Long walk to Freeman: I miss chats with my colleagues and the sanctuary of our barista's bar

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Espresso shot pouring out of a espresso machine. (Photo: Getty Images)
Espresso shot pouring out of a espresso machine. (Photo: Getty Images)

Freeman Nofemele, I miss you!

The coffee bar on the 15th floor of the Media24 building in Cape Town is my safe space at work. It is my sanctuary, my ashram, my church.

It is where I go to take a break from the information overload on my laptop screen; to think, ponder or sometimes have a quick chat with a colleague away from the hustle and bustle of the News24 newsroom.

Freeman is our barista. The coffee bar belongs to him.

Before lockdown began, almost 100 days ago, I didn't realise the immense impact my daily chats with Freeman had on my sanity and general wellbeing.

Sometimes I would vent.

"Can you believe they want another meeting on this topic today?!". Freeman would listen, nod in agreement, and stir the best cappuccino in Cape Town.

Sometimes he would tell me about his bus trip from Khayelitsha to town, or about how his studies were going. Sometimes, we would just stand in silence and allow the caffeine aromas to fill the room.

"Don't take shit from anyone today," I would tell him as I exited his sacred space. He would laugh. I would smile.

This week, as I was making myself yet another cup of Nescafé, I realised how much I miss Freeman and his chats (and how over Nescafé I was). And people.

I miss Paul and Helena and Sean and Lynn and all my dear colleagues with whom I share a working space for hundreds of hours per year. I miss cracking a joke with a colleague as we wait for the lift or sharing a smile with a new colleague who had her first byline published.

I even miss Glenn's grumpy bouts when he's had to correct a spelling error (Glenn is our chief sub-editor. Sub-editors, by their nature, pretend to be grumpy and tough, but in truth have very small hearts and lovely personalities).

I miss taking early-morning flights to Johannesburg and chats with the Uber driver en route to our Auckland Park office, commenting on the latest Zille or Malema gaffe. I miss the office banter with Tshidi and Kyle and Sheldon, and Maria's permanent smile.

I miss the smiles! The face masks, which we wear gracefully and for very good reason, hide the bottom part of our faces. Yes, the eyes can smile, but I hate not being able to read people's faces in shops and on walks.

At least I can see your faces over Zoom or Teams, but it's just not the same. Nobody schedules a Zoom meeting for five minutes to crack a joke or share an anecdote about what happened on your child's class WhatsApp group.

As we near day 100 of lockdown, I am reflecting increasingly on the things we have lost during this time and what I miss most.

I have thoroughly enjoyed spending more, quality time with my family during lockdown and the home/work balance will definitely not be the same when all of us return to the office, but we are social creatures who need to move around, smile and laugh.

I miss my mother's hugs and my father's dad jokes, and braaing with close family and friends while drinking too much red wine and plotting the future.

The joys of eavesdropping in a coffee shop or restaurant while waiting for your extra mushroom sauce or espresso – I am yearning to feel that buzz!

And who is joining me for the first live music concert or football match? #CannotWait!

I realise that life will not be the same until our smart scientists find a vaccine for the coronavirus, and that masks and sanitiser and elbow greetings are here to stay for a while. I fear that our children will be a scared generation who fear bugs, touching and people.

We – all of us – have done an amazing job at coping during this very unnatural time of lockdown. We know why we are doing it – to save lives – which makes it more bearable, but it's not easy, hey.

That's all I wanted to say.  

- Basson is editor-in-chief of News24.

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