The smell of simmering garlic, bay leaves, rosemary and basil have escaped through the cracks in the door, luring passers-by into the restaurant.
- Esperance Muginga-Kaigi fled war in Africa and came to Australia as a refugee
- She struggled to find African cuisine in Tasmania
- Ms Muginga-Kaigi now runs a cafe in Launceston’s northern suburbs
Vibrant table covers and curtains in red, blue and yellow enhance the warm and vibrant atmosphere inside the cafe.
But it is the woman behind the counter, in the kitchen, who is the soul of the establishment.
“I’m Esperance Muginga-Kaigi, I’m a refugee from Congo and I’m running Mama’s Caf in Ravenswood.”
“Esperance Muginga-Kaigi was born in Congo in Africa. I make smoked fish, chicken, I make fried fish, I make a lot of dishes.”
For Ms Muginga-Kaigi, the journey to the Launceston suburb of Ravenswood in northern Tasmania was not an easy one.
She was living in the Democratic Republic of Congo when war broke out.
“If you go outside … you are scared because you hear the sound of the shooting, it’s not a small shooting, but a bomb,” she said.
“You go outside, you see people die everywhere.”
With the conflict growing worse, Ms Muginga-Kaigi, said she feared for the safety of her five children.
As a single mum, she was caring for her family while navigating the chaotic and terrifying reality of living in a war zone.
A lot of people died, including an entire family of close friends.
“They bring them and they bury them inside the compound because at that time you can’t go to the cemetery to bury someone because of the war,” she said.
“A lot of people I know, you meet in the street, they lying down and the dog [is] eating them.
“We have the saddest stories in Africa, but I have good stories in Africa too because before the war everyone was good. People were happy.”
To protect her children, Ms Muginga-Kaigi, decided to flee their home.
But as her destination remained unknown, she made the heartbreaking decision to leave her family behind until she could find a safer place for them to live.
“If something happens to me, that is OK, my kids, they survive,” she said.
When the time came, Ms Muginga-Kaigi woke at midnight and, concealed by darkness, walked to the edge of a river where she clambered into a tiny rowboat.
“If they see you, they [the rebels] can shoot you.”
She was sardined next to strangers who were, like her, making the harrowing journey in search of safety.
By morning, she had reached the dry land of Brazzavillie, the country’s capital.
Here, Ms Muginga-Kaigi, went to the refugee office to try to find a safe place for her family to stay.
Six months later she was reunited with her children and together the family stayed in Brazzaville for 10 years.
When she first arrived in Tasmania everything was different — the houses looked different and it was quiet, unlike the buzzing streets of Congo.
Ms Muginga-Kaigi, said that while she was extremely happy with her new home, there was something missing.
“I was going everywhere but I didn’t see [an] African cafe, I can go to Hobart, I can go to Devonport, I can go anywhere.”
“Lot of people they have Chinese, Indian, lot of people own a cafe, but no African cafe.”
In that moment Ms Muginga-Kaigi, made the decision that one day she was going to run a cafe herself.
In 2018 she was given this opportunity when the pastor at her local church needed someone to take over the restaurant in Ravenswood.
And Mama’s Caf was born.
Ms Muginga-Kaigi, has now become a mother figure in Ravenswood.
“Everyone asks me, ‘Why is it called Mama’s Caf?'”
“Because everyone calls me Mama, that’s what I was in Africa, my boss was calling me Mama Esperance.”
“I come here in Australia, everyone calls me Mama. That means I have the heart of Mama for everyone.”