I’m a sucker for a travel book. Especially when it takes me on adventures I wouldn’t dare do on my own, much less with a guide. From the first pages of Tales of a Female Nomad, I was drawn in. The author, Rita Golden Gelman, began the journey with the end of her marriage. Newly free, she embarks on a round the world trip with the goal of immersing herself in different cultures and making new, international friends.
Almost immediately, I am fascinated by her trip to a Zapotec Village in Mexico. How the women in the village avoid her like the plague, until finally, a kindly woman encourages Gelman to dress like the natives, and then that world, too, is opened to her. How she stays in a concrete shed with a dark mass of spiders that “share” her sleeping space, and her discovery of the communal toilet – a dry riverbed down a rocky hill.
I enjoyed her stay in Nicaragua and hearing the local people talk of Samoza, the Sandinistas and the war. Her visit to an orthodox community in Israel was also enlightening. Armed with a master’s degree in anthropology, Gelman struggles with wanting to observe, and not interfere or judge. Her west-coast liberal feminist background sometimes sneaks in, but she’s very honest with her own failings and I found that refreshing. I know some readers disliked Gelman’s voice in this book, but I kept feeling like she would not only be someone I’d love to sit down and visit with, but also someone I would genuinely like. And that’s saying a lot because she and I obviously sit on opposite ends of the political spectrum.
This book covers a lot of ground. She visits roughly a dozen countries and has dozens of page-turning experiences. I didn’t want it to end. I bet neither does she.
4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2001