Madam, Have You Ever Really Been Happy?
Meg Noble Peterson
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Buy *Madam, Have You Ever Really Been Happy?: An Intimate Journey through Africa and Asia* by Meg Noble Peterson online

Madam, Have You Ever Really Been Happy?: An Intimate Journey through Africa and Asia
Meg Noble Peterson
432 pages
May 2005
rated 4 of 5 possible stars
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Meg Peterson is a freelance writer who got a break – she lucked into an open ticket, round-the-world airfare. All she had to do was take off. Immediately. At 50-something, she was still in trauma from a failed marriage, but she fell to the task of organizing her journey with remarkable attention to detail. She ruthlessly whittled away and whittled away at her backpack until what seemed like only the essentials were left. She set up a system for receiving mail en route and for managing her home-based business while she was gone. She pasted maps into a book and wrote up a rough itinerary that included some of the world’s most magnificent sights – pyramids, the Taj Mahal – and some of its humblest back roads.

Her trek was made easier by the fact that she was an inveterate hiker, not put off by either heights or distance. She had a few friends dotted across the globe who could serve as way stations. But for the most part, she was a woman of 58 facing the unknown.

Her recent divorce weighed heavily on her spirit as she traveled along, dealing almost daily with the attentions of men, young, old, attractive, ugly, and in some cases, definitely unwanted. But there were romantic interludes as the journey deepened from the first landing in Egypt, where she stayed with old pals, to the mixed sense of loneliness and self-sufficient pride that assailed her as she got increasingly farther from anything remotely like home.

Her exploits are described in realistic detail. She climbed up to the Mt. Everest Base Camp at 18,000 feet off the Khumbu glacier. She witnessed a private cremation on the banks of the Mother Ganges, a sight generally forbidden to outsiders, guided by a strange little man who swore they had met in previous life. The title of the book references a question from a determined hotel desk clerk who tried to have his way with her on the very day that she had visited the Taj Mahal and been enchanted by its unearthly beauty, its testimony to the extraordinary reach of human love. From the sublime to the ridiculous in a few short hours.

Peterson has said that she wrote this book as an inspiration to women, especially older women. As a fellow world traveler myself, I admired her exploits and lived through her experiences as she made them come alive on the page. I could easily identify with her descriptions of crowded buses, lecherous men, inedible local foods and the occasional moments of true peace and total inner satisfaction along the way.

Since Peterson is still a very active adventurer, one has to guess that she will be composing more journals and creating more books in the future, another kind of courageous adventure that a feisty female can take on. Write on, Meg!

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Barbara Bamberger Scott, 2006

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