Home is Where the Heart is Open

Hello all! My talented friend Laura Zera allows us glimpses of her rich travel life through articles, blog posts and her book, Tro-Tros and Potholes. If you missed her last guest post on my blog, HootSuite & TweetDeck Highlights, link here after you read this wonderful story about her stint on an Israeli kibbutz. Enjoy!

“When the babies wake up from their afternoon nap, you probably need to change all their diapers,” Ayelet said to me during one of my first mornings working in the daycare.

I didn’t tell her that even though I was 18, I had never changed a diaper, for fear I’d be demoted back to the job of picking oranges in the orchards. There, I’d had an enforced quota of about six hundred pounds per day. How much harder could taking care of four infants be?

I’d been volunteering on an Israeli kibbutz for two months of a planned 10-month stint at that point. My best friend and I got the idea after our history teacher, tired of taking students on the London-Paris-Amsterdam route for their senior trip, lobbied hard to take a class to Israel. It only happened once (likely due to the bomb evacuation we experienced at Ben Gurion Airport); the following year, the students went back to Europe.

I was lucky to have been part of the Israel trip—a truly stupendous experience—and when I learned I could work on a kibbutz in exchange for room and board, the plan to go back after high school graduation was hatched. I clocked just enough early shifts pricing ladies’ wear at a department store distribution center to bank the cost of my airfare and a bit of spending money, and bailed out.

Israel was the perfect geographic cure to the crossroads I had reached in my life. I was still reeling from the traumatic years spent with my mentally ill mother. After I moved out at 15, I’d bounced around for a while—a friend’s basement bedroom, my sister’s apartment—before spending the last part of high school living with a father I didn’t know, and for whom I had a great deal of unresolved anger. Extremely conflicted about my feelings for my parents, I needed some distance.

The whole experiment might only have served to reinforce the walls I was putting up around my heart if it weren’t for one of the mothers in the daycare. With five kids of her own, Bootzy was the most maternal, nurturing, caring creature I had ever encountered.

Early on, it became evident that I wasn’t confident and my child-minding skills were lacking. Bootzy stood up for me in front of the daycare manager, and then took me under her wing. She trusted me with the care of her eight-month old daughter, and invited me to her home for meals with the rest of her family. She convinced me that I belonged in the daycare, and was good with the children. She loved me like I was perfect just the way I was. I slowly grew to trust her, and started to return her love as best as I could, even though I was a relative newbie in that area.

When I left Israel to return home, Bootzy gave me a copy of Antoine De Saint-Exupéry’s “The Little Prince.” Inside, she wrote, Now that you belong to us forever (at least a part of you), you must know that as a child, wherever you’ll go, there is an unseeing string tying you to our hearts because we love you, just love that comes from doing only good.

Since my kibbutz residency, I have visited more than 50 countries, many of them alone, and many with just a backpack and a lot of insect repellent. I’ve always been able to venture forth without fear and with an open heart because I extend my trust to the people I meet along the way, and expect that they will do only good. I love to travel almost more than anything else. Every time I step off a plane, train or boat, new life is breathed into my soul. No longer am I trying to put distance between me and my family, though. Now I travel in anticipation of who I will meet on the other end.

Setting up my first website in 2003, I came up with the tag line “Stories to Connect Cultures” because I felt if I wrote about the things I’d seen and the people I’d encountered during my travels, readers would see similarities with themselves, commonalities in our humanity. My goal has been to generate compassion toward our global neighbors, no matter how far away they are, and I continue to use that tag line in one form or another as I believe the intent behind it is one of the most important elements of my writing.

It was a life-changing day when I stepped on that airplane to Tel Aviv in 1987. The dedication at the front of my first book, Tro-tros and Potholes, reads “To Fred, the high school history teacher who gave me my first glimpses into the richness of the world that is out there, and to my friend and surrogate mother Bootzy, who showed me what a safe place it can really be.” It’s a small token of gratitude for the huge gift they gave to me. There are some things you can’t ever repay, except maybe with love.

Laura Zera is an author and project consultant who has lived and worked in Cameroon, Canada, South Africa, and the United States. A contributor to GoodFood World, she is working on a memoir about being raised by a schizophrenic mother. Laura’s first book, 2004’s Tro-tros and Potholes, chronicles her solo adventures through five countries of West Africa, and her work can also be found in Booktrope Publishing’s 2012 anthology Write for the Fight: A Collection of Seasonal Essays. From her time in Israel, she still remembers how to say the always-useful ‘I’m hungry,’ and ‘give me a kiss’ in Hebrew. Follow her on Twitter @laurazera and visit her blog.

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21 Responses to Home is Where the Heart is Open

  1. Laura Diane April 16, 2012 at 6:36 pm #

    Ahhh! The innocence of youth blossoming into the wisdom of a world-adventurer. Good luck with your travels and your continued journeys in growth!

    • Laura Zera (@laurazera) April 17, 2012 at 12:30 pm #

      And wishing you the same, whether the travels are physical or spiritual. Thank you for reading, Laura! From another Laura. :)

  2. Diane Hughes April 16, 2012 at 6:43 pm #

    Laura, I live this story. I would never have been so brave right out of high school. The tales of your treks inspire me to see more of the world and experience other cultures. In my own travels I have learned that we are all more alike than different, and, for me, that realization makes it easier to see people worlds away as friends — not enemies. And don’t we need more of that? Great post!

    • Laura Zera (@laurazera) April 16, 2012 at 9:21 pm #

      Yes, we need more of that! And when I’m really ‘out there,’ I always find people to be so warm, friendly and helpful — way beyond expectations. Thanks for your comment, Diane, and happy travels.

  3. Galit Breen April 16, 2012 at 7:08 pm #

    I’m over the moon for this post, ladies!

    (Both for my own walls and my own time spent at a kibbutz.)

    Fabulous slice of life!

    • Laura Zera (@laurazera) April 16, 2012 at 9:18 pm #

      And I love that you’re ‘over the moon’ — what a great expression! Thanks, Galit. I’m curious to know which kibbutz you were on, and in what part of the country?

  4. Pamela Beason April 16, 2012 at 7:27 pm #

    You have had such a fascinating life so far, Laura, and I’m sure there’s much more to come. I’m virtually enjoying (well, sometimes ‘enduring’) your experiences in Africa in Tro-Tros and Potholes, because your writing makes me feel as if I’m right there with you. I want you to finish that memoir about your mother ASAP, because I just know that a lot of people are waiting for it. Interesting lives make for interesting people, and you’re certainly in that category. So please, keep writing. And stop for coffee or lunch the next time you’re passing through my town!

    • Laura Zera (@laurazera) April 16, 2012 at 9:15 pm #

      Pam, thank you so much. It’s wonderful to have you rooting for me and I will persevere with the memoir. Looking forward to seeing you soon!

  5. Heal Now and Forever April 17, 2012 at 1:53 am #

    I am buying the book today!

    • Molly Greene April 17, 2012 at 6:40 am #

      I loved Tro-tros, Jodi. Horrifying the kind of conditions Laura is willing to travel in (ha ha), and even so I would have given my favorite jammies to be with her.

  6. Kendall April 19, 2012 at 4:12 am #

    Hey Laura – Awesome piece. Much respect for you my friend. I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Zurich – my own travel bug remembered and apparently, incurable. Lovely to sip my coffee and connect with your words.

    • Laura Zera (@laurazera) April 19, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

      Kendall, thank you, glad you stopped by! The respect is mutual. :) Enjoy your time away, and can’t wait to chat when you get home.

  7. Dannie Hill April 19, 2012 at 5:43 pm #

    If only more people had your attitude. People are wonderful– all around the world. Having done some traveling myself I take much more from seeing everyday life in different parts of the world than I give.

    Great post and I will get your book just to enjoy!

    • Laura Zera (@laurazera) April 19, 2012 at 9:22 pm #

      Thank you, Dannie! Lucky you to have a home base in Thailand. I wish you continued rewarding travels.

  8. Rolando April 19, 2012 at 6:07 pm #

    The type of world that reaches us through the news is a scary world full of terrible people that do bad things. These are unfortunately the type of stories that draw the attention of readers and bring advertisement dollars. It is refreshing to learn about your first hand experience. It gives me hope in humanity to know that there are nice helpful people out there! : ^ )

    • Laura Zera (@laurazera) April 19, 2012 at 9:23 pm #

      Oh, in spades, Rolando! But you’re right, the news doesn’t give us the nicest view. (The more I ignore the news, the happier I am!). Thanks for reading and for your comment.

  9. Claire Hennessy April 20, 2012 at 5:45 am #

    Gosh, what an interesting life you have led. Your book sounds fascinating. Will put it on my TBR pile. Good luck with your memoir.

    • Laura Zera (@laurazera) April 20, 2012 at 12:05 pm #

      Claire, thank you for your lovely comment. I hope that when you get to Tro-tros, you enjoy it immensely.

  10. Debbie Young July 6, 2012 at 8:06 am #

    Another really interesting read, Laura – and as I didn’t want it to end, I’ve now just downloaded your book onto my Kindle for the weekend. Looking forward to sharing your African adventures through its (electronic) pages!

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