Uvira: "Stunning" in More Ways than One

Wednesday, August 21, 2013 | Uvira, Democratic Republic of the Congo (map)

Uvira, in all its glory: This is the main road through town.
While in Bujumbura, Rebecca and I drove right across the Burundi-Congo border to Uvira, the town where she is posted for the next year for work. Her move to Uvira coincided with my own to Algeria earlier this summer, so like me she is working to carve out a new home for herself—though in an environment that is considerably more challenging than my own.

I have visited the eastern DRC before, and Rebecca had already given me a sense of what Uvira looked like ("Get ready for it. It's a shithole."), so I felt like I had a good mental picture in advance of what awaited there. It did not disappoint.

Dusty, potholed, and spectacularly rundown, Uvira is what human civilization looks like in the total absence of government. And that is effectively what it is, being a backwater town in a neglected region in one of the world's most dysfunctional and corrupt countries. Signs of public works or public services are hard to recognize.

Rebecca had lived for several years in Goma, a larger city to the north, but found Uvira quite underwhelming by comparison. It was only when she arrived that she learned that the town had been without electricity for the past eight months. (Surprise! For some reason that wasn't mentioned in her offer letter...) To restore power, local residents have been obliged to go door-to-door, collecting funds from their neighbors to finance repairs to busted transformers. Thankfully, Rebecca reported that power returned in her neighborhood a few weeks ago, though it only functions about half the hours in any given day.

The week before my arrival, Rebecca had found a rental house in town, and was at once eager to show me her new home and a bit sheepish at just how basic it was. The smallest ants I had ever seen patrolled the kitchen. ("They're so small, when they get in my food I just don't even bother to pick them out," she sighed.) It was basic, but a home, which she'll spend the next couple weeks outfitting with wooden furniture made locally and nicer amenities brought over from Bujumbura. My visit was a good reminder that, by comparison, the challenges of daily life in Algiers ("Um, sir, can we please get some lemon slices in these waters?") are relatively trivial.

Rebecca packed her bags for the remainder of our East Africa vacation, and we got on the road back toward Burundi. On the way out of town, we managed to find a rather modest restaurant for lunch, and drove by the town's decrepit independence monument and a few other landmarks. As Rebecca wound the car through crowds of goats and children along one particularly congested stretch of road, a man leaned over our windshield and held out a bat by its wings, apparently for sale as a food item.

Uvira is rough, but the lady friend is staying focused on the positives. A haze of dust and mist frequently enfolds the town, but when it lifts, she says, at least the views—of the lake to the east and sweeping mountains to the west—are spectacular. "Even if Uvira is a shithole," she says, "it is a stunning shithole!"

Here are a few more photos to give a further sense of the atmosphere:
Uvira shops
Uvira road
Uvira's tallest building (as far as I could tell)
Monument in Uvira (commemorating Congolese independence?)
Rebecca's neighborhood
At a restaurant, sipping delicious Tembos while waiting for freshly grilled tilapia from the lake.

3 comments:

Maggie Farrand said...

Glad to hear she's focusing on the positives :) Can't wait until she sees Algiers - she won't want to go back...

Fomu28 said...

In as much as you won't like 'Uvira', you should be aware that the people leaving there do not see or comprehend your myopic side of story. It begs a big deal to know which other small towns or zones as we call them you're comparing Uvira to. By the way, some of us were born and brought there without any problem at all even after more than forty years with no government support. Of course, your shit western governments have inflicted much pain to our people in the name of development while stealing our resources. By the way, it is uncultured to us to disguise your host. I hope you and your friend should stop coming to work there. But I think you won't because of the bloody privileges (monies) your earning. So, stop ....your slur, boy!

Ibn Ibn Battuta said...

Mr. Mukendi ("Fomu28") --

You seem quite upset by my observations from Uvira and my characterizations of the town. I stand by them, and by my belief -- reflected in this post and other writings -- that it is lamentable to see a place with as much human potential, plentiful resources, and natural beauty as Uvira so mismanaged as to exist in its current state.

I do not share your belief that "['my'] shit western governments" have created this state of affairs "in the name of development" as you allege. I do not work for any government, "western" or otherwise, but I do care about my country's foreign policy and respect for human rights at home and abroad, and I vote accordingly. I hope that the residents of Uvira (and other towns like it) will work together and press their own leaders to promote much-needed economic development, looking toward other communities on the continent and elsewhere in the world that present successful models.

In my opinion, directing your energies toward such efforts will serve you and your community far better than will insulting visitors.

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