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I had to be awake and busy before 3AM to get to the airport for our 5AM flight. I met Sarah and Elena at the airport and went through security for the bajillionth time since leaving home. Elena Esquiche is the National Maternal Health Adviser for CARE Peru. Like me, she's a nurse with a passion for the Mamas and the Babies. She started working on the FEMME project back in 2000 when mothers in Peru, especially outside of the big cities, were dying in childbirth at astounding rates. According to an article in The Lancet, a prominent medical journal, "Peru's high maternal mortality rate was around 215 per 100,000 by 2000. More than 80% of mothers died at home."
Elena is gorgeous with black curly hair, piercing dark eyes and an hourglass figure. You'd never know (except for the fact that she's particularly well-endowed on top) that she had a baby herself just six months ago. It didn't take more than a few minutes for us to find our common ground. We linked as women, mothers and potential friends rather than strangers from two countries. How? We talked about our boobs; about breastfeeding.
I wondered how she'd manage two days away from her baby, especially considering our travels wouldn't include discreet facilities for breast-pumping or refrigeration to keep milk fresh. She said she'd pumped in advance and would just do the best she could. I knew what that meant. Been there. Done that. She wouldn't be able to pump anywhere near often enough to prevent engorgement. She had to be as tired as I was, considering our travel-time and the intense agenda we had ahead of us. Add to that, she'd been up all the previous night tending to her baby girl who was sick with a cold. Add to that, the sore breasts she was going to get from not having access to her baby or a pump. I tell you what; this woman had my total respect for stamina and dedication to the job. I've been a working mother all my children's lives. I know what it's like to leave a crying baby, pump in bathrooms and feel torn in half between maternal and career demands. It bites. Elena blew it off. "You do these things for work. Our work is important. That's what we do." She said it in Spanish, of course, and the "we" she referred to was the global "we":—Mothers.
Our flight from Lima in a tiny puddle-jumper took less than an hour. We landed in Ayacucho where the tiny airport displayed local art—a giant, brilliantly-colored armoire-type cabinet called a "retablo." Its open doors displayed a complicated diorama. Shelf after shelf told the story of local history and religious symbolism. It was stunning and unlike any airport art I'd ever seen before. We found our way (OK, Sarah and Elena found my way. I followed like a sheep) to a dinged-up taxi and another bumper-car-Mister-Toad's-wild-ride into the city of Ayacucho.
Wikipedia informed me that Ayacucho is famous for its 33 churches—one for every year of Jesus' life. Yep, they were everywhere and each one more beautiful than the last. I'd also read that Ayacucho had a major terrorism problem in the 1980s (though I was assured they were totally over that now) so I wasn't shocked to see police on every corner. The streets were cobblestone. The buildings were brick or stone and history seeped from every pore, crack and corner. I'm an American. We don't have ancient history. I was impressed.
On the subject of ancient history, I was also "impressed" by how much older I was than Sarah and Elena—twice Sarah's age and at least a decade older than Elena. Frankly, they weren't suffering from jet lag or altitude but Good God—it was hard to keep up. Elena was like a shark in the water moving from airport to taxi to hotel to hospital to meeting to another meeting to lunch to another meeting to...well, I don't know when she slowed down. And she managed to look fabulous the whole darn time. Sarah was just adorable in a citizen-of-the-world, 20-something kind of way. I know their day will come when concealer and coffee will be their bestest friends. For now, good for them for being so young and hot; capable and brilliant.
We did a quick stop at our hotel, which was clean, cozy and perfectly comfortable. We changed into appropriate business attire (not too fancy, not too casual) and headed off to the Ayacucho's Regional Hospital to check out, first-hand, how CARE worked with hospital staff and developed the maternal-health and obstetric department.
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