At Rwanda’s Favorite Bars, Forget the Beer: Milk Is What’s on Tap

KIGALI, Rwanda — As the solar scorched the hilly Rwandan capital on a current afternoon, a bike taxi driver, two ladies in matching head scarves and a youngster carrying headphones all individually sauntered right into a small roadside kiosk to drink the solely factor on faucet: milk.

“I love milk,” mentioned Jean Bosco Nshimyemukiza, the motorbike taxi driver, as he sipped from a big glass of contemporary milk that left a residual white line on his higher lip. “Milk makes you calm,” he mentioned, smiling. “It reduces stress. It heals you.”

Mr. Nshimyemukiza and the others had been all seated at a milk bar, one in every of the tons of discovered in every single place in the capital, Kigali, and scattered all throughout this small nation of 12 million folks in central Africa. In Rwanda, milk is a beloved drink and the milk bars are a favourite place to indulge, combining the pleasures of the beverage with a communal environment.

Men and ladies, younger and outdated, sit on benches and plastic chairs all through the day, glass mugs earlier than them, gulping liters upon liters of contemporary milk or fermented, yogurt-like milk, regionally generally known as “ikivuguto.”

Some patrons drink it sizzling, others prefer it chilly. Some — respecting an outdated customized of ending your cup directly — chug it down rapidly, whereas others sip it slowly whereas consuming snacks like desserts, chapatis and bananas.

However they take their glass, everybody involves socialize and unwind. But at the beginning, they drink milk. Lots of it.

“I come here when I want to relax, but also when I want to think about my future,” mentioned Mr. Nshimyemukiza, who added that he drinks at the very least three liters of milk each day. “When you drink milk, you always have your head straight and your ideas right.”

While milk bars have popped up in every single place over the final decade, the drink they promote has lengthy been intrinsic to the nation’s tradition and historical past, in addition to its fashionable id and economic system.

Over the centuries, cows had been a supply of wealth and standing — the most beneficial reward to confer on a buddy or a brand new household. Even royalty craved easy accessibility to exploit. During the Kingdom of Rwanda, which lasted for tons of of years till the final king was deposed in 1961, cows’ milk was stored in wood bottles with conical woven lids right behind the king’s thatched palace.

Cows had been thought-about so useful they ended up in youngsters’s names — Munganyinka (useful as a cow) or Inyamibwa (lovely cow) — in addition to in conventional dances, the place ladies raised their fingers to emulate the giant-horned Ankole cows.

In 1994, Rwanda was the scene of a genocide, throughout which an estimated 800,000 folks had been slaughtered inside 100 days. The majority of these killed had been ethnic Tutsis, traditionally herdsmen and wealthy in cattle.

Cattle-keeping households, and their cows, had been focused by extremists from the Hutu ethnic group who had been largely farmers, mentioned Dr. Maurice Mugabowagahunde, a historical past and anthropology researcher at the Rwanda Cultural Heritage Academy.

As the nation recovered from the genocide, Rwanda’s authorities regarded to cows once more as a method to develop the economic system and combat malnutrition.

The program (Girinka means “may you have a cow” in the native language) is one in every of the improvement initiatives which have garnered Mr. Kagame help nationwide at the same time as he brooks no dissent and cracks down on rivals.

As milk manufacturing elevated on this landlocked nation, so did the quantity of people that moved to city areas for schooling and employment. And so had been born the milk bars, which allowed farmers to promote their surplus milk and let clients drink copious quantities of it to be reminded of house. Most milk bars are in Kigali, the nation’s most-populous metropolis, with 1.2 million folks.

Steven Muvunyi grew up with 9 siblings in the Rubavu district in the nation’s west. After transferring to Kigali to attend college, he mentioned he missed being in the countryside, milking cows and consuming milk with out limits.

“I come to the milk bars and I am overcome with nostalgia from my childhood,” he mentioned one night in late September, as he drank from a giant mug of sizzling, contemporary milk in downtown Kigali.

As he sat at the bar, Mr. Muvunyi, 29, who works in Rwanda’s budding know-how sector, confirmed pictures of his 2-year-old son him whereas he drank a glass of milk at his dad and mom’ farm. He frightened, he mentioned, that youngsters rising up in cities wouldn’t be as related to the nation’s dairy tradition, given the easy accessibility now to pasteurized milk at supermarkets.

“I want to teach my children early the value of milk and cows,” he mentioned.

For all their enchantment, the milk bars, and the dairy sector on the whole, have confronted rising challenges lately.

The coronavirus pandemic severely affected the business, notably as Rwanda instituted one in every of the most stringent lockdowns in Africa. As authorities mandated an evening curfew, closed markets and banned motion between cities and districts, the economic system took a success, and Rwanda slumped into recession.

More than half of Rwanda’s small- and medium-sized dairy companies closed throughout the lockdown, according to the government. Three of the nation’s 5 greatest milk processors had been working at between 21 and 46 % of their capability.

The restrictions had been notably exhausting on small, unbiased milk bars. In current years, many smaller bars had closed as corporate chains consolidated their grip on the market.

Climate change has additionally offered challenges. In current years, recurring droughts have left 1000’s of individuals with out meals and cows missing feed and water. Shortages of milk have surfaced nationwide.

Adverse climate situations over the previous 4 months have additionally meant an increase in milk costs. On common, a liter of milk at the outlets in Kigali has elevated from 500 Rwandan francs (50 cents) to 700 francs (70 cents).

For Illuminee Kayitesi, who owns a milk bar in the Nyamirambo neighborhood in Kigali, the lockdowns of the previous yr affected her capacity not solely to pay lease, but in addition to pay her staff and keep worthwhile sufficient for her to handle her household. The current milk shortages additionally meant she couldn’t hold the bar’s milk cooler full most days.

While enterprise has slowly picked up as more people get vaccinated and the country reopens, “it’s still not easy,” she mentioned.

But regardless of the circumstances, Rwandans say the milk bar is right here to remain.

During the pandemic final yr, Ngabo Alexis Karegeya began sharing photographs and movies on Twitter about the Rwandan attachment to cows and milk — drawing nationwide consideration. Mr. Karegeya graduated from college this yr with a level in enterprise administration, however nonetheless fondly remembers his days tending cows as a boy. He tweeted a photograph of himself in his commencement robe with the caption “certified cow-boy y’all.”

“Rwandans love cows and they love milk,” mentioned Mr. Karegeya, who owns 5 cows in the lush hills of his household’s house in western Rwanda and drinks three liters a day.

“The milk bar brings us together,” he mentioned. “And we will keep coming to the milk bar to drink more milk.”

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