(CNN) — Rachel Décoste landed in West Africa’s Republic of Benin in August 2018, anticipating an vital journey of self-discovery, however not predicting the extent to which the journey would change her life.
On her first day exploring Benin, Rachel requested a passerby for instructions. Two weeks later, Rachel and the stranger were engaged. Within six months, they were married.
Rachel grew up in Ottawa, Canada, the daughter of Haitian mother and father who’d immigrated to Canada in the late Sixties. As an grownup, Rachel relocated to Washington DC for school, later working for a bipartisan tech program related with the United States congress.
Rachel liked this job, she liked the range of Washington and liked working in public service. When her US visa was up for renewal, Rachel, then in her early 40s, figured she’d work remotely for a couple of months earlier than returning to DC.
But reasonably than working from Canada, she hatched a plan to arrange her desk additional afield.
Earlier that 12 months, Rachel had submitted her DNA to a web based ancestry web site. Rachel had lengthy recognized she was the descendent of enslaved Africans, however till she acquired the outcomes, she hadn’t recognized the place her forebears had lived. Now, she had an inventory of nations the place she had roots: Senegal, Ivory Coast, Togo, Ghana and Benin.
Rachel arrived in Benin in direction of the top of her 5 month distant working journey. She’d already visited the opposite nations on her record, and her African journey was shaping as much as be a rare journey of self-discovery. Nevertheless, Rachel did not know what to anticipate from Benin.
“Honestly, I don’t know if I could find Benin Republic on a map before this,” she says.
She booked a room in a mattress and breakfast in the port metropolis of Cotonou, planning to remain there for 2 weeks — working from the B&B and exploring the nation in her spare time.
Following a few days settling in, Rachel ventured out for the primary time. She deliberate to go to Ouidah, as soon as some of the energetic slave buying and selling ports in Africa. She anticipated this is able to be a transferring and thought-provoking expertise.
“I’m sure that one of my ancestors passed by there, just because of my DNA test,” says Rachel.
Exiting her room, Rachel searched round for the supervisor of her mattress and breakfast — she was searching for steering on how greatest to journey to Ouidah.
“She’s nowhere to be found. And then I look for the security guard, and the security guard is on break.”
Rachel figured her subsequent greatest guess was asking a passerby outdoors, so she opened the gates and glanced round.
The first particular person she noticed was a person about to get on a motorbike, parked simply outdoors.
Rachel greeted the stranger in French — as a French Canadian, French is her first language and it is also the official language of Benin — and politely requested him get to Ouidah.
“You have to go to a certain intersection downtown, where all the bush taxis are,” defined the stranger. “You find the taxi going to your destination, you pay for your seat, and then you’ll get there.”
He began passing on instructions to the intersection, however then, realizing they were a bit difficult, modified his tune.
“If you want. I can bring you there, it’s about 10 minutes away,” he advised, gesturing to his bike.
It was about 9 a.m. Rachel was cautious of trusting somebody she did not know, however she determined she was unlikely to return to hurt in broad daylight. She agreed.
“I take a chance, hop on the back of his motorcycle, no helmet,” she recollects.
The motorbike-riding stranger was Honoré Orogbo, a single father and enterprise proprietor in his thirties who’d lived in Cotonou all his life and simply occurred to be passing by that morning.
When Rachel opened the mattress and breakfast door, Honoré had simply completed consuming some breakfast he’d grabbed from a close-by road kiosk.
From the skin, Rachel’s lodging wasn’t clearly a B&B. Honoré says he assumed she was the proprietor of the home. It was solely when she requested for instructions that Honoré realized Rachel was a customer.
When Rachel and Honoré arrived on the taxi rank in Cotonou metropolis middle, they realized the one heading to Ouidah was fairly empty. Honoré defined it will be a while earlier than it departed — the driving force would not go away till the taxi was full.
Rachel was disheartened. She did not have time to attend round — she wished to spend the entire day in Ouidah with out feeling rushed, and to securely return to Cotonou earlier than sunset.
Sensing her disappointment, Honoré got here up with a suggestion. He had a buddy in Ouidah he’d been hoping to go to — whereas he hadn’t been planning to go that day, he might, he had a time off.
“I’m like ‘Cool. I’ll pay for gas. Let’s go,'” recollects Rachel.
Just over an hour later, they arrived in Ouidah.
“He shows me how to get back — where the bush taxes are that I can get back that afternoon — and he shows me where the Slave Museum is. And I’m like, ‘Okay, good to go. Thanks, sir,'” recollects Rachel.
But earlier than they were attributable to go their separate methods, Rachel requested Honoré if he wished to get brunch. She wished a chunk to eat earlier than she began her tour — and increasing the invite to Honoré felt just like the well mannered selection, he’d gone out of his method to assist her, in any case.
Honoré agreed, touched by the gesture. The two sat all the way down to eat.
Rachel was conscious that she was a girl touring alone, and whereas Honoré had been nothing however well mannered and respectful, he was nonetheless a stranger, so she advised him she was married.
She additionally did not share particulars of her job, or her life in the US. But she did clarify how she hoped to journey round Benin over the approaching days. She requested Honoré if he had any associates or contacts who labored as chauffeurs or tour guides, and who is likely to be in escorting her round over the following couple of days. She figured that is likely to be simpler than counting on taxis.
Honoré contacted a tour information buddy, however he was absolutely booked
“So I said, ‘Well, how about you? Can you be my escort? You helped me out this morning, can I just pay you to do that for three days?'” recollects Rachel.
“No, I’m not a I’m not a tour guide,” stated Honoré. “I don’t know my country’s history by heart, and that’s not what I do.”
Rachel backtracked. She did not really want a tour information — there could be specialists in any respect the historic websites she deliberate to go to — she simply wanted a journey.
After a little bit of backwards and forwards, Honoré agreed to drive Rachel.
“When she insisted, I said ‘Why not?'” Honoré recollects right this moment.
He wished to assist Rachel, Honoré says. She appeared like a “good person,” primarily based on the way in which she’d approached him, the way in which she’d requested him questions and the way in which she’d invited him to brunch.
The two agreed Honoré would drive Rachel round for the following few days, beginning that day in Ouidah, and Rachel would pay him for his providers.
For the remainder of the week, Honoré took Rachel to Benin’s most vital websites.
Touring Benin was a strong expertise for Rachel. She says visiting the slave fort, inside Ouidah’s Museum of History, “is a pilgrimage that every afro-descendant should visit to remind us of the cruelty that our ancestors survived.”
“I didn’t know this before going there in person, but if Las Vegas was taking bets on the survival of enslaved Africans, the odds of my being alive today would have been slim to none,” says Rachel. “I am a walking, talking miracle. I am the ‘one percent.’ I owe it to those who didn’t make it to live my best life.”
While touring round Benin, Rachel and Honoré talked. While Rachel nonetheless did not disclose many particulars about her private circumstances, however she discovered herself opening as much as Honoré about her ideas and emotions. Honoré opened up in flip.
“First conversations were about learning about myself, my family, my situation, who I am, who I really am,” he says.
“We were very open and very candid, because we were strangers and we’ll never see each other again,” recollects Rachel.
She remembers being touched when Honoré defined that he did not have a brand new mannequin of motorbike as a result of he put all his cash in direction of his son’s training.
“He says ‘I’d rather have my kid have those opportunities than drive a fancy motorcycle.’ And I thought, ‘Wow, those are the values of my parents.’ I saw myself in those values,” says Rachel.
In one in every of their many conversations, Honoré talked about his brother was a tailor. On their fourth day collectively, Honoré took Rachel to a market to assist her purchase cloth that his brother might make right into a gown.
Rachel was overwhelmed by the selection — a lot in order that she requested Honoré to choose his favorites. He opted for 2 items of colourful, vivid Ankara cloth. The third choice was a white, grey, lace fashion, referred to as lessi. Rachel liked it, and figured the ensuing gown could possibly be “appropriate for a baptism or some kind of special occasion.”
Honoré’s brother made clothes for Rachel and Honoré out of the material he picked for her on the market.
Woke Enterprises, Inc. Canada
In one in every of their many conversations driving to Benin landmarks, Honoré talked about to Rachel that he would normally journey to Lomé, the capital of the neighboring nation of Togo, when he and his associates wished an evening out.
Rachel was intrigued.
“I can’t guarantee that I’ll ever come back here. This is a once in a lifetime trip where I’m getting paid while I’m working in a foreign country. I want to take advantage of every opportunity,” she remembers pondering.
“So I said, ‘Well, I have to go back to work this week. But next weekend, if you’re willing, I could get two hotel rooms and we could go to Togo together.”
The following weekend, Honoré took Rachel to a poetry slam night time in Lomé, adopted by a bar with dwell music. They stayed out all night time.
“We’re dancing. It’s just pure joy,” says Rachel.
It was round this time that Rachel began to really feel issues shift. She felt comfy round Honoré in a method she’d by no means felt earlier than.
“We get along great. He laughs at my jokes,” she recollects pondering. “I had a bit of a meltdown a couple times — which I’m not proud of — where he didn’t freak out, because usually angry Black women scare people. But he took it all in his stride.”
Rachel even briefly met Honoré’s son.
Rachel and Honoré, pictured right here on a seashore in Cotonou, grew nearer and they quickly realized they had emotions for one another.
Woke Enterprises, Inc. Canada
She described the scenario in an e mail to one in every of her shut associates again in Ottawa.
“I think I think this person should be my husband. But am I crazy? I’ve known this guy for a week. Is that stupid? Tell me if I’m crazy,” she wrote.
Her buddy wrote again: “Rachel, you are not a stupid person. You have good judgment. You are a good judge of character. If he’s the one, grab him.”
For Honoré, the journey to Togo was a turning level too.
“I think it’s that night that the lightning struck,” he says. “It was not lightning but it was a feeling of love. I think that’s where the feeling of love started.”
Rachel solely had yet another week in Benin earlier than she was set to return to North America. She determined she had no time to waste.
“I told him that I really wasn’t married. And he was very happy to hear that. And we got together,” she says.
“I was kind of surprised,” says Honoré now. “I thought a woman like that would probably have a husband.”
“Next day I saw her differently,” he provides. “Not like a tourist but my soulmate. That’s how the relationship started. Step by step.”
For the rest of Rachel’s time in Benin, Rachel and Honoré spent as a lot time collectively as they might.
Long distance engagement
Honoré and Rachel usually put on clothes comprised of matching cloth, a Benin custom.
Woke Enterprises, Inc. Canada
On the night of Rachel’s departure, Honoré recollects sitting with her on a seashore. He was having fun with the second, but additionally contemplating Rachel’s impending return to Canada, and what it meant for his or her burgeoning romance.
“We were facing the ocean. In my head, I was thinking ‘the past two weeks that I’ve spent with you, I have no regrets. We had a great time together. I was really happy to meet you.'”
The two talked concerning the future, and if and the way they might make a protracted distance relationship work. They realized they were each equally dedicated, and so they determined to get engaged, and that Honoré would relocate to North America.
It was an enormous choice. They’d solely recognized each other for a few weeks. And for Honoré, emigrating had by no means been a objective. It could be an enormous change for his son. But Honoré says he determined to “follow my instincts, to follow my heart.”
Meanwhile, Rachel stop her life in DC, and went again to Canada. Rachel says her associates were shocked, however supportive and joyful when she advised them concerning the whirlwind romance. Her mother and father were extra skeptical, she says. But they got here spherical when they met Honoré, and noticed how in love he was with their daughter.
Rachel returned to Benin six months later, in January 2019, for her wedding ceremony to Honoré. She wore the gown comprised of the white lace cloth Honoré had picked for her in the market the summer season earlier than. It felt like destiny.
Here’s the couple at Canadian wedding ceremony celebrations.
Two Trees Photography by Timothy J Baklinski
Meanwhile, the couple deliberate a Canadian wedding ceremony celebration for the next 12 months, navigating Honoré and his son’s immigration journey in the meantime.
“I took the time during the separation to start preparing myself mentally and psychologically for a big move,” recollects Honoré. “I had to think about the huge life change that was going to be ahead of me, the cultural differences. I know people who went to the Americas and it wasn’t necessarily easy.”
Honoré additionally ready his little one for the transfer.
“I explained to him that, ‘My son, we will go to a different country and we will start over together. With time, you will have new friends, you will have new cousins. You will have everything you wish for. everything that you have here you will have over there, in time.”
Today, Honoré and Rachel dwell in Canada collectively. Here they are pictured at Niagara Falls.
Woke Enterprises, Inc. Canada
Honoré and his son arrived in Canada in the center of winter.
“It was really really really cold,” he recollects. “I just didn’t understand how cold it could be outside. Because the cold of Africa is a whole different kettle of fish, than the cold in Canada.”
Still, as soon as Honoré was kitted out with Canada-appropriate boots, coat and mittens, he began adapting to life in a brand new nation.
Rachel and Honoré say they were over the moon to be collectively. The months aside ready for Honoré’s visa approval had been lengthy.
Honoré’s son settled in in a short time, and Rachel tailored to turning into his stepmother, a job she says she loves.
“I’m embracing the challenge and the joys of motherhood,” she says now.
“It’s not easy when you’ve been single since forever to adjust to having to share your life. But he’s a good kid.”
Today, Honoré and Rachel dwell in Ottawa. Rachel works as a range and inclusion skilled, whereas Honoré is learning.
The pandemic put a cease to their large Canadian wedding ceremony celebration plans, however they loved a small ceremony in summer season 2020.
Reflecting on their journey collectively, Honoré says their story makes him contemplate that “sometimes you shouldn’t force fate.”
He sees assembly Rachel as “destiny” however considers transferring internationally to be with her as proof of the significance of trusting your intestine.
“Just follow your heart,” he says. “Follow your heart with reckless abandon.”
As for Rachel, she says their love story is a reminder to her that “it’s never too late.”
“You’re not too old to just travel alone by yourself, in a country that you don’t know, where you don’t know anybody. You’re never too old to find love. You’re never too old to become a mother.
There is no expiration date on opportunity. And grab life by both hands. If I can do it. You can.”