Since childhood, plants fascinated Mikkel. His grandmother had the “knowledge” in the family. She grew different plants in her large garden and in her plant shed. As a little boy, he would bore grandma with same questions every time he visited.
“Grandma, what is the name of that plant”. “And that one?” Grandma would always answered as if she had just heard the question for the first time.
Mikkel’s grandmother was one of “the special people.” The “special people” are recognized in Sami culture as having powers to heal sick people.
In her house, Mikkel remembered dried plants; plants wrapped in brown paper; plants stuffed in jars and plants nearby the fireplace. He remembered Grandma preparing herbs, some of which she sold. He recalled Grandma always had some bottles filled with special medicines.
His grandparents would chew dried angelica root or add scraps to their coffee as protection against catching a cold. When as a little boy, Mikkel cut his finger while playing with a knife; grandma placed a small piece of birch bark on the wound and bandaged it. There was no need to go to the hospital.
As Mikkel got older, he started drinking spring birch sap. His Grandpa told him birch sap would prevent him getting sick and would make him strong. It was their tradition to use herbs for almost everything and believe in their healing powers.
At school, he already knew he wanted to be a plant scientist. It was no surprise that he followed this path all the way to university graduating top of his class. He then went on to take a Master’s degree in Herbology.
Mikkel was 52, and has been divorced for over seven years with two children. Since his divorced, he has had the occasional girlfriend, but no serious relationship.
He is dedicated to his work. His job is his life; it is his passion.
His dedication and passion has paid off and he is now Head of the International Research in Rare Plants and Flora Department at a university, 31km from Oslo.
As Department Head, he travels extensively to various parts of the world to collect and document plants. He is also responsible for students on exchange programs to Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
A while back, he had read about the jungles of The Central Africa Republic. In particular, about a French researcher who had made wild claims about the richness of those forest, but no one listened to him. Estimates show that up to 8% of the country is covered by forest, which were highly diverse.
This was sufficient to get him interested. He had worked in South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Cameroon, Burundi and Rwanda. However, the jungles in The Central African Republic were not well known.
Before this, he only knew about The Central African Republic because of the Bangui Magnetic Anomaly, one of the largest magnetic anomalies on Earth.
Some years back he had tried to make contact with an institution in Bangui, the capital city of The Central Africa Republic. However, the person he was in contact with could not speak or write English.
Mikkel could not speak or write French either.
Things got a little better when someone in the Institution in Bangui brought in a cousin, who could help with translation.
It was not easy, but he persisted. He was excited. This could be very interesting.
He was excited that there might be close to 1500 unknown species.
Soon, he Mikkel, could be in a jungle looking for one of these unknown species.
He loved the African heat, the energy; the chaos. The contrast to Norway could not be more different. He loved the people; they were open and friendly. Most of all they always smiled! This made him forget some of the obvious misery around him.
There were many things about the countries he had visited in Africa that reminded him of Kautokeino when he was growing up. He felt he understood Africans.
He would tell his African colleagues about the villages in Kautokeino. His African colleagues were surprised to learn that he was from a village and that villages still exist in Norway.
He remembers the stories his grandpa used to tell him about poverty. He saw some of the same in Africa, although not as bad as in Finnmark during the days of his grandfather.
When he was seven at the start of 1970s, he clearly remembers how the toilet in his parents’ house was in the back yard. Therefore, whenever he saw such scenes in Africa, it reminded him of his own childhood.
However, it was his Sami roots that made him feel this special connection to the African peoples.
That was his way of saying it to others…”the African Peoples”. In his native Sami language, the word is afrihkálaš, meaning African.
Mikkel strongly believed that he, as a Sami once shared the same plight as the black African people in South Africa or Zimbabwe for example.