Cold comfort for Rwanda

In some parts of the world, it might sound melodramatic to say ice cream is life-transforming. But in a city in Rwanda, ravaged by genocide 20 years ago, the sweet treat has had a radical impact on a group of women affected by the massacre.

Louise Ingabire says: “I didn’t have a job before; I just stayed at home. Now I have a vision for the future. I’m making money and I can give some of it to my family.”

Ingabire, who was seven when her father, two brothers, sister and cousins were killed in 1994, is the manager of Inzozi Nziza (meaning “sweet dreams” in the local Kinyarwanda language), the country’s first and only ice-cream shop.

“Ice cream is important to me because it’s changed my life. When I eat it, I’m very happy and try to forget about the problems I have. Many times I’m very tired and think about what happened and what to do, many things are on my mind. But, when I take ice cream, I feel new and I have more energy.”

Inzozi Nziza was founded in 2010 by theatre director Odile “Kiki” Gakire Katese in partnership with Brooklyn-based ice-cream company Blue Marble Dreams. She had created Ingoma Nshya (“new drum”), Rwanda’s first female drumming troupe comprising Tutsi and Hutu orphans, widows, wives and children of the genocide perpetrators, six years earlier.

In need of joy
She told the Blue Marble Dreams founders, Alexis Miesen and Jennie Dundas, whom she met at the Sundance Institute Theatre Lab in the United States in 2009, that, as much as Rwanda needed nutritious food and clean water, the people also needed “fun, joy, pleasure and ­laughter”.

Today the ice-cream store employs nine Rwandan women who are also members of the troupe. They spend their days serving soft-serve swirls made from local milk and honey and imported vanilla beans and cocoa, using a machine that came from South Africa, and their spare time practising drumming. 

Miesen says: “In the beginning, the learning curve was fairly steep, as many people in the community had never tried ice cream. But it has really caught on and now is quite popular. I would say that the response has been very similar to our customers in Brooklyn – less the initial unfamiliarity. There’s something universally appealing about ice cream and its magic.”

Louise Ingabire is the manager of Inzozi Nziza in the Rwandan city of Butare. (Piper Watson Photography)

Miesen says people flock to Inzozi Nziza, even from neighbouring Burundi, about a three-hour drive from Butare, Rwanda’s second largest city. It is home to the National University of Rwanda, the nation’s first institution of higher learning and its largest.

The small city, about 135km from Kigali, was already known as Rwanda’s intellectual capital and, today, is home to the first women drummers. Before Ingoma Nshya was established, Rwandan women were not permitted to touch the cowhide drum, which was regarded as sacred. Like the first ice-cream store, it is a milestone.

Miesen says: “Everything was turned upside down post-genocide and Rwandans had an opportunity to rebuild both the physical and cultural infrastructure of their country. Women made up more than 70% of the population so they had not just the chance but also the necessity to step into places and positions that were previously off limits to them.”

A shop serving ice cream with flavours such as sweet cream, passion fruit, strawberry, pineapple and, being Rwanda, coffee – plus tea, coffee, sandwiches, cakes and more –might seem like a no-brainer to some.

“It was an answer to some of the problems of the students; we needed a shop with coffee and ice cream,” says Kalisa Migendo (24), an agriculture student, who tasted ice cream for the first time in 2012. “You can only get it in the supermarket but it’s very expensive. In Kigali, there are no ice-cream shops.”

Odile ‘Kiki’ Gakire Katese also started the popular women’s drumming troupe Ingoma Nshya. (Blue Marble Dreams)

Ingabire, who first tasted it on a 2009 drumming tour, describes it as, well, cold. “It was the first time I had tasted something that was cold like that. Also, I didn’t know what it was, how they made it. I didn’t like it.”

But even on an overcast day during Rwanda’s rainy season, locals stream through Inzozi Nziza’s door, past a chalkboard announcing “Ice cream is back”.

Today, Ingabire is hooked on it.

“Slowly by slowly, you get used to it. Now, when I finish one cup, I need to take more.”

International performances
Ingoma Nshya has more than 100 members and has performed in Rwanda and abroad.

“Drumming makes my life strong,” a proud 27-year-old Clementine Uwintije says.

A film about the remarkable women dreamers who became drummers then ice-cream makers has been produced and directed by the award-winning filmmaker siblings Rob and Lisa Fruchtman. Sweet Dreams has already been shown in more than a dozen countries, including the US, Canada, Britain and Zambia.

“We plan to share a portion of the income we have received with the women’s ice-cream and drumming co-ops,” says Rob. “When we return to Rwanda to premiere the film later this year, we will film further with the women and at the shop.”

The founders of Blue Marble Dreams have been so inspired by their Rwandan success that they are developing plans to open a Sweet Dreams outlet in Port-au-Prince in Haiti.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Amy Fallon
Amy Fallon works from Helsinki, Finland. I like water. PhD researcher at @AaltoWAT @AaltoUniversity exploring Finland in between researching water governance and climate variability. UEA alum! Amy Fallon has over 239 followers on Twitter.

Stella set to retain her perks

Communication minister will keep Cabinet perks during her two months of special leave

Not a sweet deal, Mister

Mister Sweet workers say they will not risk their health, and the lives of others, to continue producing and packaging confectionaries

Covid-19 grounds Nigeria’s medical tourists

The country’s elites, including the president, travelled abroad for treatment but now they must use the country’s neglected health system

Nehawu launches urgent court bid over protective gear for health...

The health workers’ union says the government has rebuffed its attempts to meet about mitigating risks to workers

Press Releases

Rahima Moosa Hospital nursing college introduces no-touch facial recognition access system

The new system allows the hospital to enrol people’s faces immediately, using artificial intelligence, and integrates easily with existing access control infrastructure, including card readers and biometrics

Everyone’s talking about it. Even Kentucky

Earlier this year South African fried chicken fast-food chain, Chicken Licken®, launched a campaign for their wallet-friendly EasyBucks® meals, based on the idea of ‘Everyone’s talking about it.’

New energy mix on the cards

REI4P already has and will continue to yield thousands of employment opportunities

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world