A Janesville native is stranded in Peru, along with hundreds of other Americans after the Peruvian government closed its borders and airports March 14 in an effort to slow the coronavirus.
Maddie Schroeder, a 2014 graduate of Craig High School, is in Cusco, a city of 400,000, where she was working as an intern for an international aid project.
Schroeder lives in an apartment with two roommates, also foreigners. Only those going to a grocery store or bank are allowed on the streets.
Police and the military patrol the streets, and Schroeder hears people without a mask will be arrested. Other reports are that gloves are also required. Schroeder has heard of people arrested while walking their dogs.
It appears police keep changing the rules, and Schroeder has little confidence in what looks like a corrupt government, so she is afraid to go out.
“They’re trying to get foreigners. I don’t necessarily see them on my side. It’s martial law here because there’s a state of emergency,” she said.
She has enough food and water, and an internet connection. She spoke to a Gazette reporter through Facebook Messenger on Sunday.
Groups of French, Israelis, Mexicans, Argentineans and Chileans have been airlifted back to their countries, Schroeder said, and some Americans have been flown out of Lima, Peru’s capital.
But there is no mass transit from Cusco to Lima. Schroeder heard of a group from France that chartered a bus to Lima but was turned back at a military checkpoint.
There is hope that the U.S. government is working on the problem.
Schroeder is part of a group of Americans who are on a Facebook group called Stuck in Peru, who are sharing information and support, including a message from the office of Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., posted Saturday:
“Our office has been assured that the State Department knows there is a problem in Peru, and just needs time to figure out options for getting you out safely.”
Feinstein’s message goes on to say that U.S repatriation flights are awaiting approval from the Peruvian government and that the Peruvians are asking for the U.S. to likewise allow Peruvians to leave the United States.
And copy of another message, posted Sunday, says: “The U.S. Embassy in Lima ... is coordinating closely with the Peruvian Government on all options for U.S. citizens to depart the country ... and are arranging charter aircraft.”
Schroeder’s internship was coming to an end as the pandemic hit. She had found a job as a web developer for a tourist agency in Cusco and planned to stay, but that fell through when the government closed the borders. Finding another job appears impossible, and she wants to go home.
“This really flipped my life upside down,” she said.
Schroeder has heard about conditions in the United States, but she figures the medical care and other social supports are much stronger in her home country. Even the hospitals have closed in Cusco, and it appears the only people who can get treatment are those with symptoms of COVID-19.
As of Sunday, Peru had 363 cases of COVID-19 and five deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University, but Schroeder has heard that the country isn’t testing enough to know the real situation.
Peru’s state of emergency is supposed to last through March 31, but Schroeder said no one knows what will happen next.
Schroeder has received one email from the U.S. State Department, requesting information about her.
“I just need people to keep putting pressure on our government, so eventually they will make it a priority,” Schroeder said.
Schroeder’s parents are contacting everyone they can think of to help, including the office of U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Janesville.
Steil responded to a Gazette query, saying he is “working with the U.S. State Department and Schroeder family ... This is a fluid situation, and we will continue to work with U.S. government officials until Maddie is safely home with her family.”
Steil gave no specifics.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., sent a news release Saturday, saying his staff has been helping Americans stranded in 12 countries, including Peru, and Johnson appealed to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“These Americans are scared, desperate and running out of hope,” Sen. Johnson wrote. “I hope you will give your fullest and most immediate consideration to this request.”
Sunday was the seventh day of Schroeder’s quarantine.
“You have to keep yourself entertained, because you’re just waiting,” she said.
She spends her time keeping track of updates from her fellow stranded Americans, and she is getting calls from friends asking how she’s doing. She is teaching herself Spanish and code for website development.
She said she feels anxious and stuck with no end in sight, and it feels as though conditions are getting worse each day.
She doesn’t want people to worry about her, but she is uncertain how the pandemic will play out in Peru.
Schroeder lives away from Cusco’s tourist center, where patrols appear to be concentrated. She has heard of police entering hostels to search for alcohol. The government has banned drinking or buying alcohol.
“I’m going to have withdrawals soon. It’s a medical emergency,” she joked.
But seriously, her dreams of a homecoming include a bottle of Spotted Cow.