|Uvira, in all its glory: This is the main road through town.|
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's tallest building (as far as I could tell)|
|Monument in Uvira (commemorating Congolese independence?)|
|At a restaurant, sipping delicious Tembos while waiting for freshly grilled tilapia from the lake.|