Mahdi and I enlisted two partners (and friends), Billy and Casey, early on in our business who shared our passion for creating a socially responsible business. The four of us decided that we needed to travel to Somaliland to meet with the harvesters of the frankincense. We wanted to understand how this resin was obtained, meet the people who had been doing it for centuries upon centuries, and build a bridge from Somaliland to Vermont, so to speak. Mahdi and I had planned on meeting our two partners in Hargeisa, and we set out on our adventure…the long way. We decided to fly into Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and drive from there to Hargeisa, Somaliland. This drive across East Africa was hands down the most eye opening, amazing adventure for a girl from Maine who had never set foot in Africa before. Especially since we took public buses the whole way. The unbelievable landscapes, the kind people, the dusty winding roads, the mechanical problems, the “sand tornados” in the vast desert, the pesky baboons, the curious stares at the lone American girl…all of it made for a truly unforgettable experience.
When we finally arrived in Hargeisa and met up with our two business partners, it was time to set out for the harvesting region, Erigavo. Erigavo is nearly a two day drive from Hargeisa due to the rugged terrain and lack of paved roads. Since we were 3 Americans traveling through Somaliland, the government insisted on having an armed guard with us whenever we left the city limits of Hargeisa. Upon going to meet with our police escort and letting them know our itinerary, we were quickly shut down. They felt that the harvesting region, being very close to the border with Puntland (another autonomous region of Somalia) and given recent tensions along that border, was unsafe for Americans to be traveling in, and therefore would not allow us to go. So, it was just Mahdi himself who was permitted to travel to Erigavo. He gladly made the trip on behalf of all of us.
While Mahdi made the arduous two day trip to meet with the frankincense harvesters, Billy, Casey, and myself enjoyed Hargeisa and the surrounding villages, taking in the sights and immersing ourselves in Somali culture. Meanwhile, Mahdi arrived in Erigavo. He sought out the Mayor first, as he wanted to introduce himself before just entering the close knit harvesting community. He went to the Mayor’s house, knocked on his door, and was greeted by the Mayor’s wife. He asked if he could speak with the Mayor. She graciously invited him in. During this introduction, Mahdi presented the Mayor with a small bottle of one of our first batches of frankincense essential oil. The Mayor smelled it, looked at Mahdi curiously, and asked “How did you get my tree in this bottle?” That was Mahdi’s first realization that the frankincense producers of Somaliland had no idea of the possibilities and uses for this precious resin that they painstakingly scraped from trees and hauled out of the mountains. It was a pivotal moment for him and the future of Boswellness. He was more determined than ever to educate them on the value of what they have and make sure they get what they deserve for it. Eight years later, our work continues.