Photo Credit: Courtesy of Autumn
The Black Expat: 'I Moved To Mauritius Then Rwanda For Love'
When Autumn Marie gathered her family and friends for a dinner to celebrate her birthday in August 2017, they had no idea that they were in for not just one, but two bombshells that evening.
The first, that Autumn had secretly married partner Gaidi Faraj. And the second, that they were moving to Mauritius.
To understand how she got to this point, we need to go back to just a year earlier when Autumn, a public relations and marketing professional, was contemplating a move from New York City where she had lived for 15 years.
“New York was changing very much; gentrification and not just gentrification of neighborhoods, the gentrification of culture, what New York had been for those of that lived there for a long time and people that grew up there,” she explained. “And also I am very much a sunshine, palm tree, ocean person. I just needed a change of pace.”
Autumn continued, “At the time I was working independently. I had already left my last agency. This is 2016. I was already working as an independent consultant with my own clients at this point, and I was a bit over that as well.”
Initially, the Chicago native had her eyes on Los Angeles. But as she was figuring that out, she met Faraj and things changed quickly. Within three months they had married but continued to live on opposite ends of the country as she remained in New York, and he stayed in California.
As the bi-coastal couple tried to narrow down a city to settle in, the answer came in the form of an unexpected job offer Faraj received from the African Leadership University in Mauritius. Having lived in Tanzania and backpacked through Europe, Faraj was undaunted by the idea of moving to Africa. His wife took some convincing.
“I was open to the idea, but to be honest, I had never considered living abroad,” Autumn admitted. “So when he brought it up, I wasn’t inspired or anything. I was open to it because I felt like, what better time to do it than now when we both had the opportunity.”
As a Pan-Africanist, Autumn eventually warmed up to the idea of moving to the East African nation. But a few days before departure, she suffered a minor meltdown, thinking of all she would be leaving behind and the fear of not having job security.
With her husband reporting to work just a day after landing in Mauritius, Autumn found herself a bit idle. She attempted to explore but found the society insular. And while some Mauritians did speak English, their most commonly used languages are French and Creole; neither of which she spoke.
Fortunately, a job opened up in marketing at the university which she was able to interview for and landed. But just as Autumn was finding her footing, the winds of change rustled again. Faraj was offered a position as a dean at the campus in Rwanda, which he accepted. Less than a year after they arrived in Mauritius, they were on the move again.
Autumn wanted a break and planned to take a year off this time around before a friend came calling in a favor.
“A friend of mine in South Africa that I knew from New York needed to do an event in Rwanda for a client. So he hired me to do that and that’s what got me working here.”
The event reawakened Autumn’s creative side, and she started doing some brand strategy consulting work in addition to creating a company called KGL FWD. Over the past year, she has been building what she calls a “mission-based PR and brand marketing agency that is dedicated to shifting and expanding the narrative of Rwanda.”
“Rwanda is such a remarkable story of Africa rising that if we’re able to really show people what is happening here, I have a deep belief that we then open their eyes to what is happening across the rest of the continent. If we can shift that narrative around Africa, then we can really start to shift to the narrative of Black people globally or at least open minds and shift those paradigms.”
On a personal level, she has been able to build with several women across the continent has made her whirlwind three years worthwhile.
“Students come from all over the continent, from 30-something different countries. To be able to just have a different life experience on that level and to see how similar we are and appreciate the nuances of all the different cultures, has been an amazing experience,” she shared.
She also draws on her own experiences to encourage others to shift their mindset when considering a move abroad.
“I think there are so many people that don’t want to move abroad because they’re looking for the safety net of trying to find the same exact job. Even for me, when I first moved to the continent, I thought I’m going to try to bring all my DJ and music artist friends, and get them all to come and tour. That’s still on my mind. But being in Rwanda, what’s become more important to me is getting into location and tourism marketing, and using that to be able to change this narrative of Africa. You just never know where that’s going to take you.”
Autumn and Gaidi’s relationship can also provide some reassurance to couples who may not be on the same page about taking such a major step at first.
“I hope this story helps somebody who might be in a relationship where one person wants to move or is more ready to do it than the other person. And knowing that it’s possible. I think it’s also just trusting and knowing that if you have each other, then it doesn’t matter where you live; things will be good, you have each other.”
Follow Autumn’s journey in Rwanda on Instagram.