Arts & Culture

How cafes saved me from solitude

"I left a big piece of myself in every café I went to."

By Ronza Al Yahmadi

It was one of the hardest years for me, the year I was preparing to begin my first semester in undergraduate studies abroad in Leipzig, Germany. All the friends I had made during my German language course and foundation year had left the country for personal reasons, and there I was, alone, with no family nor any friends to run to. It all happened overnight, and I still remember the heartache I felt when I woke up one morning knowing that, from then on, I would have to continue my life in a foreign country all by myself.

I reached a point of isolation so dark that I had to shake myself up and change things around me. So, one day I decided to take the tram to a street I rarely visited because my old circle of friends didn’t fancy it. There, I sat in a sweet French café I had found online. I picked a table right in the middle. At first, I felt awkward and self-conscious as I made an order of a simple crepe and coffee for one, as all around me were tables of two or more individuals. So, I quickly finished my meal and left. But ever since then, as I defied myself to do this more and more, I realised that no one really cares if you are there on your own. And, with time, I actually found shelter in going to cafes and restaurants all by myself.

There is something about being in a café that makes you feel safe. No one will give you a second look if you are alone and checking your phone while you eat your cheesecake, or while you flip through the pages of a newspaper. It allowed me to be myself without anyone questioning what I had going through my mind.

Slowly, I began my transition from cafes to forcing myself to visit places I felt I couldn’t go to before, such as the museum in the heart of the city, the art studios 30 minutes away from the train station and even flea markets. I always thought that attending social events or restaurants solo was proof to the world that you have no friends, that you are an outcast; a poor, lonely soul. But the more time I spent reading novels in cafes and visiting art venues, the more at ease I became with myself. I found out that I loved the works of Otto Mueller, enjoyed mint ice cream on the green grass that I was allergic to and that the hilarious arguments children sitting next to my table have never fail to bring a smile to my face.

And the peer pressure of constantly having to be surrounded by friends? I came to realise that I was content with the two to four friends I later made. I realised that the idea that the bigger your circle of friends, the happier you will be, is a misbelief. After all, you can be happy even by just spending time with yourself.

After conquering my fear of being alone, I continued to spend time in a hidden café working on my papers, surrounded by people I didn’t know, and it never felt lonely. Not anymore.

After graduation, I left Germany and emerged as a brand new person. I embrace the time I had spent with myself; time that forced me to experience new areas. I was cleansed from the former me, the one who had to reshape herself to be accepted, and who always felt the need to spend time with someone else. I left a big piece of myself in every café I went to. Cafés are precious places that I will forever be grateful to for saving me from solitude. 

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Ronza Al Yahmadi is a 25- year-old communication and media science graduate from Oman who strongly believes in the power of art.