In Vanier, a part of Ottawa known for its large francophone population, Bon Marché is the place to go if you're looking for exotic groundnut flour, cassava, sweet potatoes, dried red or black beans or products imported from East and West Africa and the Caribbean.
But for many Rwandans in Ottawa, the shop is a sign of their own presence here, thousands of kilometres from their birthplace. They go to Bon Marché when they crave African-grown tea and coffee, green banana plantains (ibitoke), spices hard to find anywhere else in Ottawa taste of the home they left behind.
"It's good that they bring us things that we miss ... eating sweet potatoes and beans, and drinking Fanta-Orange," says customer Denyse Umutoni in Kinyarwanda.
"Even if we are here, we still keep our culture from back home. We have to make sure that our children don't miss home very much."
The shop was started last year by a survivor of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and Ottawa resident Eric Bimenyimana, who appointed fellow survivor and friend Alain Ntwali to manage it.
"The community of people from East Africa is growing," says Ntwali. "Since we know that people from Uganda like matooke from their own country and Kenyans like maize flour from Kenya, what about providing them with what they need?"
Ntwali, 29, doesn't like talking about how he entered Canada in 2005, more than 10 years after he lived through the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi that took the lives of more than a million people.
"All I know is that I got a chance to arrive in Canada," he says simply.
Although Ntwali survived that genocide, many members of his family met tragic ends. They include his father, Anselme Sakumi, his mother, Immaculée Gasibirege, and many aunts, cousins and other relatives.
Like him, his siblings, two sisters and three brothers survived.
Over the years, Ntwali thought going to Canada would help him improve his life. After a few years in Accounting studies at the University of Québec campus in Gatineau, he worked with Bon Marché's owner to set up the store as an outlet for African and Caribbean products in the summer of 2011.
"There are many opportunities in Canada and there aren't many people who get a chance to live here and enjoy those opportunities," he says, standing in front of a black cloth on one of the store's shelves that reads, 'Never again 1994'.
Ntwali survived the Genocide by first hiding in Nyamirambo. He then went to Hotel des Mille Collines, where he stayed until the United Nations mission in the country arranged for him and many other Tutsi survivors to escape the danger to an RPF camp.
Every year starting on April 7, and for a period of nearly three months, Ntwali spends time each day grieving with other survivors in Ottawa as they commemorate their families and friends lost in the genocide. He leads the activities through Humura, an association representing the more than 100 Genocide survivors who live in the Ottawa area.
The city has proved to be a good place for them, given its proximity to federal government jobs as well as private sector businesses that require fluency in French and English.
The pre-1994 Rwandan elite were largely Francophone. After the RPF took power in 1994, it installed a bilingual system of education in schools. Those who were still young, like Ntwali, also learned English in school.
His language skills are always handy when he deals with clients at the shop.
According to Odette Uwambaye, a Rwandan-Canadian who counsels survivors in Ottawa through her Rwanda Social Services and Family Counselling charity, the language background has served the newcomers to Canada very well. Many members of the community have found decent jobs with the federal and provincial governments, she said.
Uwambaye has helped some of them in their job searches by refining their resumes and managing post-traumatic stress disorder arising from the genocide.
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