Meet the man from Zimbabwe working at Łutsël K’é’s only café

'When I came to Canada … I was just thinking I would just be in Toronto but now I’m way, way up north.'

Joseph Mukamba works at the East Arm Café in Łutsël K’é, N.W.T., it’s the only restaurant in the community. (Emily Blake/CBC)

Joseph Mukamba begins his day chopping lettuce, onions and veggies and getting ready to open the East Arm Café’s food truck.

If you want a cheeseburger, fries or even some chicken nuggets in Łutsël K’é, N.W.T., the café is the place to go; it’s the only restaurant in the community.

“In Łutsël K’é it’s more like McDonald’s, the Tim Hortons, everything,” says Mukamba. “It’s where people meet, have a coffee. So that’s the centre of Łutsël K’é I guess right now.”

Owned by the Denesoline Corporation — the business development arm of the Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation — the café’s owner opened the food truck three years ago.

The East Arm Café opened its food truck in Łutsël K’é, N.W.T., three years ago. (Emily Blake/CBC)

That’s around the time when Mokamba, one of the handful of employees, moved to the community from Yellowknife.

“I just found an ad in the newspaper and applied for a job and I’ve been here since then,” he said.

While Łutsël K’é is just a 45-minute plane ride away from the territory’s capital, it’s much farther from Mukamba’s home country. He’s originally from Zimbabwe in southern Africa, located more than 14,500 kilometres from the Northwest Territories over sea, land and sky.

Mukamba says work opportunities brought him north but he never expected he would end up quite so far north.

Łutsël K’é, N.W.T., in August 2019. The community was home to 319 people in 2018. (Emily Blake/CBC)

“When I came to Canada … I was just thinking I would just be in Toronto but now I’m way, way up north,” he laughs.

Mukamba says he likes living in the community that, according to the territorial government’s numbers, was home to 319 people in 2018. When he’s not working, Mukamba likes to go fishing and hunting with other community members.

“You never know what happens in the future but for now I’m OK,” he says of living long-term in the community.

As soon as Mukamba slides the food truck’s window open, people step up to order their morning cup of coffee. He greets customers with a wide grin and a hearty laugh.

Joseph Mukamba greets customers at the East Arm Café’s food truck. (Emily Blake/CBC)

By noon there’s a lineup of people waiting to order lunch or sitting at the bright green tables and chairs outside.

While Mukamba says the café keeps busy, it’s not about making big profits.

“Just shipping things here is just expensive. So it’s more like this corporation is giving back to the community.”

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