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FEMALE NOMADS & FRIENDS: Tales of Breaking Free and Breaking Bread Around the World

By Mel Goldberg

 

female-nomadBy Rita Golden Gelman (paperback, Random House/Three Rivers Press Original, June 2010), this book celebrates traveling around the world, connecting with people from different cultures, and eating the foods of other countries. Gelman includes essays by forty-one writers who celebrate connections they have made with people and have discovered universal similarities exist beneath unique differences.

The book is divided into five sections: Connecting, Mixed Messages, Language, Passion, and Food, the last of which includes recipes like Greek vegetarian dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), Mexican chiles en nogada (stuffed poblano chiles topped with a white cream sauce with walnuts), and Thai ho mok (fish coconut custard).

These tales remind readers of what they seek in their own live’s journeys: meaningful connections with people they meet and joy in finding new friends in unexpected places. Sometime Mexico resident Kelly Hayes-Raitt, who has contributed three essays to the anthology, is a non-credentialed reporter who has covered stories live from Baghdad and Falluja via satellite phone to National Public Radio and Los Angeles’ KNBC-TV. Two of her reports relate incidents that occurred during her trips to Iraq.

“Tongue-Tied” is an award-winning essay that will also be included in The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2011 (to be published by Travelers Tales in March 2011).  It tells the story of Nebras, a beggar girl whom Kelly first met in 2003, five weeks before the US-led invasion, and found again on a subsequent trip in July, 2003.  They shared ice cream and friendship as the war raged.

Published in the El Ojo del Lago with the publisher’s credit inadvertently omitted, the essay recently earned Honorable Mention in a San Francisco literary contest and was named “Editor’s Choice” by the publishers of Traveler’s Tales books. Another essay, “Tower of Babel,” recounts Kelly’s meeting in Babylon with the family of her translator, a forty-four-year-old Iraqi woman who lives in Dallas with her Japanese husband.

Although even the richest of families spends three-quarters of its income on food, the family honors her by setting out a large feast with platters of vegetables and chicken over steaming beds of rice.  While sharing a meal with these warm Iraqis, Kelly is struck by the fact that 1,400 years have passed since the prophet Mohammed walked in this area.   She tells her readers that in spite of hardships, the Iraqis are generous, resilient, and joyous.  Kelly discovers later that her translator’s mother and brother both died as a result of the invasion.

The third essay, “The Trip That Changed My Life,” relates her experiences escorting nine American teenagers to India to meet nine Indian teenagers to create a musical reflecting shared dreams of world peace.

All proceeds of this book, go to support vocational scholarships for Indian slum children. These essays and others relating her experiences will be included in her forthcoming journalistic memoir, Living Large in Limbo: How I Found Myself Among the World’s Forgotten, which details her work with Iraqi and Palestinian refugees.

The reading flows easily, like meeting someone for the first time and sitting down to listen to her stories.  Although her adventures are not anyone’s ordinary travel choices and her experiences are not in the comfort level of most people, they make the reader cognizant of the good fortune of people who reside in the United States and the life they take for granted.

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