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Sweet Dreams of Ice Cream and Primal Rhythms

by Meredith Mullins on July 18, 2016

Ingoma Nshya Drummers in Rwanda, breaking cultural barriers. (Image © Lex Fletcher.)

The unifying power of music
© Lex Fletcher

Conquering Cultural Barriers in Rwanda

An open-air truck bumps along the rutted streets of Butare, Rwanda. The beaming woman in the back broadcasts through a crackling microphone.

Hello. Hello. You are about to experience something new.

 Do you want to have a good life?

 Do you want your children to grow up healthy?

 Sweet dreams. The answer to your prayers.

 Ice cream.

 If you’re old, it will make you young again.

 Come and see the dreams of women.

 Ice cream.

 It will change your life.

Her words are true. The ice cream in this African town has changed lives.

Rwanda girl tastes ice cream, breaking cultural barriers. (Image courtesy of Liro Films.)

Sweet Dreams: The first taste of ice cream
Courtesy of Liro Films

The first ice cream shop in Rwanda, Inzozi Nziza (translated as “Sweet Dreams”), broke cultural barriers in many ways.

The shop changed lives not just by bringing the first taste of ice cream to Rwanda. It also deeply affected the lives of the cooperative of women who made these sweet dreams come true.

Hope and joy were leading characters in this moving story, documented in a film by siblings Rob and Lisa Fruchtman called “Sweet Dreams.”

Rwanda houses and countryside, a place where cultural barriers must be broken. (Image © Sloot/iStock.)

A beautiful country shadowed by its history.
© Sloot/iStock

Rebuilding from the Horror of Genocide

In a country where the burden of the 1994 genocide touches everyone, the need for unity and reconciliation is critical to moving forward.

This need was felt deeply by Rwandan playwright/poet/musician Odile Gakire (“Kiki”) Katese. The country was slowly working through the rebuilding process. But, as Kiki noted, “People are not like roads and buildings. How do you rebuild a human being?”

Map of Rwanda, a country where women are breaking cultural barriers. (Image © bogdanserban.)

Rebuilding Rwanda after the genocide.
© bogdanserban

To help the healing process, Kiki called on music as a powerful universal force. She formed a drumming troupe—Ingoma Nshya (translated as “New Kingdom”).

She wanted to start a new chapter in Rwanda’s history, a new era. She brought together a group of women and challenged yet another cultural barrier.

Kiki Katese: Challenging cultural barriers. (Image courtesy of Liro Films.)

Kiki Katese: Challenging cultural barriers
Courtesy of Liro Films

Women had been forbidden to even touch the drums in Rwanda. Drumming was exclusively for men. But when Kiki asked why, she was told only that “drums were too heavy for women to carry.” Kiki’s response: “Okay, if it’s only because it’s heavy, let’s see how strong we are.”

The women proved their strength . . . and their ability to move beyond the past. They came from both sides of the genocide—Hutus and Tutsis. Many had lost Tutsi family members, friends and neighbors; and some had Hutu family members imprisoned for their role in the murders.

Rwanda women drummers, breaking cultural barriers. (Image © Lex Fletcher.)

Joy and power in the drums
© Lex Fletcher

“People have to reconcile with themselves, with happiness, with life,” Kiki suggests. When these women lose themselves in their drums, the past is forgiven. They come together as friends, as a unified rhythm—with obvious joy.

And Then There Was Ice Cream

Drumming began transforming the women’s lives. It gave them purpose . . . and pleasure. But there was more transformation to come.

Kiki believed that when you introduce one new idea, it creates the space for other new ideas. With that guiding philosophy, Kiki then met Alexis Miesen and Jennie Dundas, co-founders of Blue Marble Ice Cream in Brooklyn, New York.

Alexis Miesen and Jennie Dundas, founders of Blue Marble Ice Cream, breaking cultural barriers in Rwanda. (Image courtesy of Liro Films.)

Alexis Miesen and Jennie Dundas, Co-founders of Blue Marble Ice Cream
Courtesy of Liro Films

Kiki explained that she wanted to bring ice cream to Rwanda, and with it, an opportunity for members of the drumming troupe to become active in a small business.

A partnership was formed and the team rose to the challenges. They needed machines and furniture. They needed to find good local sources for milk, fresh fruit, and honey. They needed to learn the basics of business. They needed to select the shop staff from many members of the cooperative. They needed to set salaries and prices so that people in the town could afford this new treat.

Sweet Dreams manager and menu board, breaking cultural barriers in Rwanda. (Image courtesy of Liro Films.)

Building a business one item at a time
Courtesy of Liro Films

The processes were democratic. They even decided as a group the names for the sizes of ice cream—teta (baby) for small and nyshuti (friend) for medium.

The film documents the winding road, filled with obstacles. It culminates with the ultimate joy of success.

A dish of soft serve ice cream in Rwanda, breaking cultural barriers. (Image courtesy of Liro Films.)

A towering treasure
Courtesy of Liro Films

Ice cream arrives in Butare in all its sweet cream, passion fruit, strawberry, and pineapple glory. The curious townspeople overcome their trepidations and taste this new treasure.

“We’ve seen it in the movies, but we never had it in Rwanda before,” says one young man.

 “It’s like eating hailstones,” says a more skeptical customer.

 “Oh my god, give me more,” says a new fan, immediately falling prey to the velvety taste.

Rwanda drummers in front of Sweet Dreams ice cream shop, breaking cultural barriers. (Image courtesy of Liro Films.)

Opening Day in 2010—still a success six years later
Courtesy of Liro Films

Oh I See: The Path of Possibilities

Six years after the arrival of the new treat in Rwanda, a few more ice cream venues have appeared, but the women’s cooperative is keeping pace with the times. They now sell snacks, pizzas, juices, coffees, and teas to ensure their continued success.

The drumming troupe is performing near and far, with joy and passion.

The film “Sweet Dreams” has won awards and accolades around the world.

The rewards of this new era of breaking cultural barriers go beyond the obvious. The directors shared a moving moment after a screening of the film in Armenia when a woman in the audience stood tall and said, “This film is not just about Rwandan women. It’s about all of us.”

The final “Oh I see” moment comes in a quote from Kiki: “When you believe that something is possible, it’s done already.”

Yes, indeed, Rwanda. Give me more.


Find out more about the film “Sweet Dreams.” View the trailer below.

If video does not display, watch it here.

Find out more about Blue Marble Ice Cream and the nonprofit Hope Shines.

Comment on this post below, or inspire insight with your own OIC Moment here.


2 thoughts on “Sweet Dreams of Ice Cream and Primal Rhythms

    • Dear Stephanie,
      Thank you for your kind comments. I am heartened by this group of women and their ability to leave the past behind and find joy in many ways. Now . . . can the world follow their lead?

      With hope,


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