Ice cream for Africa

By Ingrid Fetell Lee

110426 RW Inzozi 40

When a country has suffered a devastating genocide and come out the other side to rebuild, the last thing you expect someone to say is, “They could really use some ice cream!” But it’s exactly what Rwandan playwright Kiki Gakire was thinking when she asked Brooklyn ice cream makers Blue Marble to partner with her in opening the first-ever ice cream shop in her recovering country. The shop is profiled in this season’s issue of Edible Brooklyn, and, in addition to filling my eyes with tears, it reminded me that the need for joy is sometimes counterintuitive.

We tend to believe that people who have suffered and are suffering – those who are hungry or destitute or illiterate or injured– must have only rational needs. We see them struggling in the lower tiers of Maslow’s pyramid and we believe that our only way to help them is to address their physical circumstances. With all our best intentions, we build hospitals and schools, wells and roads. And while these are critical applications of our generosity, and we could redouble these efforts many times over and still not meet the need, some very real and valid emotional needs are pushed to the background. As Blue Marble co-founder Alexis Miesen recalls Gakire saying, “There’s no room to dream when survival is the only goal. You can’t just rebuild roads; you have to repair people, and show that life is good.”

Marie rose and jess

After all, survival is not living. And what “superficial” joyful moments (such as those spent catching cold drips off a cone with sprinkles) do for us is give us a model for what living looks and feels like. It restores our will to strive, when we know what we’re striving for. I was first made aware of this in the preface to Virginia Postrel’s The Substance of Style, where she discusses men’s rush to shave, women’s application of nail polish, and the reopening of beauty salons in war-torn Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban government. She writes, “Liberation is supposed to be about grave matters: elections, education, a free press. But Afghans acted as though superficial things were just as important.”

Reflecting on this, and the Rwandan ice cream shop, I find my hackles raised at the arrogance of judging such desires and efforts frivolous. In a nation whose founding documents enshrine the pursuit of happiness as a right, how can we dismiss this same pursuit in others as wasteful? It’s unreasonable to expect that people wait until basic needs are met to create joy. It’s not how we are built –and with good reason.

These words of Gakire, quoted from the Blue Marble Dreams website leave me ever more convinced that the pursuit of joy in design is vital. These words will stay with me a long time.

Because we struggle most of the time, we find ourselves aggressive against happiness, love, joy, life. When we have children, we teach them that happiness doesn’t exist; that there is no pure love and as legacy, we give them our despair, our debts, our doubts, our tears, our failures… Rwandan women… want to reshape life in its simple and sweetest form. We want to share moments that are not embossed by despair and death… We want to create a space where poverty, disease, illiteracy… are not obstacles to happiness and barriers between human beings… We have to, for the sake of the health of our soul. The ice cream will have the power to reconcile people with life by providing privileged moments when life reminds them that it is also sweet.

You can read more about the shop here, and support Blue Marble Dreams here.

{via Edible Brooklyn}

October 9th, 2011


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    Discussion (1 Comment)

  1. Jen McGahan on October 28, 2011

    Here here! I like this! I remember seeing a picture of American soldiers playing baseball with little boys in Afghanistan in (maybe it was) 2005; There was so much joy in those boys’ faces (both the children and the “older” soldiers in their 20’s) that I was moved to tears — just like this story. And the fact that they had formed teams and even had baseball uniforms for the kids was almost over-the-top-fabulous against the backdrop of war. So, SO good for the soul!


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