"I move throughout the world without a plan, guided by instinct, connecting through trust, and constantly watching for serendipitous opportunities." --From the Preface
Tales of a Female Nomad is the story of Rita Golden Gelman, an ordinary woman who is living an extraordinary existence. At the age of forty-eight, on the verge of a divorce, Rita left an elegant life in L.A. to follow her dream of connecting with people in cultures all over the world. In 1986 she sold her possessions and became a nomad, living in a Zapotec village in Mexico, sleeping with sea lions on the Galapagos Islands, and residing everywhere from thatched huts to regal palaces. She has observed orangutans in the rain forest of Borneo, visited trance healers and dens of black magic, and cooked with women on fires all over the world. Rita's example encourages us all to dust off our dreams and rediscover the joy, the exuberance, and the hidden spirit that so many of us bury when we become adults.
Fifteen years ago, the middle-aged Gelman (author of over 70 children's books, including More Spaghetti, I Say!) left behind an upscale California lifestyle and fading marriage to begin an odyssey that continues to this day. Using a well-paced and fluid writing style, Gelman describes how she observed orangutans in the rain forests of Borneo, canoed in Indonesia, ate psychedelic mushrooms in Mexico, and skirted landmines in Nicaragua. Wherever she travels, it is the people and their customs that intrigue her most, from the restrictive but culturally rich celebrations of a Hasidic family in Israel to the more relaxed but equally ritualized daily life of her new friends in Bali. Her enthusiasm for the people she meets and her ability to overcome the challenges faced by a woman traveling alone make for an engrossing and inspirational read. For all travel collections. Linda M. Kaufmann, Massachusetts Coll. of Liberal Arts Lib., North Adams Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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May 27, 2002
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Excerpt from Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman
I am living someone else's life. It's a good life, filled with elegant restaurants, interesting people, and events like the Academy Awards and the Grammies. My husband of twenty-four years and I dine with celebrities, we see the latest movies before the rest of the world, and we're invited to all the book parties in Los Angeles.
Because of his job as an editorial consultant to some top magazines, we've been able to create a life that is privileged and glamorous. But now that I'm there, I realize that I don't like feeling privileged and I'm uncomfortable with glamour. I am living in a designer world that has been designed for someone I no longer am.
I prefer Goodwill to Neiman Marcus, Hondas to Mercedes, and soup kitchens to charity banquets. My house is too big; my garden, too trim; my friends, too white and American.
I first realized something was missing about five years ago when a woman wearing a floor-length muumuu and sandals sat next to me on an airplane. She told me she was in the business of booking sailing tours for captains around the world and was returning from the Mediterranean, the Adriatic, and the Gulf of Mexico. As she was telling me about her trip, tears began streaming down my cheeks.
"I'm sorry," I said, embarrassed. "I don't know where that came from." I wiped my eyes.
But I did know. I was crying for my lost spirit. As the woman spoke, I remembered that once I'd dreamed of sailing around the world, of paddling down the Amazon, of sitting around a fire with tribal people and sharing their food and their lives. I had loved the person who had those dreams. She was daring and idealistic . . . and gone. My husband had no interest in boats or tribal cultures.
"If I were to take a sailing trip," I said to the woman, "there are three things that I would want: a salty old captain who has tales to tell and philosophy to spout, a crew that likes to sing, and a place that is rich in experiences. I hate lying around on beaches."
She didn't even have to think. "Go sail on the Tigris in the Galapagos Islands."
Three months later, I boarded the Tigris without my husband, toured the spectacular volcanic islands, interacted with sea lions and blue-footed boobies, snorkeled the tropical waters, and touched the magic of otherness. I was never the same again.
When I returned from the Galapagos, that long-dormant fire of adventure had been rekindled and the glamour of my life turned gray. The gourmet dinners, the exclusive press screenings, the concerts, the parties, and the evenings at the theater suddenly felt like empty substitutes for discovery, for learning, for penetrating the unknown.
I knew that I couldn't run around the world adventuring, not if I wanted to stay married, which I did. But after the Galapagos trip, I needed something more in my life. I came up with a compromise. I would go to graduate school in anthropology and get my adventure from books.
The timing was right. My two kids no longer needed a full-time mom. Mitch was in his freshman year at Berkeley, and Jan was about to graduate from high school.
I had a fairly successful career as a writer of children's books. I enjoyed the wild and imaginative leaps into fantasy and the visits to schools and the modest recognition, mostly among first- and second-grade teachers; but I happily put my work on hold and plunged into academics.
I spent the next four years at UCLA, reading ethnographies, studying with anthropologists who had lived in exotic cultures, watching films, listening to lectures. By 1985, I am finished with most of the course work for the Ph.D., and I'm ready to choose a place and a topic for my dissertation research. Although my husband puts up with the hours I have to study, I doubt he would join me or endorse the idea of my doing fieldwork for a year in some far corner of the developing world. So I plan to do my thesis among the urban tribes of Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, our marriage is floundering. Over the years, our divergent interests and our personality differences have pushed us deeper into opposite corners. I'm basically laid back and sometimes careless. I tend to excuse my own mistakes as well as other people's; and from time to time I find it necessary to adjust my ethics to the situation at hand. He is a perfectionist, reliable, honest, and prompt. He sets high standards for himself and has high expectations of others. More and more we find ourselves in minor skirmishes. The bell keeps ringing and we come out bickering.
Finally, after yet another squabble that escalates, I suggest that we take a break from each other for a couple of weeks. I need time alone, I tell him, to figure out what's wrong with the marriage and how we can fix it. When I come back, I say, I'd like us to try some marriage counseling. He agrees to a break and counseling but adds that two weeks is not enough. He suggests two months in which we are both free to see other people.