I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting from the Bo Kaap Street Boeka that took place on 31 May right at the end of Ramadaan this year. It was the first time I attended and the words Street Boeka seemed to imply a bit of a party atmosphere. Maybe more socialising and crowds being quite loud. Certainly not the quietly restrained and deeply respectful event it turned out to be.
Make no mistake, there was a lot of people and a lot of socialising going on but it was with an air of sharing and getting to know strangers sitting across from you that you would shortly be breaking bread with.
So what is the Bo Kaap Street Boeka really about? It’s about people reclaiming their neighbourhoods and it is extending beyond the Bo Kaap with other neighbourhoods on the Cape Flats also having had their own versions of a street boeka. 2018, saw the first street boeka when after the protests against the gentrification of Bo Kaap, the community decided to reclaim their streets in a show of solidarity and as a reminder of of the diversity of this area. It is also about welcoming and getting to know people from other faiths and sharing with them what Ramadaan is all about.
We arrived at 5.30pm to a cordoned off Wale street from Buitengracht street. Police cars blocked the street from traffic and policemen directed people towards the area. Organisers were busy laying sheets of white paper in 3 rows all the way from Buitengract up the hill till around the corner into Rose street. We found a clear spot between groups of people and settled down on our musallas and blanket on the street. There was so many people, I craned and stretched to see if I recognised anyone. For some time I hardly saw anyone I knew. I consider my family and network to be pretty big as Indian families often are but the Muslim community in Cape Town is vast and I am always surprised at the amount of people I do not know when I attend gatherings of this nature. It makes for keeping your feet on the ground when you know what a small fish you really are and how big the pond really is.
This last Friday of the month co-incided with Al Quds day. Al Quds Day is the last Friday of Ramadaan and internationally recognised a a day when people protest in various ways the ongoing and unresolved situation in Palestine. BDS and other organisations were giving speeches in the background as people were arriving and settling in. Punnets of dates and savouries was placed before us ready for when the athaan would herald the time to break our fast. Dusk was descending with the slope of Signal Hill in the background. You could not have a more Instagrammable picture.
The notices for the event had requested everyone to bring their eatables for iftar with a little extra to share. But as we waited, plate after plate of savouries and sweet snacks were laid down on the white sheets of paper. Many people would be going home with the food they came with at this rate. Akhni was also being served from the back of a bakkie. I don’t know what the plan was for the rest of the food but hope it was gathered and distributed to charity.
The call of athaan was heard and everyone broke their fast. Tupperwares of goodies was shared with strangers alongside and opposite. There were quite a people who looked like tourists in between the crowds. Curious to know about our traditions and being made quite comfortable. Typical of our community, I saw them being inundated with food everyone making sure they had been offered something. I saw one couple who ended up sitting with a whole array of plates before them looking a bit awed at everyones attention. Yes, we know how to ply people with food.
The crowd pulled together on the street for salaah as the imam started the prayers. Within 2 or 3 minutes we had our musallas on the ground and organised ourselves into neat safs. Those who did not have, shared other people’s musalla or threw their jacket on the ground to make sujud on. The sense of community and humanity at this point reminded me of my time in Madinah 6 months ago when I had been on Umrah. When you shared whatever you had with strangers and your ego took a huge back seat.
The salaah made under stars was beautiful. Quiet and peaceful. As we finished up and the imam was reciting the fatihah, his mike may have faltered because his voice fizzled out. The musallees picked up on the rest of it and you heard this low melodious hum of collective voices as we recited and finished the fatihah together. It was enough to bring a little lump to my throat and be so proud to have been a part of this gathering.