Nathalie Desautels has an MBA from the Université du Québec à Montréal. On July 30, 2019, she began a 2‑year posting in Cotonou, Benin, as an operations coordinator with ADAPAMI, a microfinance project run by Développement international Desjardins (DID). Below, Nathalie shares her first impressions.
A wonderful surprise
In May I got the call I’d long been waiting for: my family and I would finally have the opportunity to live abroad! Of course, every choice you make in life means giving something else up, and we had to break the news to our friends, our parents and our 2 grown children that we would be moving away for 2 years.
While Benin’s football team was making their way to the Africa Cup, my husband and I were preparing for our own big adventure. Once the initial excitement wore down, we realized just how much we had to do—and how little time we had to do it in! We sold our cottage, got our house ready and made sure our grown children were all set up, so we wouldn’t have to worry about anything while we were gone. And we had to give notice at our jobs.
A couple weeks before our departure day, I went to DID head office to begin my orientation program. Everything was very well organized. I got a lot out of the sessions, which helped me not just prepare for my new role, but really understand the project I’d be working on.
I’m a month into my posting now, and there’s a Fon saying that captures how I feel: “Agbé mon wè oun do, bo ka wa wli adji. Do, oun lin an. Evivi noumi taoun.” I’ll leave it up to you to search for a full translation, if you’re curious, but it expresses a feeling of positive surprise. A reaction to something amazing.
There are the beautifully vibrant fabrics you see everywhere, the incredible warmth of the Beninese people, the playful looks you get from curious children... But what I’m enjoying most is the talented team I get to work with every day. My colleagues are all seasoned experts, we have a razor-sharp project director who really understands the microfinance sector in Benin, and the whole project is run so collaboratively. Overall, it’s made for an easy integration.
The family side of things
It’s only been a few days since my husband and 2 younger sons arrived. They took some time to explore and find their footing. Since I was able to set everything up before they arrived, my sons settled right in like it’s always been their home. I’m impressed—and relieved! Even the school entrance exams didn’t phase them. And as for everyone back home, it’s been easy to keep in touch. All the infrastructure is there and we get strong Wi-Fi. The time difference even works in our favour. So far, it’s kept us from feeling homesick.
“Oun vè dosi, gbé dji wè oun dési, adi, houégbé wè oun wa” – I thought I’d gone to another country, but I’d actually come home
This is actually my second time in Benin, and just like the first trip, I feel at home here. I’m sure the next 2 years will be busy and rewarding, both personally and professionally.
A special thank you to my friends for helping me out with the Fon expressions! Who knows, maybe in 2 years I’ll be able to come up with a few sayings on my own!
Learn more about the ADAPAMI project
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 Fon or Fongbe is a language spoken in Benin, Nigeria and Togo