(CNN) — Rachel Décoste landed in West Africa’s Republic of Benin in August 2018, anticipating an important journey of self-discovery, but not predicting the extent to which the trip would change her life.
On her first day exploring Benin, Rachel asked a passerby for directions. 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 parents who had immigrated to Canada in the late 1960s. As an adult, Rachel relocated to Washington DC for college, later working for a bipartisan tech program associated with the United States congress.
Rachel loved this job, she loved the diversity of Washington and loved 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 few months before returning to DC.
But rather than working from Canada, she hatched a plan to set up her desk further afield.
Earlier that year, Rachel had submitted her DNA to an online ancestry site. Rachel had long known she was the descendent of enslaved Africans, but until she got the results, she hadn’t known where her forebears had lived. Now, she had a list of countries where she had roots: Senegal, Ivory Coast, Togo, Ghana and Benin.
“DNA tests for a descendant of enslaved Africans has very deep significance for us,” Rachel tells CNN Travel. “Even though it’s not a precise science, when you get the map of where your ancestors came from, it’s an emotional journey.”
Rachel arrived in Benin towards the end of her five month remote working trip. She’d already visited the other countries on her list, and her African trip was shaping up to be an extraordinary journey of self-discovery. Nevertheless, Rachel didn’t know