Kibbutz Kfar Azza

Kerry Honan

Kerry Honan (class of 2017) is from St. Paul, Minnesota. An undeclared Spanish major, she is considering a double major in Anthropology or Environmental Studies. Though not yet sure what career she wants to pursue, Kerry is passionate about sustainability, food security, global female health, and learning foreign languages. As a Bonner Scholar, she has spent many hours volunteering at the Ada Jenkins Center and with Sow Much Good. Kerry also stays busy on campus by dancing for the Gamut Dance Company and serving on the Hillel club’s board. She is excited to live in the returning Eco House as a sophomore. This essay, which she wrote for Christine Marshall’s Writing 101: Memory, is dedicated to her parents and six siblings.

abstract-150x150 Kibbutz Kfar AzzaI sat cross-legged on the cold tile floor of the little kibbutz apartment, gazing down at the halved sheet of paper clenched between my shaking fingers. A jagged line of ink divided the sheet into two uneven compartments. The larger side was titled “Ways to Make it Better,” while the smaller simply said, “Alternatives.” Below each title, the page was filled with dark scrawls that I could no longer decipher and whole hidden messages had brought me no solution.

The squeak of stroller wheels just outside my front door startled me from my trance, and I realized that I’d been sitting in the same position for hours. Morning had arrived and, at last, the world outside was starting to shift. I made my way to the nearest window and pulled open the heavy wooden shades, stumbling backwards as blinding sunlight engulfed the room. Turning my back to the window, I caught sight of myself in the full-length mirror on my closet door. I stared at the strange reflection in the glass. Bony shoulders protruded through a knitted blue sweater and an undeniable confusion resided in the tired, sunken eyes.

In the empty kitchen, I boiled some water and spooned a heap of Nescafe into a mug. After months of drinking coffee that was either too watery or too sludgy, I had finally figured out the exact amount of powder it took to perfect my much-needed morning potion. With the steaming drink in my hand a stretch of my tight muscles, I returned to the ominous sheet of paper that beckoned from the living room floor. It was Shabbat, so I had no English lessons to teach and was expected nowhere. Should I choose to contemplate this paper all day long, not a soul would notice. I would not be saved.

Ways to make it better: Design a proposal for a new English curriculum and show it to the principal of the high school. Start a community garden on the kibbutz and get people involved. Go to more yoga classes at the community center. Read more books. Write more journal entries.

Alternatives: Go work on an organic farm somewhere else in Israel. Look for internship opportunities (immigration center, battered women’s shelter). Apply for a structured program. Go home.

As I looked at the first and larger side of the paper, expectant voices from home prodded at my already-crowded mind. “You will do great things in Kfar Azza, Kerry. They will be so lucky to have you,” said Arie, beaming at me as he returned a Hebrew essay marked with a red “A+.” “Just keep breathing and don’t give in to panic,” soothed my always-sensible mother. “You’ve made a commitment and you should try to follow through. Brainstorm ways to make it work. It’s no more likely that you’ll find what you’re looking for elsewhere.” Dad’s deep voice joined in, assuring me, “We know this is hard, Kerry. But you’re adventurous and strong. We’re so proud of you.” But it was my own angry voice that spoke the loudest, fighting to be heard over the others, struggling to suppress the praise that I had not earned from them this time. “Can’t you do anything right?,” it demanded. “Don’t just give up. Don’t embarrass yourself by failing. Work harder. You’ve being weak.” Before I could fight them back, hot tears began to roll down my cheeks, and I crumpled the paper and hurled it at the wall.

Yanking my unruly hair into a braid and zipping my jacket, I pushed open the front door and inhaled fresh desert air into my lungs. I kept my red eyes lowered to avoid unwanted attention from passersby, and rushed to the trail that ran the length of Kfar Azza’s perimeter. Though I’d set out with no destination in mind, I slowed my pace upon reaching the stark wire fence at the edge of the kibbutz. I paused to gaze across the desolate stretch of sand that separated me from the silver Gaza Strip, looming just over a kilometer away. At any moment, the sirens could begin, and I’d be sent scrambling to the white-walled bomb shelter I’d come to know so well. Right then, however, I didn’t care.

As I stood there rigidly, my mind returned to the second list on the sheet of paper, which now sat balled on my apartment floor. Go work on an organic farm somewhere else in Israel. “I can’t,” I answered weakly to myself. “Mom is right. It won’t get any better. I thought I’d succeed here and instead I find myself standing foolishly in front on a class of laughing Israeli high schoolers every day, trying to teach them when they don’t care to learn. Chances are I’ll be just as lost on some farm. And I can’t give up. That’s not what this family does. I cannot disappoint the people who got me to where I am.”

I heard the gravel crunch behind me and turned to see two young soldiers heading toward the kibbutz army base. They nodded, raised their tanned hands in a wave, and continued on. I watched as the long-barreled guns slung across their green backs bobbed off into the distance. Enviously, I realized that their every step brought them closer to a destination where they were expected and where a role awaited them. They had tangible tasks to complete and would go to sleep that night knowing they had done them.

When I turned back toward Gaza, the landscape separating us suddenly appeared clearer and more vivid than it had just moments before. It was the same expanse of hazel sand and spinning tumbleweed it had been yesterday and the day before that, but my eyes now saw it differently. I was still captivated by its hopeful pioneer spirit, but I no longer felt that I was promised to Kfar Azza. With a strange sense of certainty, I suddenly knew that nothing here would change. I could stay and try, as my mother had suggested, to make things work. but the families of this kibbutz would go on with their daily lives and I would go on feeling useless and lonely. The rockets would come and abstract-150x150 Kibbutz Kfar Azzatemporarily disturb the routine, but after an hour or so, things would return to normal. I would continue running along this wire fence day after day, trying desperately to achieve some sense of purpose, until I shriveled further into myself and eventually disappeared altogether. My staying or leaving would make no difference to them. They’d had their fun with the little American girl.

Swiveling towards the kibbutz, I took in the sight of the orange trees and the earth-colored low-roofed houses. I listened to the far-off shouts of children playing in the park outside the preschool and to the Hebrew lyrics blaring from someone’s stereo. My heart throbbed at the subtle beauty of this place and yet the very sight of it made me feel nauseated. Perhaps I would let Arie down and force my family to question their unwavering faith in me, but, in that moment, I recognized that I had to leave. I could not let frightened submissiveness pin me to a place that was causing me so much pain and self-doubt. I knew that, for once in my life, I had to make the choice that was best for me. This year of travel would only be what I chose to make it, and there was an entire country left for me to explore. There were new people to meet and wonderfully strange experiences to be had. I knew that if I didn’t stop basing my decisions on the expectations of others right then and there, I would never have the strength to do so.

“Go work on an organic far somewhere else in Israel,” I said aloud, shattering the delicate silence. The words sounded different than I’d imagined they would. Stuffing my hands into my pockets, I began walking back toward the apartment, sure that at any moment shadowy doubt would close its hands around my throat once more. But it did not. Suddenly, the kibbutz around me glowed golden and majestic in the midday sunlight. It looked lovelier than it ever had before because it was no longer my prison. In a warm breeze that swept through my sweater and lightly rustled my hair, Kfar Azza whispered to me, “Thank you for coming, Kerry. A part of your story now belongs to me, but it’s time for you to let me go.”