Albert Loufoua is bent over a row of trellised green beans. In the beaming sun, he wipes the sweat from his brow. Loufoua is a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, which he fled almost eight years ago. While he had initially studied nursing, during the seven long years he spent in a refugee camp in Gabon, his interest turned to the soil. Loufoua began to cultivate a passion for farming.
When Loufoua's resettlement application was finally processed, he moved to Boise with his wife Felicity and their two young children. He carried with him a picture of his farm in Gabon that he showed his caseworker at World Relief. The photo helped land him a job with Clay and Josie Erskine at Peaceful Belly farm off Hill Road.
Loufoua, who mainly speaks French, seems slightly puzzled at why someone would be standing in front of him, wielding a notepad and a recorder. A fellow bean-picking, Peaceful Bellian shouts over, "Albert, do you know the word 'interview'?" He nods and cracks a big smile. We walk through piles of strewn hay and past a cluster of veggie sorters. We pull up a couple of plastic chairs and Loufoua tells BW how, exactly, he ended up at an organic farm in Boise.
When did you arrive here from the Congo?
After Congo, I moved to Gabon. I'm born in Congo. So after the war, I moved to Gabon in a refugee camp. After seven years I move to United States.
What did you grow in the refugee camp?
I planted many different vegetable: cabbage, tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce, bok choy.
How did you like Boise when you first arrived here?
I am very happy because my job, now I work in the farm. I think it is the same as I had in Africa. The first, I'm very happy here. I am very happy to work the same job—farmer. The second is, it's a new life for me.
How has it been different?
The difference is America is good place to live, everybody can live, no problem. Not in Africa, many problem, many problem. No food. You are sick, no medicine. Many things, many things ...
And you have kids?
Exactly. My first is 10 years, and I have a son is 4 years and a new baby. July 27 he will have 2 months.
How did you meet Clay and Josie here at Peaceful Belly?
My case manager talked to Josie, yeah. My caseworker. My agency is World Relief.
Did they ask you what work you'd be interested in doing?
Yeah, because when I come I have a picture from the farm in Africa. Josie and Clay see my picture and they love it.
Did you have a farm in Congo before you moved to the refugee camp?
In Congo, no. I was a student. I did not finish school because of the war.
Was your farm in the refugee camp like Peaceful Belly?
This is a big place. In Africa, it is not too big, not too small. In the middle. In Africa, you don't own machine, you use your hands. For example the weed ...
Do you want to have your own farm here in Boise?
I'm thinking that. Because I speaking little bit English. In America, the first is speak English since it's the language here. It's bad for me because in Africa I speak French. It's my first time to speak English. I learn many things. Sometimes Clay and Josie teach me. I am very happy.
So, how long have you been studying English?
Now, it's eight months.
You speak great English for only studying eight months ...
What's your favorite thing about working here?
I like planting vegetable. And to pick vegetable. And to put to the water, sometimes.
What's your favorite vegetable?
I like tomatoes, lettuce, bok choy. Every vegetable I like.
Do you ever think you'll go back to Congo, or is the United States your new home?
Don't think I go back in Congo, no. Now, if I come back in Congo I remember many things in the war because my family is ... I don't know. I like starting a new life in America. Don't think I'll come back in Africa, but I don't know.
How old are you?
I'm born in ... my birth date is November 21, 1972.
So that makes you ... 35?