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Unknown to the team at Dr Jackson’s development studio and lab in Bristol, UK, a small group of school children in Africa were looking for Dr. Jackson.
By Oriane Lee Johnston
On the borders of an untouched wilderness in Zimbabwe, I’ve been exploring tribal lands on horseback with Shona horseman, Douglas Chinhamo of Varden Safaris––my guru for all things flora and fauna in the African bush.
Oriane and her wilderness guide in Zimbabwe, Douglas Chinhamo
Mavuradonha Wilderness, Place of Falling Water, is an incredible bioregion of serpentine rivers, gorges, grassland, and mountains––with rich and diverse plant life!
Douglas learned the medicinal and household uses of all the native bushes, trees, seeds, and flowers in the tradition of his ancestors. Listening to him, as we ride through the Ralphia Palms Botanical Reserve, I can feel the sacred beauty and healing properties of the African wilderness enter my cellular body.
I stay with Douglas’ family on their Chingorongodzi communal lands, sleeping in a stick and mud imba, hut, that his teenage son built for a school project. What a relief, slowing down into the simplicity of day-by-day living––off-the-grid––in an African village. Can you imagine an evening outdoor bath under the full moon––in an oval laundry tub hidden by a thatch-reed screen, reveling in hot water that’s been heated on the fire and smells like wood smoke? Truly cleansing for body, mind, heart and spirit!
Oriane sharing with her hosts in Zimbabwe
A Shona traditional kitchen
One bright morning, giggling children trail behind Douglas and me as he leads the way to his garden. He wants to show me some kigelia trees he’d been given as seedlings to start a tree nursery, five years before.
“Dr. Jackson from the UK came to our village and gave me the seedlings,” he says, “but I have not seen him since that time.”
The kigelia trees are thriving, three to four metres tall with shiny broad dark green leaves, tended by the school kids Douglas is mentoring in community sustainability.
As I admire the trees, Douglas, with great sincerity, asks me a question.
“Can you please find Dr. Jackson and tell him the kids are tending his trees? The students want to tell him the trees are growing well and will bear seed pods in a few years.”
“Well, Douglas, I can sure try.”
A proud kigelia tree guardian
Coming from Canada, I don’t know about Dr. Jackson’s natural cosmetics company, nor that the luscious ingredients used in their formulations come from seeds in the wild! That evening, in the village, we have a celebration in honour of my visit and I learn to dance with the grandmothers
, so much fun!
When I get back to Canada, I do a google search, and, indeed, come across Dr Jackson’s alluring website. Dr. Lori Bystrom, the company’s Chief Scientific Officer, responds to my email query right away. (Jackson, himself, is no longer involved in the company––but the vision and ethos the brand was founded on, continue under Dr. Bystrom and a new management team working in collaboration with other scientists and formulation experts.)
“We know about Douglas,” she writes, “but had no idea of his surname or where in the world he is! Thank you for reaching out to us.”
On my way back to Zimbabwe earlier this year, I meet the company’s Creative Director, Mauro Durant in London. He’s thrilled to see my photos of the children, the kigelia trees and the pure beauty of Chingorongodzi.
“We are great believers of getting involved and supporting, in the best way we possibly can, people on the ground and environmental initiatives at the grass-roots level,” he tells me. “Supporting each other is the only way to succeed in our business and to create real, positive, benefit for the communities where our ingredients are sustainably sourced, now, and for the future generations.”
Mauro sends me off with a dozen soccer balls for the Chingorondodzi school kids, the young tree guardians, and gifts me with Dr. Jackson’s Expedition Set
. Perfect companion in the bush! Mauro, with his business partners, is left with the mission of founding a charitable trust for the kind of support the company envisions in Zimbabwe, and for other global producers.
“It will take some time and hard work for this to be in place,” he notes. In the meantime, I have to find or create a bridge between Douglas’ trees and Dr Jackson’s UK HQs.
Oriane Lee Johnston and the Kigelia Trees Kids in the Chingorongodzi land of Zimbabwe
Serendipitously, a few weeks later, Mauro meets a Zimbabwean botanist-entrepreneur at a Baobab ingredient presentation at Kew Gardens in London; check him out! The African Plant Hunter
. Fast forward––a month later, February 2019, Douglas and I meet in Harare (capitol city of Zimbabwe) with Nyarai Kurebgaseka of Kaza Natural Oils
. The local company already has processing facilities in Zimbabwe with international transport in place! Nyarai is enthusiastic about the possibility of contracting Douglas to source wild-harvested ingredients around his region––including kigelia––to create a network of growers and harvesters.
At last, Douglas’ mission of educating his community about the benefits of wild-crafting and his dream of creating a new platform for economic and environmental sustainability for his people is coming true.
“Please tell Mr. Mauro and those workers at Dr. Jackson’s in UK––thank you from my heart in Africa. Thank you, also, to the ladies (and men, I add) who will buy Dr. Jackson’s beauty creams and oils––with our kigelia in them––to make their skin healthy and shining.”
In the vast Mavuradonha Wilderness
All images courtesy of Oriane Lee Johnston
Born and based on the west coast of Canada, Oriane Lee Johnston is an educator, writer and mentor whose work combines natural horsemanship, somatic meditation and the art of spiritual guidance. Soul journeys have taken her from meditating in a Buddhist monastery in Burma, to trail riding in the sacred mountains of Ecuador, to exploring the wilderness of Zimbabwe