Rita Golden Gelman
Author, "Tales of a Female Nomad"
and over seventy children's booksIt struck me today as I was sitting having lunch with author Rita Golden Gelman how ironic that was. If there is anything Rita Golden Gelman is not - it is a 'lady who lunches.' Pinch me! I was meeting one of the exciting role models of my last four years as an 'Empty Nest Expat'."
I got to meet Rita, and by arriving early, have lunch with her at the Professional American Women of Istanbul (PAWI) meeting in Istanbul which I attended for the first time. Rita was the guest speaker! The women in attendance were also captivating, happening ladies making their dreams happen here in Istanbul.
"Tales of a Female Nomad." I read her book as part of my vagabonding journey these last four years and was absolutely riveted. The blogging universe exposes us to all kinds of people living lives different than our own these days, but Rita Golden Gelman was a true pioneer in choosing a different path than the American dream of a house with the picket fence.
Rita lived the American dream, actually. She was married - a dutiful wife of an interesting man and mother to accomplished children. She lived with them in Manhattan and Greenwich Village, New York as her children grew up. Eventually, her husband's work took the family out to the film industry in Los Angeles in California. Rita didn't identify with any of it. Her marriage eventually fell apart and she decided to put the anthropology she had been studying in a PhD program at UCLA into practice by seeing the world. By then her children were grown. She sold everything, stuck the house money into savings without spending a dime of it, and has spent the last 27 years living without a permanent home and traveling the world.
"Tales of a Female Nomad" inspired a whole community of readers to email her with their travel adventures (including the sublime recipes they collected along the way). Rita organized some of their tales into an anthology called "Female Nomad and Friends: Tales of Breaking Free and Breaking Bread Around the World."
Random House paid her and her 41 contributors an initial payment of $55,000 for the book. All of the money goes to support children of the lowest castes in India with vocational training. Guess what's on your Christmas list, family! What a legacy. And what a gift to give to her community of readers - the chance to be part of that legacy.
There are cultures where overseas travel is really celebrated. The Netherlands and Isreal come to mind, for me, as two countries where citizens have enough time off, a lack of fear, and the willingness to hit the open road. America is not one of those cultures. Rita is interested in changing that and has a plan to do so.
Risk-taking, trust, and serendipity are key ingredients of joy. Without risk, nothing new ever happens. Without trust, fear creeps in. Without serendipity, there are no surprises.
~ Rita Golden Gelman's quote on Starbuck's tall cup #31
At age 75, Rita is starting to feel her age for the first time. She wants to go home to spend the next two years in America working on her legacy. She is frequently invited to speak at universities about her global travels. She always asks the university to set up a talk at the local high school as well. Gentle readers, do you know of students that would benefit from hearing Rita's inspiring tales? Why not suggest her as a speaker to your favorite lecture series committee?
Rita believes Americans would approach the world with more understanding if each high school senior took a gap year between high school and college to see the world. She said high school students have three choices: university, work, or military after high school. They are not ready to experience any of these yet with full maturity. She urges grandparents to begin a $500 a year gap year fund for their grandchildren so that kids have a year to mature before starting the bigger commitments of study, work, or job while using that time to understand the greater wider world better.
She has started an organization called Let's Get Global. Her plan is to partner with a young man who is creating an American Gap Year Association and beginning an accreditation process for American gap year programs. Rita would like two people in every high school to be able to win a "Gap Year Scholarship" just to demonstrate the power of the idea to young people everywhere. Two young people from each high school nationwide setting off for parts unknown could begin to change American culture of fear about the outside world.
Rita says that fear drives one of the most common questions she gets about her lifestyle. "How can someone overcome the fear of setting out on an adventure?" She is currently working on a book of 64 tips for developing a successful mindset for global discovery.
What an exciting moment to
meet one of my vagabonding
So Westerner, ask yourself, could you give up the control Rita has over her life? It seems like control is the #1 Western addiction, but Rita just strugged her shoulders and says "I see what opportunities come to me." She rarely knows where she'll be six months from now. She has four steadfast rules 1) smile at everyone, 2) talk to strangers, 3) accept all invitations and 4) eat everything that is offered. The ability to be adaptable to multiple peoples, cultures, situations and opportunities has resulted in an incredibly inspiring life well-lived.