Posted on Wed, Nov. 09, 2011
Photo provided by Mireya Mayor
Mireya Mayor of Miami studies wild animals, like these leopards in Namibia in 2003, in their own habitat as a National Geographic explorer. The job may take her away from home for weeks at a time.
Barely recovering from giving birth to twin girls, explorer Mireya Mayor already is planning her next adventure into the jungle. She may go to Africa to observe wild chimpanzees or to Madagascar to try to discover a new species of lemurs.
Clearly, studying animals on the verge of extinction as a National Geographic explorer has become more challenging since becoming a mother. With four girls under the age of six, Mayor feels a bit differently about making expeditions for two or three months in remote habitats — with little or no communications ability. But she has no plans to give it up.
“When I had children, I thought I had to make a decision to stay home or be an explorer,” Mayor says. “I realized that being an explorer is not what I do, it’s who I am.”
Ever wonder what’s on the other side of the cubicle? While many of us toil away at our computers, some American workers have jobs that involve travel, adventure and even danger. These jobs, intoxicating for the people who hold them, are becoming more prevalent with globalization and preservation. Yet, even the hardiest of adventurers find it challenging to balance their professions and home lives.
Sylvia Ann Hewlett, president of the Center for Work-Life Policy, has studied extreme jobs — those that require people to work 70-hour weeks and those that require long periods of travel. “These extreme jobs are tougher on women because they are less likely to have a stay-at-home spouse,” Hewlett says. “Men tend to have more of a support system at home.”
When she’s home in Miami, Mayor films wildlife specials out of local studios or writes article for National Geographic Kids. She combines that with brushing her toddler’s hair into ponytails or changing the babies’ diapers at 3 a.m. When she’s in the jungle, it’s all about work. “I’ve been charged by gorillas, touched poisonous snakes, slept across from lions,” she says.
After her first two daughters were born, Mayor was invited by TV producer Mark Burnett to join his TV cast for Expedition Africa. She went. While Mayor is away, her husband, Roland Wolff, and mother pitch in with child care. “My family finds a way to make it work,” she says. Wolff takes over packing lunches and shuttling kids to school, while working full time from home for Leica, a German camera company. “He does travel with his job, too, but we try to make it that one of us is home with the kids,” Mayor says.
The daughter of a conservative Cuban mother, Mayor realized in college she wasn’t going the safe route. As a University of Miami student, she cheered professionally for the Miami Dolphins. But upon graduating, her interest was in anthropology and science. She has documented her career highlights and efforts at balance in her new book featured at the Miami Book Fair, Pink Boots and a Machete: My Journey From NFL Cheerleader to National Geographic Explorer. She writes this about her explorations, which have included crashing on a flight to the Congo: “The toughest part isn’t the mosquitoes or snakes or living in wet clothes or even the starving. The toughest part is being away from my family, and not knowing if I will ever see them again.”
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