Ngungu, Congo Offers Lush Respite From Dust

I spend a lot of my time in remote villages in West Africa where the dust is so thick you can taste it and the heat sizzles.

So when I arrived in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and saw mountains carpeted with grass as thick as a shag carpet, I couldn’t believe it. I never imagined parts of the Congo looked like this.

Congo family

A displaced family in Ngungu displays some of the goods they received from CRS in 2008. Photo by Lane Hartill/CRS

Ngungu is the Oregon of Congo. In these knee-deep fields of grass, sheep bleat and cows lick their calves. As the mist lifts over the fields, dairy cows appear. The air is chilled and smells like fresh alfalfa sprouts. To borrow a phrase from Picasso, this place gave me an “indigestion of greenness”.

I come from a long line of Oregon dairy farmers. So when I arrived here, I flashed back to my youth: The curtains of Oregon rain, my grandpa bellowing “Come boss!” into the distance, the Holsteins’ ears perking up as they started the slow lope back to the milking parlor.

That’s why, at 6:45 a.m., I found myself in the field, wandering among the cows in my bare feet (another thing Oregon farmers are fond of doing).

But don’t be fooled by this wholesome picture. Few people come here anymore, including most non-government organizations. Conflict has made it too dangerous. To make matters worse, the roads are dissolving and covered with a layer of dust so fine it feels like cocoa powder. This makes Ngungu almost inaccessible during the rainy season. The welcome mat isn’t thrown down either: Armed men snarl at passing visitors.

Congo cattle

Hundreds of dairy cows roam the fields near Ngungu, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Photo by Lane Hartill/CRS

Last year, armed groups helped themselves to hundreds of cows. They also turned themselves loose on the local population. Congolese moms did what any mothers would do when they heard them coming: They grabbed the kids and ran. Most ended up with families and friends who could barely care for themselves.

CRS realized this. They came to this community and distributed items like mosquito nets, bowls, and blankets. It was basic stuff, but for the people in the cool hills of Ngungu, they appreciated it. It took the strain off host families whose hospitality wouldn’t let them turn away visitors. Families whose homes had been picked clean by looters finally had supplies to help them start their lives again.

And CRS isn’t leaving. A new water project will start soon to help refurbish water points in Ngungu.

One day, the calm will come back to Ngungu. When it does, I’m coming back to wander barefoot in this paradise.

Lane Hartill is CRS regional information officer for West and Central Africa.

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