This post first appeared in September 2018.
The first thing you notice about Martine Ngo Nlend Manga is her smile. Wide and expansive, it draws you in. This is a woman who radiates through her outward appearance and her inner warmth. I first met her at a conference in Madrid [Spain]. The ease with which she works the room was noticeable. She moves with purpose, almost effortlessly.
Joie de vivre, as the French say, is less a definition and more a way of being. Simply put, it is finding the joy in life. Martine doesn’t just embody the saying – she lives it. Even the name of her coaching business, Joie de Vivre Mentoring, is an homage to the concept.
To understand Martine’s relaxed perspective, one has to start with the beginning of her story. Born in Yaounde, Cameroon, she was raised in the country’s coastal city of Douala. When she was fifteen, her father decided to take a professional opportunity abroad. Because of her Francophone background, it would seem that a European country would be the natural option. It wasn’t. Instead, they moved to New Caledonia (part of the French overseas territories), located roughly seven-hundred km off of the coast of Australia.
Her father was first introduced to the islands while studying in France when he met some fellow students from the small territory. The fact that it was an island and a rumored sunny place was a selling point.
“I moved to New Caledonia as a teenager because my father was a teacher. It is a French island, overseas. It’s the other side of the world. I found it interesting because I was discovering another part of the world.” She goes on to say, that in many ways, it reminded her of the calmness of rural village life in Cameroon. “It was small but relaxing.”
That doesn’t mean there wasn’t culture shock. At the time, there were few people from the African continent in New Caledonia. But, in true third culture kid fashion, she was able to find the commonalities from the country she just left.
At the same time, the island opened her up to a new level of diversity that had not existed in her life in Cameroon. Driven by the need for those with professional skills, individuals of all backgrounds began to arrive from Indonesia, other Melanesian and Polynesian communities and beyond.
Martine completed high school and her eventual nursing studies in New Caledonia. But she recognized that Nouvelle Caledonie, even if it was a picturesque paradise, was too limited.
“In terms of discovering or trying new things, the island was small. It wasn’t possible to be a temporary or traveling nurse – and I wanted to see the world.”
Martine faced the challenges that many do, when telling her family they want to leave. “I remember telling my parents I wanted to see the world. But my parents were sad. They would tell me, ‘Why you are leaving? Life is good here’.” Truthfully, they were afraid and saddened. They kept saying, “But you have a good salary and you’re going far away? Why are you leaving?’” But knowing her options would be limited if she stayed on the island, she knew she had to leave.
Martine and her partner relocated to relatively nearby Perth, Australia as a result of his work as a geologist. While she had legal status in the country, she found herself limited professionally. Like many who move abroad due to a loved one’s work, her professional nursing qualifications from New Caledonia didn’t transfer to the Australian workforce.
That’s when she decided she had to reinvent herself. She furthered her studies in the nursing field and expanded her training to include public health and psychiatry.
Her newly acquired skills could translate to a variety of environments. While using Perth as a hub, she traveled between La Reunion, Madagascar and New Caledonia for both self-care and professional development. She became a nomad of sorts, moving organically when it felt right. That intuition eventually led her to France.
France was always going to be the next step because she knew there were more professional opportunities for her there. She continued her training and eventually earned a Masters in Public Health. But the first place you land is not necessarily where you need to stay: initially, she lived close to Paris and it wasn’t a good fit at all.
“I was used to living in places with space and not so many people. The density [in France] was terrible. In Paris, [I spent] three hours on public transportation every day. After a month, I didn’t feel human. I didn’t have time to visit and do cultural things. I was constrained by routine and wanted to have the opportunity to feel freer. It was work, work, work. So I said, ‘We have to leave.’ It was intuitive.”
At that moment, Martine recalled a principle that has been a guiding force in her life: she listens to her intuition.
“I recognized I need to live in a place close to water. I’ve always been around water. It was the only criteria. While Bordeaux is known for wine, there’s also a large well-known psychiatric hospital near it. People kept asking if I heard of it. And then one day, I stepped off the train, shortly after arriving in Bordeaux and received a call for a temp position here, and that’s where I’ve been based.”
And with that, Bordeaux has been her base ever since.
Australia was her first experience recognizing how hard it can be finding work as a foreigner, even with the right education. While her visa status was attached to her working partner, she experienced the challenges of finding work outside of her passport country.
She recognizes her immense privilege in the form of a French passport. She knows that having a French passport makes travel easier and gives her a certain access to places and opportunities. Her ability to do her work in two languages has also opened doors.
That privilege, however, doesn’t shield her from everyday profiling. “Even in France, because I was the only Black woman on the train, I was pulled aside and asked to show my papers. I’ve been questioned. Even when traveling abroad, there are questions.”
I ask how these experiences vibe with the concept of ‘global citizen’, which often has different connotations for different people.
“Being a global citizen, at least for me, only works when you know where you are coming from. Because at some point, wherever you go, people ask you where you are from. And it can be complicated. You need to have a place you know, [where you’re] rooted. Even though I have a French passport, it says very clearly ‘born in Cameroon’. I know there are some challenges with that. I was able to live in Cameroon for fifteen years. I know what it is like. And some challenges I have, are just truly rich people’s problems.
Global citizen cannot be enough. Where can you go back to, if things get complicated? But I was born in Cameroon. There is a personal culture attached to it, even if I’ve had international experiences. No matter where I go, I will always be seen as Cameroonian, especially when encountering others from Africa. Even when welcomed with open arms, I’m from there. Sometimes it’s a good thing, sometimes it’s a bad thing. But it’s a part of my identity and in [some] people’s minds it won’t change. And it’s a good part of my identity.”
It is her love for people that drives her to help them be who they are at their core. It is why she became a psychiatric nurse. It is also the foundation of her coaching business. She wants to help others understand their personal motivations and use them in a positive manner to create the life and change they want.
As a mentor and brand strategist, Martine helps leaders, creatives and healers, who are often in a season of change, become get energized and repositioned joyfully so that they can have more impact.
Part of that is helping leaders focus on their identity. She helps clients find out what they bring to the proverbial table. This life allows her to live and travel across the world. Her style can be unconventional. Martine uses a multidimensional approach, where music, body language & dance can be part of the process of working with her.
For her work, she feels you must have face-to-face encounters. So although her business is largely virtual, she still meets her clients in person. She still practices as a nurse from time to time when available. It keeps her connected to her initial interest in delving into the complexities of the human mind but also allows her the flexibility to run her coaching business.
As we chat, Martine is on the last leg of two weeks of travel that took her to three continents, concluding with a stint in Tahiti.
I laugh when she says Tahiti. “A lot of people would love to travel to some of these gorgeous places you’ve been,” I remark. “Do you ever post them on Instagram?”
“Life is not just about collecting experiences and showing them on social media. Can we have experiences without them always having to be showcased? A lot of things are not that interesting. Are people much happier, even though we have more tools? […] As a kid, I remember talking to a pastor in New Caledonia, and one thing he said was that at some point, you need to stop because you’re talking too much. At some point, you’re saying the same thing over and over.”
Sometimes you need to just enjoy life. Joie de vivre.