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She asked a stranger for directions on her first day of vacation. Two weeks later, they got engaged.

'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.'

She asked a stranger for directions on her first day of vacation. Two weeks later, they got engaged.
Cover Image Source: Facebook/Rachel Décoste

When Rachel Décoste set out to explore West Africa's Republic of Benin in August 2018, she was hoping it would be a life-changing journey of self-discovery. Little did she know, the trip would end up changing her life in more ways than one. On her very first day in Benin, Décoste—who grew up in Ottawa, Canada, as the daughter of Haitian parents who'd immigrated to Canada in the late 1960s—asked a passerby for directions. That one interaction was the beginning of an incredible love story that saw Décoste and the stranger engaged within two weeks and married within six.

According to CNN, it all began when Décoste—the descendent of enslaved Africans—submitted her DNA to an online ancestry site in the hopes of finding out where her forebears had lived. "DNA tests for a descendant of enslaved Africans has very deep significance for us," she said. "Even though it's not a precise science, when you get the map of where your ancestors came from, it's an emotional journey." The ancestry site gave Décoste a list of countries where she had roots: Senegal, Ivory Coast, Togo, Ghana and Benin. Armed with this list, she set out on a five-month remote working trip to visit each country.



 

It was toward the end of this trip that Décoste arrived in Benin. "Honestly, I don't know if I could find Benin Republic on a map before this," she admitted. After a couple of days settling in, Décoste set out to visit Ouidah, which was once one of the most active slave trading ports in Africa. "I'm sure that one of my ancestors passed by there, just because of my DNA test," she said. The first person she spotted when she stepped out of her bed and breakfast was a man who was about to get on a motorcycle that was parked just outside. Rachel greeted the stranger and politely asked him how to get to Ouidah. 

"You have to go to a certain intersection downtown, where all the bush taxis are," the stranger explained. "You find the taxi going to your destination, you pay for your seat, and then you'll get there." However, as he started passing on directions to the intersection, he realized they were a bit complicated for someone new to Benin and changed his tune. "If you want. I can bring you there, it's about 10 minutes away," he offered, gesturing to his bike. Although Décoste was wary of trusting someone she didn't know, she decided she was unlikely to come to harm in broad daylight and accepted his offer. "I take a chance, hop on the back of his motorcycle, no helmet," she recalled.



 

Décoste soon learned that the motorbike-riding stranger was Honoré Orogbo, a single father and business owner in his 30s who'd lived in Cotonou all his life. When they arrived at the taxi rank, they realized it would be some time before the one heading to Ouidah left as the driver wouldn't leave until the taxi was full. Since Décoste didn't have time to wait around, Orogbo offered to take her to Ouidah where he had a friend he'd been hoping to visit. "I'm like 'Cool. I'll pay for gas. Let's go,'" Décoste recalled. They arrived in Ouidah in just over an hour. "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,'" she added. However, before they parted, Décoste asked Orogbo if he wanted to get brunch with her. Over that meal, he agreed to take her around Benin over the coming days as she figured that might be easier than relying on taxis.

Over the course of their travels, the pair got to know each other better. "We were very open and very candid, because we were strangers and we'll never see each other again," Décoste recalled, adding that she was touched when Orogbo explained that he didn't have a newer model of motorcycle because he prioritized his son's education. "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," she said. Soon, Décoste sensed things shift between them. She felt comfortable around him in a way she'd never felt before. "We get along great. He laughs at my jokes," she recalled thinking. "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."



 

 

Décoste and Orogbo spent as much time together as they could before she had to leave Benin. On the evening of her departure, the two talked about what a future together could look like. As they realized they were both equally committed to make their relationship work, they decided to get engaged and that Orogbo would relocate to North America for her. Although it was big decision—especially since they'd only known each other for two weeks—he said he decided to "follow my instincts, to follow my heart." Six months later, in January 2019, Décoste returned to Benin for her wedding to Orogbo. "I took the time during the separation to start preparing myself mentally and psychologically for a big move," he recalled. "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."

Orogbo also prepared his son for the move. "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,'" he said. Today, the family lives in Ottawa. Décoste works as a diversity and inclusion expert while Orogbo is studying. Their love story, Décoste said, is a reminder 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," she said. "There is no expiration date on opportunity. And grab life by both hands. If I can do it. You can."

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