I walked into Maman Fils' shop and I had never experienced welcoming like that in Rwanda before (Faith is her real name, but everyone around calls her Maman Fils). If you are Rwandan or have visited then you are most likely familiar with the poor customer service.
But Maman Fils instantly made me feel at home with her radiant smile and it's no doubt many customers return because she knew a handful of people who walked in by name.
I later approached her and asked if I could take some pictures of her and she gladly accepted. She was so enthusiastic about the mini photo shoot she told me "Ah! I should have been wearing my earrings today." She was smiling from ear to ear and I told her I would be back the following day and she replied with excitement "Oh! So now I can put on the earrings and wait until you see the outfit!"
And so I returned the following day where I got the chance to talk her some more, which was a mixture of English, broken French, broken Kinyarwanda, pointing at things, hand signs, but somehow we could communicate and perfectly understand each other.
"I opened my shop 8 years ago, leaving behind my already existing job with the government to become an entrepreneur. I had a desire to generate my own money and a desire to own something that is entirely mine. I have fulfilled that desire, however, I still long to go back to university which I had to sacrifice after giving birth to my four children; they are my priority now.
Owning a shop, especially as a woman is so difficult, it took me 5 months to start making profit and after those 5 months until today, things have been challenging. My husband co owns the shop with me and has a bachelors degree in law which he was able to receive a scholarship, but now he is being asked to pay it back. So having four children who all need to attend school and a husband who has a massive student loan to pay, make the number grow large very quickly.
If I could have it my way, I would go back to university someday to study entrepreneurship and own a big shop, fully stocked with a bar on the side and fully equipped hair salon.
Maman Fils has big dreams, like so many other mothers. But the sad reality is that most of the time those big dreams get pushed aside and it's not because she must hand "motherly responsibilities," but because of society. Our system is so curated for males and we have failed to build one where women can take their time during and after pregnancy and at the same time have the chance to follow their dreams.
Her shop is full of many different things (fresh bananas, soap bars, slippers and the list goes on).