Rwandan Bookstore Owner to Visit Left Bank in August

Jun 22, 2009 at 3:00 pm
Sure you've heard of a foreign exchange student, but have you heard of a foreign-exchange bookseller?

Lydie Hazikimana - IEEW
Lydie Hazikimana
Kris Kleindienst, a co-owner of Left Bank Books, hadn't either, until last week when she received an e-mail from her friend Lisa Hollenbeck, who owns the Alpine Shop. The National Association of Woman Business Owners (NAWBO) was looking for an American to mentor a bookstore-owner from Rwanda or Afghanistan as part of an exchange program called Peace Through Business, organized by the Institute of Economic Empowerment for Women.

Kleindienst wrote back to NAWBO offering to help. The following day, she learned that Lydie Hazikimana, owner of Drakkar Bookshop in Nyarutarama, Rwanda, would be arriving in St. Louis on August 19.

Nyarutarama, Kleindienst discovered, does not appear in The Oxford Essential World Atlas. A Wikipedia search determined that it's an affluent suburb of Kigali, Rwanda's capitol, and is supported by the government.

"It makes sense that it's an affluent suburb," Kleindienst muses. "Bookstores are difficult to support, and Rwanda is not a country with a tradition of reading."

So far, Kleindienst and Hazikimana have only exchanged introductory e-mails. "I haven't made any firm plans yet," Kleindienst says. "I want to find out more about here, what she's done and what would be useful to her."

Drakkar Bookshop, which originated in Hazikimana's basement before moving to its current location, specializes in textbooks and novels. It is also a reseller of electricity.

Kleindienst is eager to learn more about Hazikimana, her country and her business. "She may be better off in hre country than I am in mine," she says. "She may have access to resources and wealth in her country if she got this far in forming her business. Here I do everything on a song and a prayer."

In preparation for Hazikimana's arrival, Kleindienst is reading Philip Gourevitch's We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families: Stories From Rwanda. On her blog she writes:
How can I be an effective mentor to a Rwandan bookseller if I can only see her through this horrific prism? I want to try to know something of Rwanda that does not reduce it to its darkest hour. I want to see Lydie as more than a victim or survivor. I want to know what Rwandans and their country are like when they aren't killing one another. When they are working, or playing, going to movies or taking a drive. This is not something you get from news accounts, which are reductive and focused on the fearful awful.
Thankfully, there are books....I am filled with questions about what, besides scientific texts and the literature of other countries, one will find on the shelves of a Rwandan bookstore.