The women and mamas at CCC are on a whole other level. Clementine, Seraphine, Nabintu, Shalupa, Regina, Cheka, and Ana are some of the women who absolutely hold it down at CCC. They are caretakers to the CCC kids, cooks, cleaners, and gardeners/farmers. They work really hard and while this is their job, they certainly do this out of the abundance in their hearts. The quality and purpose with which they do their work speaks more to their spirit than the tasks they have been assigned as part of the staff at CCC. However, a few ladies from the local community come to CCC every week to volunteer working the garden. CCC is set on a sizable plot of land which makes for some back breaking groundwork as they harvest spinach, cabbage, tomatoes, groundnuts, cassava leaves, and other vegetables. I was able to spend some time with the mamas in the blockhouse kitchen as they prepped tomato sauce and ugali (maize fufu) for dinner. The kitchen has an open doorway and smaller window openings but the smoke generated by the fire oven quickly fills the kitchen with smoke. I coughed quite a bit watching as the ugali was finished off and cannot imagine spending hours in this space to make meals for 60+ people twice a day. There is an outdoor sand square in front of the kitchen where they cook the rest of the meals. It is cordoned off with a UNHCR tarp to give some privacy. Fortunately, this provides more ventilation and space to prep, cook and organize. Seeing them year in and year out, my admiration and love for these women grows. Their heart, strength, perseverance, and joy is just the epitome of beautiful.
Sunday was National Friendship Day and a friendship that I would like to honor and highlight is the one between Jeremiah and Fred. Jeremiah is our friend, host and a father figure to many of us who have visited Uvira for some years now. He has a family of 8 kids but also serves as the legal guardian of the 57 children at the CCC orphanage. Fred is a pastor, father of 4 kids, and is a Swahili-English translator when we visit each year. Fred is also one of Jeremiah's best friends and the two have quite a history with each other. They survived refugee camps together in Kenya, returned to Congo to replant churches and serve their respective communities, had families of their own, and yet, they still tease and laugh with each other like it was yesterday. They face many challenges in serving their communities as pastors but there is a strength and a joy that they draw from each other whenever they hang out. Watching them interact is like watching a ping pong match of conversation usually ending in an exclamation or bursts of laughter. Cheers to 20+ years of friendship, Jeremiah and Fred. We heart you both.
Left: Jeremiah and his wife, Georgette | Right: Fred and his wife, Riziki with their youngest child, Samuel
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.