A 57-year-old woman dubbed the “Wandering Israeli” by the Peruvian media is no longer on the move, finally leaving Lima’s international airport after 21 days of roaming its hallways.
Much like Tom Hanks' character, Viktor Navorski, in Steven Spielberg’s “The Terminal,” Olga Babaev made the arrivals terminal her home for three weeks. She arrived on May 29 from Rio de Janeiro, where she reportedly spent four months begging for food in the streets. While in Rio, she was befriended by a woman who helped arrange her travel to Lima, where Jewish groups were to find a place to house Babaev.
But once in Lima, she decided not to leave the airport, and after her unusually long stay began to make headlines, she was offered assistance by the Israeli Embassy in Lima and a Peruvian-Jewish organization. But she refused, fearing that she would be put in a flight back to Israel.
Approximately 3,000 Jews live in Peru out of a total population of some 30 million people.
Babaev was born in the former Soviet Union, but moved with her family to Israel during her teen years. She got married there and had children – one of her sons now lives in the U.S.
“I don’t want to go back to Israel. I don’t have anyone there. Also, I have problems with my family name, which is not Jewish,” Babaev told El Comercio newspaper. “I want to go to a warm place.”
Babaev finally walked out of the airport on Sunday, persuaded by a reporter from the TV news show, "Punto Final," who took her to get a medical checkup, drove her around downtown and dropped her off at an unnamed senior citizen shelter in Lima.
The physician who examined her, Victor la Rosa, said the woman was suffering from prolapse and hemorrhoids. She also showed signs of urinary problems and tested positive for diabetes, he said.
With the help of the reporter, Babaev spoke on the phone with her son in the U.S., who requested to remain anonymous. They had not spoken in 22 years, she said.