Uvira is an administrative city in south Kivu province in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. With views of Lake Tanganyika on one side, the Mitumbi mountains lay on the other side with many village houses and huts dotted along the hillsides. In order to travel to the DRC, we fly from DC to Bujumbura, Burundi via Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Kigali, Rwanda. The trip lasts 20+ hours depending on layovers and wait times at the borders. We drive 8 square miles from the airport to the border crossings and from there, the main road leads into Uvira.
On our daily drives to the orphanage and the school, we pass through a small part of Uvira and the hillside village of Rugembe. Along the roads we find UN soldiers, women at market, men prepping meat or "microbrews" for sale, NGO vehicles, kids at play, people washing in the river. In the four years that we have visited Uvira, the increasing demands of market and travel continue to eat away at the main road. Public transport, massive trucks carrying unwieldy loads and people on top, motorcycle taxis, bikes, and pedestrians swell the streets showing positive signs of economic activity while also illuminating the incredible infrastructure needs.
During our time there, Uvira was in the midst of an electricity shortage which limited activity at night and also stopped running water. To make due, many relied on generators to resume lights, cooking, and business. Our hotel recently opened a restaurant in the main courtyard and ensured its customers that it would have enough juice to show the final games of the World Cup. We were able to watch the finals underneath a star-filled sky cold Cokes in hand.
The women and mamas are a vibrant palette of colors and patterns usually combining a tee-shirt with a traditional skirt or dress. The men dress in more of a Western fashion usually in colorful suits, slacks, or jeans with a soccer jersey, dress shirt or polo.
People rise at 6am. The outdoor markets are skeletal structures of branch and stick waiting for vendors to fill it with their goods for sale. The roads are full of travelers which require a certain amount of skill and risk to navigate. The children excitedly shout “Good Morning” when we drive up and also when we drive down at night.
Some buildings with no signage are places of business while others that are clearly labeled remain dormant. It is a fascinating place with so much to take in and understand. Four years returning, I see the changes and I also see the challenges. I am always struck by the colors, sounds and paradoxes that encompass Congo.