Interviewer: How often do you travel to Ethiopia and Somaliland now?
Anjanette: Four, five times a year, the last two years….yeah.
I: So what’s a normal trip like?
A: Well… A normal trip consists of lots of bumpy truck rides (laughs), lots of dust flying around, and lots of men who are speaking in excited tones (that I can’t understand) and will periodically look at me and laugh and then I laugh back. And so we end up traveling in tight knit groups where we have, you know, usually Stephen and I are traveling with Ethiopian counterparts, other foresters, or people who are kind of our bridges, because they speak English and they speak local languages and they are also from the country, but they’ve gone to western institutions so they’re “bridge-builders.” They’re like the people who understand the communities and also understand us, to sometimes help facilitate better solutions and understanding. I so rely on the bridge-builders. They’re just so critical to me.
A frankincense sample collected on a recent trip to Somaliland
And then, of course, we spend a lot of time with the local communities. We go out to the communities because you can’t just talk to them on the phone or you can’t meet with them in the capitol. That’s not really appropriate for them. There’s a time and a place to do that, but you really need to go to their place and sit with them and be with them and get to understand what things are from their perspective because things are happening at the community level. And we’re not always going to necessarily understand what they’re going through, at all, in fact. And also know what the needs are. We need to really listen to them. That’s a really strong method and belief that I have as a scientist, and also just as a human being.
As a professor that used to teach development and international development work, the students - I always taught them that the “blue printing” model, which was used for decades and decades, from countries like the United States, where you go to a place and you tell people what you think you should do for them, like “Ok we think you guys need to dam the whole back water so you have more water supply so that’s what we’re going to do for you.” When people come in with good intentions, to want to help, but with that mindset / world view, projects have a very high percentage of failing because the community wasn’t consulted, or they weren’t brought in, and a lot of times they don’t want to tell the foreigners “no,” or they know they need help. It’s just not a good model. So the model of participatory processes where you meet with communities, listen to communities, you get to know people, you really get a better, holistic understanding of the issues from all sides- is the way that we work. So we like to hear from all parties and understand information from everyone and not just assume we know best, which should be done going in. If I hadn’t done that, I would’ve missed a lot of things in terms of understanding what some of the problems are with frankincense, and what some of the cool things are, right? So by listening a lot is how we learn. (laughs) We learn a lot from just listening.
Myrrh samples collected on a recent trip to Somaliland
*Edited for length and clarity