Transcript – Episode 35: Chat with Laurent-Gabriel Côté-Fournier

Welcome to the GAC Files, a podcast about the people, issues and ideas driving Global Affairs Canada.

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Hello, yes.

Hello, Laurent-Gabriel. How are you?

Yes, very well. And you?

Not bad at all. Thanks.

And your family? Everybody’s in good shape?

Yes, everyone’s doing well. The children are full of energy and happy to have their parents at home full time, 100%.

And your situation now—you’re still in quarantine?

Yes, we’re still in quarantine until next Monday. We arrived here March 24, and we’re right now in an Airbnb in Ottawa.

And you were in Addis before being in quarantine, as I understand it.

Yes, exactly, we were in Addis.

And so what's the experience been of sort of moving your family back as quickly as you had to move? And how are they doing and how are you doing?

Well, I think there's a few components on the professional side of things. It was difficult to leave the colleagues behind because we have some Canadians that are still at the embassy over there. Of course, the Ethiopian colleagues are also still in Addis. So that’s has been tough, you know, you feel like you're letting down your team somewhat. But at the same time, this was a family decision. It was a little bit difficult to explain to the kids as well that we were leaving without really knowing when we're coming back. So we tried as much as possible to explain that. And of course, it was difficult, you know, we have a nanny, she was very upset about the whole thing. So it was a difficult experience at first. But then when you arrive here, you realize that, because in Addis at the time, at least at the time, you know, they only have a few cases, so life was almost life as normal as we know it. But when we arrived in Canada, it was a bit a little bit of a shock because we realized, okay, it's a real thing here. People are self-isolating and so on. So it was a little bit, you know, of an interesting experience arriving in Ottawa.

What was the biggest challenge for you and your family?

I would say the biggest challenge is—well, we have 2 young children, 3 years old and 1 and a half years old, so they need our constant attention. My wife is still working, so our challenge is to organize our days, to find windows, moments, where I can have 1, 2, 3 hours to work and then the same for her so she can work too. So what we do, often, is we finish our evening with a few emails and sometimes reading a few emails. The other challenge, I would say, is to stay in contact with our colleagues, our counterparts, who are scattered everywhere, who returned to Europe, some even to Australia.

To really keep going and keep working with them and really having discussions with them on Zoom, for instance, to make sure that we're all on the same page and we're all working together towards similar objectives and so on.

So that’s one of the most difficult challenges for me, because, for example, I have to get up at 6 in the morning to have meetings with my colleague in Canberra, in Australia.

You emphasized the question of a strategy for dealing with challenges, but what are the most effective things in the context of the virus?

I would say that we're all in the same boat, so everyone is extremely flexible. People are happy to wake up early or send emails late at night.

So, really, to see to what extent—well, I work, my principal file is the African Union—to see also how dedicated the people at the African Union are to working and to carrying on so the files develop, and sometimes despite the fact that they’re at home with an Internet connection that’s not necessarily the best. So that’s one of the things, I think: to be flexible. The other thing: Zoom works well for staying connected, so that’s a tool that has worked well so far.

And what are you finding in terms of non-work techniques to try and deal with the situation. Because it's a stressful thing about your family and to be in your situation, have them being reoriented and at the same time, as you say, trying to maintain your connections and all the rest. What have you found helped?

So there's a very few things we kind of knew we were coming back from for a long period of time, so we really packed a lot of our personal belongings, especially for the kids. We made sure we had more than enough toys with us just so they feel somewhat at home, even though we're now in Ottawa, we’re not back in our house in Addis. So that was useful for the kids, for sure. And so my wife and I used to always make sure that at the end of the day, we have a moment that's just our moment and we can kind of go through what happens throughout the day and have a little bit more of it, less of a busy moment but just really for us and kind of, you know, enjoying being together as a couple as well, because during the day we're just with the kids or working so we don't really have any time for ourselves. And it's also Skyping with the family, the friends, as well, so the kids really like seeing their grandparents, for instance, on Skype, so that really has been very useful so far. It's also to show them photos that we know we have photos of the nanny, for instance, so we show them the photo and we say that she's back in Addis. We do the same with our dogs that are still back in Addis just to kind of give them a sense of normality and remind them of what their life was in Addis and explained that now we're in Ottawa and that we'll probably keep going from here in Ottawa most likely not going back. Well, actually, we now know we're not going to go back. But yeah, so those are the strategies we were trying to be creative as well. Maybe one interesting anecdote the other day I was on a voice call with my director and my deputy director and my kid decided to start painting my face with makeup! So, you know, we're trying to be flexible and innovative and in both doing both the work and being a part as well. So, yeah, those are the strategies. It's nothing very complicated. It's just right to kind of enjoy the moment and enjoy the fact that we're with our kids all day, which is, you know, it is a really, really interesting moment for us as well as parents just focusing on the kids.

Well look, thanks so much for taking the time to chat today. I really appreciate it. And pleased that you are all well, and readjusting to life here. And I'll look forward to seeing when we can all see each other.

Sounds good. Thank you for the phone call.

Take care.

Okay. Bye.

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