Alexis Miesen (left) and Jennie Dundas, the founders of Brooklyn’s Blue Marble Ice Cream, are part of “Sweet Dreams,” a new documentary about the Rwandan women they helped open the country’s first and only ice cream shop. Photo: Sweet Dreams
In our shops in Brooklyn, we see the emotional impact of an ice cream cone. It turns bad days into good and makes good days even better. It also brings people together and creates an opportunity for a shared, joyful experience. The idea that this impact might not be limited to the U.S., but in fact could be universal was fascinating to me, and I wanted to see what ice cream could do for the good people of Butare.
In 2010, Alexis Miesen and Jennie Dundas, co-founders of Brooklyn’s Blue Marble Ice Cream
, flew to Rwanda to help a group of women in Butare form a work cooperative and start the country’s first ice cream shop–no easy feat in central Africa. The women are survivors of the country’s 1994 genocide and members of Ingoma Nshya, an all-female drumming troupe. Most had never heard of ice cream before, let alone tasted it.
For $10, they could buy shares into the business, with Dundas and Miesen coming on as partners. Focusing on simple soft serve flavors–vanilla, chocolate, banana, passion fruit, pineapple, strawberry, coffee, black tea and sweet cream–the frozen dessert became a means to financial freedom for the women and the subject of Rob and Lisa Fruchtman’s new documentary Sweet Dreams, which opens in theaters tomorrow.
Ahead of its release, Meisen, who made three trips back and forth to Africa and spent eight weeks living in Rwanda helping get the ice cream shop up and running, filled us in over email on her experience and gave us an update on how the shop is doing today.
BB: What was it about Kiki Katese [the founder of Ingoma Nshya] and her proposal that made you want to be a part of her project?
AM: When Kiki came to us with her idea of an ice cream shop in Butare, Rwanda, I thought it was outrageous but also brilliant. What she was proposing was really quite innovative. She argued that so much of “development” work focused on the bare essentials of life. Of course, we need those! But we need more than that, and we deserve more than that, in order to not just survive but to fully live. Kiki felt that an ice cream shop would provide an opportunity for her people to rest and indulge, to reconnect with themselves and others and perhaps even to start dreaming of other possibilities. In a modest but powerful way, she argued, this experience could nourish their spirits and embolden them to make changes in their lives and communities, driving their country forward.
I was moved and inspired by her perspective. In our shops in Brooklyn, we see the emotional impact of an ice cream cone. It turns bad days into good and makes good days even better. It also brings people together and creates an opportunity for a shared, joyful experience. The idea that this impact might not be limited to the U.S., but in fact could be universal was fascinating to me, and I wanted to see what ice cream could do for the good people of Butare. (more…)
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