant source of support in Mel’s life in Perth, always offering wise advice and a listening ear whenever Mel needed it.

We can’t talk about Melograno without mentioning Jeff and his partner Greg, who owned Café Melograno when Mel worked there. They sold it two months after Mel left for Kenya. It wasn’t the same without her. From Mel’s description of Jeff, I knew he had a bold sense of humor, did not like holding babies, and loved his BMW coupe. I also know that he took the staff’s side when customers complained, was always at the café, and gave Mel a chance when no one else would. We met Jeff and Greg for lunch, and I quickly understood that Mel’s respect for them was mutual. I also saw Jeff’s quick wit, dry humor in action, and Greg’s calm and composed conversation.

When Mel was overwhelmed, Jeff hired another barista to help out. He was an excellent barista, worked well with the team, and the customers loved him. There was just one problem; his name was also Jeff. There was a little chaos at the cafe - they had too many Jeffs. Quick-witted Jeff got fed up with all the tomfoolery (Jefffoolery, really) and delegated Barista Jeff to brainstorm a new name for himself. They settled on Peter because Barista Jeff’s middle name sounded similar, and Quick-witted Jeff knew a Peter. From then on, he was Peter, but only the staff called him that. The customers still called him Jeff, much to Quick-witted Jeff’s chagrin. We met Barista Jeff and his fiancé Donna on our last day in Perth. Again, I saw the same pattern of sharing, listening, and being genuine.

I also met some of the customers who enjoyed Mel’s Java. We bumped into Lee and Marie at the cafe. They wanted to know if she was back and how soon they could get their first coffee. Then there’s Mark, who kept in touch with Mel through his periodic newsletter. He had just celebrated his 80th birthday. As a testament to his youth, he had an 80s gym-wear-themed party. Stylish Wes and Simon stole the show in red hotpants, crew socks, and a boombox. Mark had to keep reminding them whose birthday it was.

It would be remiss of me not to mention Irene, Mel’s friend from university. Edith Cowan University is a forty-minute train ride from the city. Mel and Irene met on one of these train rides and struck an instant friendship. To understand this friendship, you must first know that Irene is a Zimbabwean who’s spent time in Kenya. Mel is a Kenyan who grew up in Zimbabwe. There’s an instant kinship formed when you speak a shared tongue in a foreign land. This kinship blossomed into a friendship that’s now ten-plus years old. Irene and her fiance Christian hosted us for dinner and brunch; their company felt like home.

The people make the place; these are the people who made Perth for Mel, and I am honored to have met them.