ABOUT an hour’s drive north of Kigali, the Rwandan capital, is the town of Nyirangarama.
The town is perhaps more known to most as the business base of Rwandan millionaire Sina Gerard, who made his fortune producing fruit juice, banana wine and, most famously, the “Akabanga” chili sauce.
Akabanga has become one of Rwanda’s quirky success stories. Today it is sold all over the world, and chili connoisseurs in East Africa swear by it, claiming it tastes like no other on earth.
Of all things to come out of Rwanda and conquer tastes, a few years ago no one would have put their money on a chili with a most un-international sounding name, and that is still packed in rather unremarkable bottles.
In the front of the main building in Nyirangarama, an increasingly forlorn statue of a prosperous-looking Rwandan peasant woman has been competing unsuccessfully for local fame with Akabanga.
I had passed there a couple of times and never paid much attention to her, until a few weeks ago. I stopped in Nyirangarama in the company of a wonderfully rowdy group of African journalists with fertile imaginations.
Soon comments were flying – from the men – about how the statue was fully representative of a “true and real” African woman – ample hips, cleavage, and poise.
The ladies got into the act, noting that it was a surprising “work of realism”, because the sculptor had, of all things, etched stretch marks on the woman’s breasts!
For once, I paid attention and took photographs. There was clearly more going on here than I had imagined.
One of the striking things was what the statue quickly revealed about the difference in world views of (African) men and women on some things. The female journalists immediately saw the foil. The men didn’t – they escaped into fantasy.
Even after it was pointed out, one of the men actually didn’t see the stretch marks. Most of the rest were not interested, gazing on the cleavage undistracted by aesthetic nuance.
Wherever people’s eyes were, the stretch marks had changed everything. The sculptor was saying something about the imperfection – or the inadequacy – in beauty. After many years, this ageing roadside had to my eye become something notable – art.