Obituary: Jeni Ayris, 48

Tributes have been paid to Edinburgh cafe owner Jeni Ayris, who was killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan.

Jeni, 48, was loved by friends and family for her boundless energy and enthusiasm, which took her from her native South Africa to Edinburgh, where she ran the popular Ndebele cafe in Tollcross.

Born in Cape Town in June 1964, to Anglican minister Peter Ayris and his wife, Toni, Jeni was initially keen to go to sea but did not want to join the navy and decided to study the subject at technical college.

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However, she later gave up her studies and returned to Durban to take a course in personnel management at Natal Technical College.

She later accepted a human resources post in Durban but her heart was set on seeing the world and, in 1989, she embarked on a series of travels across Europe and America. She also saw Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Hawaii and Jamaica, among other destinations.

It was through her love of food that Jeni found the next stage in her career after she met Deanna Williams during winter stints as a chef in Neustift, Austria.

The pair returned to Edinburgh and set up a cafe, Ndebele, with help from The Prince’s Trust.

Established with the aim of bringing a taste of Africa to the Capital, the venture, which offered dishes such as South African favourite bobotie and a Kenyan mung bean speciality, quickly became a community hub in Tollcross and was also popular with celebrities
such as David Essex and Billy Boyd.

Jeni was renowned for her ability as a hostess – a skill which underpinned her management of the cafe and enabled her to keep it open as a vibrant independent business for 11 years before she decided to sell up.

At the time of her death, Jeni had been working in Afghanistan for just over a year, on a three-month on, one-month off basis, as a customer relations manager for aviation firm Air Charter Services. She accepted the post after taking various short-term jobs.

She died alongside 11 fellow aviation workers last Tuesday after a lone female suicide bomber struck the minibus in which they were travelling near Kabul Airport.

Jeni’s sister, Pat, her only immediate family and an NHS co-ordinator from Rosewell, paid tribute to her enthusiasm and love of life.

“[Jeni] died doing something that she loved,” she said. “Jeni lived life to the full, she lived each day as if it were her last. I don’t think she ever grew up.

“She also loved cooking and threw the most amazing parties – they were quite renowned. She was a child at heart and if she could do anything silly she would do it – and she would have everyone else doing it, too.”

In accordance with her wishes, Jeni’s ashes will be scattered on Table Mountain in South Africa by her sister.