Au­thor Ele Foun­tain

The au­thor on re­turn­ing to Bri­tain, try­ing to write in a play­room – and day­dream­ing about Ethiopia

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - Contents -

THREE YEARS AF­TER MOV­ING to Ethiopia with a baby and a two-year-old, we are back in the UK. There are no ter­ri­fied mask-wear­ing air­port staff check­ing pas­sen­gers for Ebola, I note, fondly re­mem­ber­ing our out­bound trip, and most things are eas­ier. There is no state of emer­gency, the in­ter­net works, I don’t have to worry about amoe­bas. Yet I feel slightly out of touch with home. If we’re walk­ing af­ter dark, the kids ask if they need to watch out for leop­ards. They whis­per with con­cern that Granny has been drink­ing the tap wa­ter. Mine are the only chil­dren who shout, ‘Mummy, is that all cheese?’ in the su­per­mar­ket.

But they seem to be bet­ter at adapt­ing than me. I still ex­pect friendly voices to push me to the front of any queue if I’m with my chil­dren. In restau­rants, no wait­ress scoops up my youngest daugh­ter and en­ter­tains her un­til we’ve fin­ished eat­ing. My so­cial life no longer or­gan­ises it­self either. As an ex­pat liv­ing in Ad­dis Ababa, whether hav­ing a cof­fee, or sit­ting in the doc­tor’s wait­ing room, I was guar­an­teed to bump into some­one I knew. At first this was amus­ing, then an­noy­ing, then I seemed to not mind it so much. I won­der if there might have been a fourth stage – when it be­comes hard to leave the rar­efied club at­mos­phere. But per­haps life isn’t go­ing to be so dif­fer­ent. Small­est Child is work­ing her way through three years worth of UK viruses and ev­ery­one in our vil­lage seems to know when we cut back our hedge. We are, how­ever, eat­ing a lot more cheese.

WE’RE CUR­RENTLY REN­O­VAT­ING our not-quite-fall­ing-down house in Hamp­shire. The spirit level lies ne­glected in the ‘corner’. There are no straight edges. But it does have some­thing I’ve been need­ing for a while. Be­fore Ethiopia, I was an ed­i­tor. Our move to that coun­try, full of beauty but also de­pri­va­tion, co­in­cided with one of the largest refugee crises in modern his­tory. I’d spo­ken to many au­thors about their in­spi­ra­tion, so it was with great sus­pi­cion that I re­alised I might have had my own. That’s when I be­gan to un­der­stand the need to write.

For some rea­son, I thought set­ting up my desk in the corner of the play­room was log­i­cal. I could work and keep an eye on Small­est Child. Although yet to hone her fine mo­tor skills, she had a cu­ri­ously ac­cu­rate throw. She could hit me on the back of the head with a piece of plas­tic food with sur­pris­ing force. I did, though, man­age to com­plete my new book. As of last week, I also have my own of­fice.

WITH FEWER PLAS­TIC MIS­SILES to dodge, I find my­self day­dream­ing, in my wonky of­fice, as I look at all the boxes that still need un­pack­ing, about how we don’t re­ally need all this stuff. One of my most cher­ished mem­o­ries from Ethiopia is a moun­tain trek we did with the kids. I packed warm clothes, sleep­ing bags, end­less snacks, med­i­cal equip­ment, and we flew north. A two-hour drive would take us to the start of the trek, then we’d have just enough time to make it to our first camp be­fore dark.

The dusty road wound back and forth as it climbed steadily up from the val­ley. The kids were en­tranced by the view, or pos­si­bly car­sick. Either way, af­ter an hour it was clearly ‘snack time’. We pulled over and I opened the boot. Apart from the chang­ing bag, it was empty. Af­ter a few sec­onds, I cleared my throat: ‘Dar­ling, where did you put our lug­gage?’ Si­lence. The lug­gage re­mained at the air­port, and we spent that night at 9,800ft with no sleep­ing bags, a toi­let perched on a precipice, and some wolves, but when trussed in the con­tents of the chang­ing bag, the kids slept fine. There weren’t many clothes to wash af­ter the trip, either. Boy 87, by Ele Foun­tain, is pub­lished by Pushkin Chil­dren’s Books (£6.99)

If we’re walk­ing af­ter dark, the kids ask if they need to watch out for leop­ards

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