Born To Travel
Niema Ash, writer and traveller
The major events of my life happened on the road. I was married on the road, conceived my daughter on the road, turned from girl to woman on the road.
I learned about Buddhism in Tibet, about Islam in Morocco, Hinduism in India, and Judaism in Israel.
The road was my university, my church, my love. I left Montreal to travel as an adolescent; I returned as an adult, with a husband, a baby and a career.
In the 60’s I formed my own dance group, having studied dance in New York with Martha Graham, the mother of modern dance, in my early teens. Between performances, I helped my then-husband, Shimon, run a folk music club called The Finjan where famous musicians-to-be performed. I also enrolled in a University course writing a masters thesis on The Dance Dramas of W.B. Yeats and was the assistant director and choreographer of three of these plays performed in Montreal’s main English speaking theatre, the Centaur.
Ronit in North Africa
In the 70’s, after Shimon and I separated, I received a Canadian Government grant to complete a doctorate on Yeats’s Dance Dramas
. My ticket to ride was magically re-issued. I packed one suitcase for myself, one for my daughter, Ronit, and we flew to London. Not long after arriving in London I organized The Yeats Theatre Company
. Yeats’s son, Michael, was one of the sponsors. I helped direct and choreographed two of Yeats’s dance plays which were also performed for BBC television. I liked living in London. Aside from its excellent theatre, London was also the perfect travel base. When Ronit was 15, we hitch-hiked through Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria. This fascinating adventure became the basis of my book Travels with My Daughter
, published in 2001.
Niema Ash in Tibet
In the 80’s I was travelling in China when the door to Tibet
- a country forbidden to foreigners for centuries - was briefly opened. I was able to live and travel with Tibetans, and experience a Tibet no longer available to travellers. My article The Sky Burial
described one such now-prohibited experience. It later won a travel award in the London Sunday Times. Part of the award was lunch with the editor who encouraged me to incorporate the article into a book. Touching Tibet
(previously called Flight of the Wind Horse
published in 2003 was the result.
It is blessed with a treasured foreword by the Dalai Lama
who I later met.
Many of the musicians from the Montreal Finjan days became close friends. One of the closest was Loreena McKennitt, the Canadian singer and harpist whom I met through the actor/musician, Cedric Smith. Our friendship became the basis of my book Travels With Loreena McKennitt, published in 2005.
Niema and Jason
In England I met Jason Dors-Lake, son of the acclaimed actress, Diana Dors. Jason asked me to write a book about his mother. The result was Connecting Dors
, written with the collaboration of Jason and published in 2011. It is an intriguing story not only about Diana and her fascinating climb to fame against the odds, but of her actor husband, Alan Lake and their son, Jason. It is a wild tale; a story which has never been told.
Niema in Morocco
On a visit to Santa Barbara in 2018, I was interviewed by Jack Canfield, author of the "Chicken Soup For The Soul" books. Canfield began the interview by saying "Niema Ash is one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met". An accolade which inspired the memoir, Nomad Girl
, published in 2020. Nomad Girl tells the story of the Finjan, the folk music club I ran with my husband in Montreal. The book includes my experiences with many of the musicians who played there including Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and John Lee Hooker. It also recounts my travel experiences mainly in Morocco and Tibet and my meeting with the Dalai Lama in Toronto.
Travel and friendship remain my two great passions.
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Title photos by Irina McGhan