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Female Nomad and Friends: Tales of Breaking Free and Breaking Bread Around the World

Female Nomad and Friends: Tales of Breaking Free and Breaking Bread Around the World

by Rita Golden Gelman
Female Nomad and Friends: Tales of Breaking Free and Breaking Bread Around the World

Female Nomad and Friends: Tales of Breaking Free and Breaking Bread Around the World

by Rita Golden Gelman



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In 1987, Rita, newly divorced, set out to live her dream. She sold all her possessions and became a nomad. She wrote a book about her ongoing journey and, in 2001, insisted on putting her personal e-mail address in the last chapter—against all advice. It turned out to be a fortuitous decision. She has met thousands of readers, stayed in their homes, and sat around kitchen tables sharing stories and food and laughter.

In this essay collection, Gelman includes her own further adventures, as well as those of writers and readers telling tales of the shared humanity they experienced in their travels. The stories are funny and sad, poignant and tender, familiar and bizarre. They will make you laugh and cry and maybe even send you off on your own adventure. Also included are fabulous international recipes such as vegetarian dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), chiles en nogada (stuffed poblano chiles topped with a white cream sauce with walnuts and a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds), and ho mok (an extraordinary fish-coconut custard from Thailand). Happy reading—and bon appétit, selamat makan, buen provecho!

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307588029
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/01/2010
Sold by: Random House
Format: eBook
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 592,095
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Rita Golden Gelman is the author of more than 70 children’s books, including Inside Nicaragua, which was one of the ALA’s Best Young Adult Books of 1988, and More Spaghetti, I Say!, a staple in every first-grade classroom. As a nomad, Gelman has no permanent address. Her most recent encampments have been in Mexico and New York City.

Read an Excerpt

My Favorite Organization Ever

Rita Golden Gelman

Being a part of Servas is like having family all over the world. It's actually better than family. People join Servas because they want you to visit them when you are in their country. Not always the case with family.

Since I have no home, I'm always a traveler and never a host. Servas visits are for two nights, and everyone (hosts and travelers) is screened in a face-to-face interview. Servas charges a small annual membership fee, and travelers pay a deposit for host lists in the countries they want to visit. During the visits, however, no money changes hands.

My first Servas visit was with Gabi and Batsheva in Tel Aviv in 1988. Before the trip, I saw their names in the Israel host book; I wrote asking if I could stay with them when I visited.

They welcomed me as they would an old friend. They fed me, toured me, guided me, and shared their stories as I shared mine. I helped with the cooking and clean-up and bought a meal or a snack here and there.

After only one day we felt so close that we decided their single son, then living in the Dominican Republic, and my single daughter, then living in New York, should marry! Never happened, but we did have fun planning the meeting and discussing the wedding. It was wonderful getting to know them. Their love for each other made being with them a pleasure.

Gabi and Batsheva met in an orphanage. Their parents were killed by the Nazis. During and after the war, the surviving kids were taken from Europe to an orphanage in Palestine. The two found themselves among the oldest children there and ended up working on the same projects and caring for the younger kids together. They fell in love. Batsheva had a sister, Tova, who was also in the orphanage. I never met Tova, but Gabi and the two sisters shared a special closeness as the only survivors of both families. The sisters meant everything to each other.

As we shared our stories, Gabi, Batsheva, and I developed a special bond. Servas is like that. A level of intimacy is quickly established, and you always leave feeling as though you have made a new friend-or extended your family.

Several years later I returned to Israel for my cousin's wedding. I called Gabi and Batsheva. Gabi answered the phone. He was excited to hear from me, but he explained that Tova had recently died and Batsheva was devastated. He didn't think she felt ready for guests. The two women had been incredibly close, he reminded me. I suggested that maybe this time I could take care of Batsheva. They talked it over and decided it was a good idea.

I didn't exactly take care of her, but I did some cooking and a little cleaning; and Batsheva was able to share her happy Tova stories, as well as her pain.

On the second day of my visit, Batsheva received a letter from a Servas friend in Brazil. Claudia had heard about Tova's death and written a sympathy note. She had included her e-mail address. I offered to write to Claudia on my computer. In the e-mail I introduced myself to Claudia, and then Batsheva dictated her response while I typed. I left the next day, sad, but pleased that I had been able to help.

Four years later in Argentina, I once again connected with people through Servas. I was staying in my friend Gera's home in San Miguel, outside of Buenos Aires, so I didn't need a place to stay, but I wanted to meet people in Buenos Aires. I took out my host list and called a few people. The response was fantastic. Servas members invited me to share meals, parties, and excursions.

After I had met a number of hosts, they told me that a group of them planned on taking a boat across the river the next Sunday to meet Uruguayan hosts. Would I like to come? Of course.

Our two groups got together in the charming Uruguayan town of Colonia and wandered for a few hours before lunch. Everyone wanted to talk a little to everyone else, so two of us would walk and talk for a while, and then we'd switch. The first two Uruguayans I met insisted that I come back as their Servas guest (which I did). I was able to converse with them in Spanish, although they both spoke better English than I did Spanish.

The third person I met asked me not to speak Spanish. "My Spanish is not very good," she said. "My English is better."

"But aren't you from Uruguay?" I asked.

"No, I'm not. I'm from over the border in Brazil."

It was at that point that we introduced ourselves. "My name is Rita. I'm from the United States."

"Oh, my God," she said. "I can't believe it. I'm Claudia."

Yes, she was that Claudia! We hugged like old friends. And cried. And a month later I was a Servas guest in Claudia's house in Brazil.

If you're a traveler and a connector, check it out. It's an amazing organization: or

AFTER TWENTY-FOUR YEARS of nomadding, Rita Golden Gelman is still happily without a permanent home. Her current passion is LET'S GET GLOBAL, a national movement she founded in 2009 to encourage and assist U.S. youth to have international experiences after high school, before they begin the next phase of their lives: U.S. Servas Inc. is the fiscal sponsor of LET'S GET GLOBAL. Visit Rita's personal website at

Ginger-Cumin Roasted Chicken

Adapted from a recipe by Karine Bakhoum


2 small chickens or one large chicken

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt or kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 tablespoon grated ginger

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons cumin

1/2 lime, juiced

2 tangerines, cut in half and seeded (2 to 3 oranges,

depending on juice content, can be substituted

for tangerines)

24 large cloves garlic, inner skins left on

1/2 cup cognac (optional) or 1/4 cup water

1 cup pitted Kalamata olives

3 rosemary sprigs (for garnish)

Preheat oven to 475°F.

Place the chicken in a large roasting pan, and rub with olive oil, letting the oil coat the bottom of the pan. Season with salt and pepper.

Combine the ginger, cayenne pepper, cumin, lime juice, and juice of 1/2 tangerine in a small bowl to make a paste.

Pat the paste evenly over the chicken.

Scatter the garlic cloves around the chicken, mix with the oil on the bottom of the pan, and place the pan in the oven.

After 15 minutes, squeeze 1/2 tangerine over the chicken and return to oven at the same temperature for another 15 minutes.

After the second 15 minutes, squeeze another 1/2 tangerine on top, and reduce the oven temperature to 350°F.

Bake 20 minutes, then add the cognac and olives to the pan. If not using cognac, add 1/4 cup water and squeeze the remaining 1/2 tangerine over the chicken. Brush with the juice from the bottom of the pan, and bake another 10 minutes.

Place on a serving platter. Scatter the olives and whole garlic around the chicken. Pour the pan juices on top. Garnish with the rosemary sprigs.

Sometimes the pan juices evaporate too quickly, and I add a few extra tablespoons of tangerine or orange juice along the way. I also brush the chicken with the flavored pan juices each time I baste with the tangerine juice. The chicken skin gets pretty dark-but it's delicious. I usually skip the cognac; it's still great. This is an easy and delicious way to entertain. Once I added Dijon mustard to the ginger mix. It was a little different but still wonderful. I like this with spinach or asparagus and buttery mashed potatoes. -rgg

For the garlic lover, more garlic cloves can be added. The garlic roasts to a soft consistency and can be popped out of its blackened skin easily. It's wonderful. Don't omit the olives. They are an important addition to the dish. A large chicken will take longer to cook than two small ones. Make sure the internal temperature of the chicken is 165°F. For just two people, two thigh/drumsticks or a chicken half can be roasted instead of the whole chicken. The chicken is often served with couscous. -ma

Peeing, Drugs, and a School

Maria Altobelli

The war in Vietnam or the Peace Corps in Bolivia? My future husband Paul had to choose. For a man opposed to war, the decision was easy. For two years he worked and sweated in Bolivia's eastern jungles and loved every minute. He started by clearing a patch of abandoned land in the tiny, mud-street village of Ascención de Guarayos. He and a rowdy group of boys made a rudimentary soccer field. Road repair, bridge construction, an electric co-op, and an endless supply of projects filled his days. His most impressive achievement was building an elementary school with the help of the villagers. His stint finished in midproject, so he asked for a six-month extension. Then another. He figured if he got one more, he would never leave. So he got on a plane and flew back to Minnesota. We got married, and for years I heard plenty about Bolivia.

Some of his stories made me want to go there. There was the guy who missed the New Year's Eve festivities with his buddies. The next morning he rode a horse bareback and bare-ass naked into the compound where his friends were staying. He fired a pistol repeatedly into the air as he circled the courtyard. With a final volley and a few whoops, he reined back on the horse and galloped off into the New Year.

That was cool. I wanted to visit.

Instead we moved to Mexico, but the idea of going to Bolivia wedged itself into my subconscious.

In 2004 Paul and I decided to go to Ascención de Guarayos. The trip once involved several days on horseback working through the jungle, or hanging around the regional capital of Santa Cruz waiting for a bush pilot to make a supply run. Fun options at twenty-five but not so appealing now that we were in our fifties.

The new, paved road to Ascención was the clincher. The modern bus made it even better. The five-hour bus trip should have been a snap. After all the time we'd lived in Mexico, bus travel had become part and parcel of our lives. However, a weak bladder and the absence of a usable bathroom on the bus quelled my enthusiasm. Before the bus even left the station, I saw several passengers check out the cubicle, grimace, and close the door without stepping inside. I immediately had to pee.

I crossed my legs and watched two guys get on the fully booked night bus. They started an animated discussion with the driver. The traditional handshake, where a folded bill is passed unobtrusively from palm to palm, must have occurred since the two dudes came to the back of the bus where we were. They arranged various packages in the space behind us designed for oversize luggage, squished down on the floor between the packages and our seats, and went to sleep.

All I could think of was Law 1008. It made jail mandatory for the mere suspicion of possession of any drug or illegal substance. The two guys could have been innocently going home after a week's work in Santa Cruz, or they could have been transporting drugs, firearms, or dynamite destined for the next antigovernment demonstration.

What would we say to the cops if we were stopped at one of numerous checkpoints in the country? I imagined a conversation on the side of the deserted tarmac in the blackness of the remote Bolivian countryside. "What dope? I know the packages were stashed behind our seats, but they must have belonged to the two guys who were sitting on the floor behind us. Yeah, I know they're not here now, but they were."

Now I really had to pee. I sucked tight any muscle I could remotely connect with my bladder.

Getting off that bus in Ascención de Guarayos at 4:00 a.m. was a huge relief.

The next morning we tried to teach a group of young boys in the plaza the finer points of bolero, a traditional stick-toss game we brought from Mexico. One boy became an instant expert, and before long he was showing off to quite a crowd.

Paul made small talk with the other boys. "So where do you guys go to school?"

"The Pablo Kundzins School," they answered, intent on their new game.

"But I'm Pablo Kundzins," Paul said with surprise.

It turned out a government edict a few years back ordered all schools in Bolivia be given an actual name rather than the number they had been assigned. When it came to the school in Ascensión, a heated battle developed. One group wanted the school named for a popular music instructor from the Guaraní, the local indigenous group. Another equally strong contingent held out in favor of a local teacher who worked his way up the ranks and became a prominent politician.

To end the dispute, someone suggested naming the school for the Peace Corps volunteer who had helped get the funds for the project and then worked shoulder to shoulder with the townsfolk on the construction. Everyone figured Paul was long dead anyway, so it was a safe bet.

Kundzins had been impossible for anyone to pronounce during Paul's three years in town, so the spelling on the school didn't exactly jibe with his name. We later saw the banner with Escuela Pablo Cuncins emblazoned in dark blue. What the heck? The newly resurrected dead shouldn't be choosy.

Days later, we waited in the bus for the return trip to Santa Cruz. A short, stooped man with a lined, leathery face climbed up the steps of the bus with difficulty. He limped down the aisle and stopped in front of Paul.

"Do you remember me?" he asked.

We had been awake for almost our entire stay in Ascen-ción, revisiting Paul's old haunts and reestablishing contacts. Our eyes could hardly focus.

Paul looked at the hunched, middle-aged man in rumpled clothes in front of us. "I'm sorry," Paul mumbled. "I don't. Help me out."

"Maybe you would remember my wife, the one who had so much trouble with her pregnancy."

Speechless, Paul reached for the man's hand. "Manuel Ortumpi! Yes, yes, I remember."

Good Lord, I thought. Even I remember. I had heard the story of his wife enough times. She was pregnant with her first child. The baby simply refused to be born. The mother needed to get to Santa Cruz fast, but the only way out of town was the plane owned by the Evangelical minister who wanted the equivalent of $250 before he would even think about moving.

In a time and place where the majority of the town's population lived on a family income equivalent to $75 a year, $250 was an impossible sum. Pleas and promises of future payment were to no avail. Paul and the desperate young husband began canvassing door to door, getting a few bolivianos (coins) at each stop. The priest emptied the poor boxes in the church and dug into his own pockets. Paul added what was left of his monthly Peace Corps pay. They were still over a hundred dollars short.

Paul went to find Yeguaroba, a young man who was one of the most respected members of the community. Paul explained the situation to him. "Maybe you could come along and act official," Paul suggested.

"Wait a minute. Let me get my gun. After all, we have quite a bit of money to deliver," Yeguaroba said.

When Paul, the frantic husband, and Yeguaroba got to the minister's house, Paul dumped the pile of rumpled bolivianos on the desk. "I believe we have enough," he said.

The minister started to count through the pile. Yeguaroba looked official and fingered the trigger of his ancient carbine. "We have enough," he said, moving the gun upward. "Better start the plane. We're in a hurry here."

The baby died while still inside the young mother, but the Santa Cruz doctors saved the woman's life. When Paul left Ascención de Guarayos, she was still in delicate health.

"I just wanted you to know," Manuel Ortumpi said. "My wife recovered. We have three grown sons."

The two held onto each other's hands a long moment. "Thank you," Manuel said simply. With a last handshake, he walked off the bus and was lost in the crowd outside.

The motor started up, and we slowly pulled out of town.

MARIA ALTOBELLI and her husband, Paul Kundzins, were bitten in their twenties by the travel bug and have never looked for a cure. The two continue their vagabond ways, and now live in central Mexico with assorted canines. Her story, "A Desert Mirage" (see page 298) is an excerpt from a book about the Mexico she has seen over the last thirty- five years. Her website is Contact Maria at

Table of Contents

How Female Nomad & Friends Came to Be and What It's All About Rita Golden Gelman 1

Breaking Bread: About the Recipes Maria Altobelli 12


My Favorite Organization Ever Rita Golden Gelman 17

Peeing, Drugs, and a School Maria Altobelli 23

A Pair of Shoes Janie Starr 29

Tower of Babel Kelly Hayes-Raitt 35

Connecting to Raymond Sally Brown 41

Mom and Trader Joe's Jo Giese 44

My Call of the Wild Barbara Ludwig 46

My Opinel on the Camino Ardyn Masterman 51

Breakfast in Malacca Wendy Lewis 55

Sharing Laundry Clare Beckingham 57

Kava and Trauma on Waya Island Danielle Richards 60

An Awakening Kim Bass 64

Mixed Messages

The Beauty Contest Rita Golden Gelman 69

A Long Walk Laura Fellman 73

Pickup in a Bar Jacquie 75

Curry Calamity Karen van der Zee 79

My Airport Pal Rita Golden Gelman 84

A Wet Shoe Story Carolyn Soucy 87

Million-Dollar Moment Bonnie Worthen 91

The Trip that Changed My Life Kelly Hayes-Raitt 97

A Stitch in Time Rita Golden Gelman 102

A Different Taste Caroline Mailloux 105

Southern Hospitality Leslie Berkower 111

Wild for Worms Karen van der Zee 115


Patikami What? Maria Altobelli 125

A Desert Garden Tim Amsden 132

Train to Tithorea Jan Gelman 135

Tongue-Tied Kelly Hayes-Raitt 144

A Boat Ride Laurice Haney 147

A Great Mix of People Rita Golden Gelman 155

French Confusion Michael Worthen 159

Turkish Delight Kay Moody 164

A Rose and a Kiss Maria Altobelli 166

Master Kim Bonnie Betts 172


The Perfect Seatmate Rita Golden Gelman 183

In Search of a Familiar Soul Catherine Buchanan 186

Making the Move C.J. MacLeod 193

George Debra Unger 198

Fairy Godmothers ... Who Needs 'Em! Sandra Hanks Benoiton 202

Filipino Elvis Presley Jessica Bryan 208

What Happened for Chana Jan Bayer 212

Dance Class Maria Altobelli 216

The Drummer Danielle Richards 222

The Sweet Life Marcia L. Hannewald 224

Chapati Love Remembered Jean Allen 230


The Ho Mok Story Rita Golden Gelman 237

Any Pan Is a No-Stick Pan If You No-Cook in It! Bobbi Zehner 244

Paneer Sailor Lily Morris 248

Bonjour, Friendship! Patricia Lundquist 254

Foreign Flavors Karen van der Zee 261

Cajeta and the Spirits Maria Altobelli 265

Thanksgiving: A Different Perspective Åsa Maria Bradley 271

Riding Out the Storm Victoria Allman 279

Just Call Me Garlic Carolyn McKibbin 287

The Café Chapín Janna Rudler 293

A Desert Mirage Maria Altobelli 298

Cow Feet Soup for Breakfast Karen van der Zee 305

Soul Food Melanie Ehler 311

Maasai Moments Rita Golden Gelman 319

Afterword Rita Golden Gelman 329

Acknowledgments 331

Reading Group Guide 333

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