The phrase “a cup of tea can solve anything” is a familiar one to many of us, usually spoken in the context of offering a cuppa to a friend in need or even just because it warms the cockles of your heart when you’ve braved the chilly English winter. In Rwanda though, this sentiment is beginning to mean a lot more: humble tea, even before it reaches the cup, seems to be playing a role in healing the wounds of genocide.
I came across this interesting phenomenon whilst flicking through an old copy of Waitrose Food Illustrated over Christmas at my parent’s house. The article talked about how tea farming is helping Rwandan’s recover from the genocide, and not just economically. I often think of Rwanda as a bleak, war-torn land but to the contrary, the landscape itself is a gorgeously lush growing environment for the world’s most sought-after teas. Esteemed tea companies such as Taylors of Harrogate source their tea from Rwanda and describe the tea coming out of the Gisovu region of Rwanda as “turning the lights on in your cup.”
The most interesting part though is how tea farming in this region now works on the basis of co-operatives where farmers not only share money and labour, but also form new friendships with those who may have been sworn enemies during the genocide. The tea fields have become a place where the words Hutu and Tutsi are not spoken or even recognised – instead people identify themselves by their work and their role in the co-operative. As one farmer said “talking in the fields is where the precious healing starts.”
I don’t know how widespread the peace-inducing effect of tea truly is, but it paints a wonderful image of the healing power of tea – starting at its very source in the tea fields and ending over an afternoon tete-a-tete in many an English kitchen.