Author Rita Golden Gelman once lived what’s usually considered to be the privileged, good life, at least by most modern Western standards. Being materially well-off, she resided in a large house in the well-to-do suburbs of Los Angeles, had beautiful designer clothes, regularly dined on fabulous food, and attended more parties and other social events than she could remember. But when her husband asked for a separation and ultimately a divorce, she was thrown for a loop. She felt like her life was in a state of flux, yet stuck in some form of societal limbo. She began to feel out of sorts with some of her friends and acquaintances, and was uncomfortable with her old role in society in general.
She started to seriously question her then values. She had always preferred, “Goodwill to Neiman Marcus, Hondas instead of Mercedes,” but financial circumstances and community standing pushed her into choosing the latter rather than the former in most cases. She also came to the recognize that, “my house is too big, my garden too trim, and my friends too white and American.” Rita realized that she had become too complacent in her life’s cocoon, and that she had lost the spirit and zest for living, as well as the dreams of traveling the world that she had harbored in younger years.
Most other women of Rita’s age (48) and social background finding themselves in a similar predicament would have likely turned to the safe confines of some type of counseling, psychotherapy and/or course of anti-depressants in an attempt to preserve their past life sans hubby. However, Rita’s soul searching produced a completely different path: Chuck it all!
So after the divorce was finalized, she decided to seek exotic locales and to embark on the next phase of her life; a phase that neither her friends nor family could comprehend. In 1986, she sold almost all of her worldly possessions and with the little money left to her name, began a true nomadic existence, without any permanent address, bare minimum possessions and no real obligations to anyone.
This book records her world-wide adventures ensuing from this new found way of life. She lived in a small, remote village in Mexico, getting by with very elementary Spanish speaking skills. She slept with the sea lions on a beach in the Galapagos Islands. She observed orangutans in the rainforests of Borneo. She found her family and cultural roots in Israel. She spent years at a palace in Bali as a prince’s guest. She also extensively toured New Guinea, Guatemala, Indonesia, Thailand, Vancouver, Nicaragua, and New Zealand. But what really sets Rita apart from the ordinary traveler and/or nomad is her enviable way of connecting with people from different cultures, who come forward to help her along the way, and end up becoming her friends for life’s long haul.
Rita delved into this new life with a gusto and a true sense of spirit that few of us have ever experienced in our own lives. Reading this memoir, may arouse a similar wanderlust in you. The closest I ever came to this feeling was years ago when I had graduated from high school and was determined to join the Peace Corps. I was dissuaded from doing so by family and friends. What would have happened if I had followed that dream? No one knows. But it’s books such as these that make me wonder.
Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World