Madinah cafe revives city’s ‘good old days’

Monday, February 24, 2020

JEDDAH: A Saudi woman’s love for her city has taken her eastward and westward, and she has spent tens of thousands of riyals to keep the traditions of Madinah alive through her traditional cafe.

Mashael Al-Sihli’s Madiniat Cafe aims to introduce tourists to the true culture of Madinah, as well as giving nostalgic locals a taste of the “good old days.”

The cafe also offers a learning experience, providing visitors with proverbs and words of wisdom long used by the people of Madinah. One example is: “Always keep your house clean as you don’t know who might visit.”

“It is educational . . . there are stickers of the most famous wise sayings on the stairs leading to the second floor,” Al-Sihli told Arab News.

The decoration of the nearly 180m cafe is meant to mirror the identity of old Madinah. “Not only the decor shows the old life of the Madinah people but also the way we offer drinks and desserts. The clothes on display also make one feel they are truly living the experience of the old people of Madinah,” Al-Sihli said.

The idea of the cafe came to her after she worked at home on making service plates, gifts and antiquities. The cafe was not pre-planned as she could not afford it.

“I had the chance to put my works at the Madinah pavilion in the Janadriyah National Heritage and Culture Festival. There, a company representative approached me and offered to help me with a bank loan as part of their social responsibility program,” she said.

She opened her Madiniat Cafe last year and visitors have flocked there ever since.

“All my designs were inspired by the traditions of Madinah and the old daily lives of its men and I put them on display. I then thought of gathering these products in one place,” Al-Sihli said.

She added that she had traveled to China and Egypt to buy some of the items in the cafe that were used by the people of Madinah in the past.

“I noticed that the people who come here yearn for the old days and enjoy sitting in such a place where every piece reminds them of their old days. Elderly visitors, who make up the majority of visitors, also find joy in telling me stories about their life in the past,” she said.

Al-Sihli said that she has not encountered any difficulties while getting the official licenses. “Everything went smoothly and this is an incentive for us to expand our business and develop it with the new ideas and plans.”

Although Al-Sihli is a graduate of Taibah University's Department of Qur’anic Studies, she opted to join the health ministry as an administrator. However, her childhood love of making handmade products never went away.

“Since elementary school, I have carried out my own handmade works, making beadwork, macramé, wicker items and many other handcrafts. Even when I was a college student, that inclination to reproduce old households never stopped,” Al-Sihli said.

The pleasure Al-Sihli has found in her old hobby has turned out to be a serious income opportunity.

Al-Sihli did not think of starting a business, but others noticed that her products could be of great value to the people of Madinah and those who visit the city.

“I have taken a number of training courses in sewing, handicrafts and decor. I have also gained good experience from my participation five times at the Janadriyah Festival, Souk Okaz and the Historical Jeddah events, in addition to my contribution to the national celebrations held in Madinah,” she said.

She was invited to the UAE’s International Franchise Exhibition and the Year of Tolerance two months ago, where her traditional Madinah dress was the center of attention. “That participation increased my love of my hometown,” she said.