Siamo nati in casa (we were born at home), a book by Elena Zaccherini

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Elena Zaccherini is Italian and currently lives in Dakar, Senegal. In this beautiful interview she tells us about her recently published book, Siamo nati in casa (We were born at home).

What is your professional background and what brought you abroad?
I have a legal background, and I’ve been working in the field of urban safety and social prevention at home (in Italy), as responsible for a public department in my hometown, and for international NGOs in fundraising, strategic planning and proposal development consultant (Kenya, Senegal, Burkina Faso).

What brought me abroad, despite my work and experience, was, as it often happens, my husband’s work! He works for the Italian Cooperation and we agreed to move to Senegal on his contract. Previously we had spent two years working together for an NGO in Kenya; we then went back to Italy where we worked for another five years and started a family, and left again to Senegal where we have been living for the last five years, with our two boys, 7 and 11.

How did the idea of writing “Siamo nati in casa” come about?
I love writing. I write all the time. I write for my work, and I write for pleasure. I love the power of words. Writing is natural for me, and part of my way of living and feeling things.
Giving birth to my two babies has been the most special moment in my life; I write about boring monitoring and evaluation plans in finalizing development programs, imagine if I did not write about the birth of my children! I had at least three old scrambled notebooks where I had noted down thoughts, facts and feelings of their birth.
Relocating to Senegal, despite having chosen it as the best option for our family life, was a difficult moment for me, I’m sure all our women friends know what I’m talking about: I did not speak a word of French, I had stopped working, I had no social status other than that of wife and mother. I had lost my individuality! I had to redefine myself, but this is a challenging task, that can undermine you as a person. I faced difficult moments, and moments when I asked myself: what am I doing here?.
On the other hand, I found myself with a lot of time, as never before. So…it was natural to take out my scrambled notebooks and start working on them. My two children were born at home, and it has been a unique experience, which I think I somehow needed to deliver, in a way!
And finally! I was having t time to organize and give birth to something deeply important for me. This was a luxury, an occasion you cannot miss. Any change of your status is an opportunity: we must not forget this.

Siamo nati in casaHow long did it take you to write the book?
Is difficult to say, because I’ve done other things in between.
Let’s say some months as main occupation at the very beginning of our stay in Senegal (when I still did not have any ideas, plan or possibility of spending my CV in the new context): a long time which allowed me to concentrate and build it. Then several other moments, in between my consultancies contracts.
I can say one year in total.
When I finalized the first version, by chance I met a well known Italian writer in Dakar, who has been special to me. My husband convinced me to present her my manuscript (I think I would have never dared!!), she read and loved it, encouraged me a lot, and gave me the most precious advices on how to work on it. I will always be deeply grateful to her.
She also accepted to write the foreword of the book.
She told me something I will never forget: “I often read manuscripts, but I rarely like them. This is very good! So: let yourself go, give it a chance and allow it to grow!” .
Let yourself go: this is the key, believe in what you are doing.
She kind of legitimated my efforts, and the time I was investing in the book.
This freed me from the fear of just wasting my time or being naive.

How did you find a publisher?
Well, this was the most difficult part of the work!
From the moment I finalized the manuscript to the moment I found and editor one and a half years passed.
I did a first round of research, which I think was not well targeted: I invested a lot of time and efforts, with no results. So I abandoned the project for almost one year; and when I finished one of my consultancies here in Senegal and started feeling a lack of motivation (what am I doing here?) I told myself: now or never.
I decided to dedicate a couple of months to systematically identify and target the publishers that could be interested in the topic of the book. It was a very organized and efficient work. And…I have been lucky! A couple of months later I received a very serious offer.

I started working on my book in our torrid veranda in Dakar beginning of 2009, the writer encouraged me in September 2011, I did the first research for an editor in 2012; the second in Jan/Feb 2013, received the good offer a couple of months later, and the book was on sale in all Italian bookshops on 12th February 2014.

What obstacles have you encountered?
The main one was my personal conviction, my legitimization to my own eyes.
What am I doing? I’m writing a book. Ok, just leave it and continue your French course.
I had no legitimization, nor personal neither social.
Typical discussion I would fear: “Oh dear, and what are you doing right now?” “Hem…I’m writing a book” “Oh, I did not know you were a writer!” “No, in fact I’m not…”.
I knew what I was doing was good; really good. I could feel it. But at the same time I did not trust my feelings.
All the rest: finding time and concentration to work, finalizing the manuscript corresponding to my standards (very severe ones!), and finding an editor, have not really been obstacles.
My husband played the greatest role in this: for the whole time I could share with him “the book”. He has been the first one to call it “the book”, from the earliest stages.
I love him for the support he has always given me.

How is to write a book in your native language and directed to an Italian public when you live abroad?
It’s very frustrating! And I hadn’t foreseen this!
It’s difficult to share what you are doing with others; not only difficult: it is impossible!
I now have very good women friends here in Senegal, we share deeply. But I’m not able to have them reading something so precious for me!
So this is really bad. But my frustration is pushing me, and an obstacle once again becomes an opportunity: why not try and have it translated and published in other languages?
I’ve always had this approach in my life; it has helped me a lot.
Even in dire times: an obstacle is an opportunity.
I also write it in my book, when talking about delivery. The moment of delivering a baby, where you finally have to take the decision to push; push with all of your strength despite the total fear and conviction that is too difficult, you are too scared, you cannot do it, you do not want it, it’s too big…well: that moment is the highest trampoline you can have!

Living abroad, as a “trailing spouse” can be really difficult, and adds complexity to the already difficult game of being a person, a professional, a couple, a mother.
It has been cause of discouragement, but also of great opportunities: I would have never believed I could write a book. I would have never met the Italian writer who encouraged me. I would have never thought I should consider translating my book in other languages!
And when you believe in things, things happen: I recently met a Canadian journalist (another trailing spouse I’ve helped in settling here in Dakar, full of energy and ideas): her mother is a publisher in Canada, and apparently they could be interested…give things a chance……

Who is this book for?
This book is for anybody who is willing to approach the topic of maternity, beyond dichotomy and ideological opposition, in full freedom of thoughts and feelings.
It is the recovery of an ancient form of construction of feminine knowledge through sharing of personal experiences; I hope it can help women discover new courageous and independent visions of themselves.

About Claudia Landini

Claudia is a certified intercultural trainer and life and mobile career coach with 28 years of experience abroad, in Africa, Latin America, Middle East and Asia.