Tuesday was another day of waiting for Columbia resident Zoe Parham, who is stuck in Peru two weeks after that country abruptly halted travel as it tries to control the coronavirus pandemic.
"There’s nothing new to report as of today," Parham wrote in an email Tuesday morning. "Still waiting on more news from the Department of State."
She’s stuck with a friend in a room in Cajamarca, in northern Peru.
Parham graduated from Hickman High School in 2015 and the University of Missouri in 2019 with a degree in plant sciences.
She planned the trip more than a year ago with a friend she had formerly volunteered with in the U.S. Forest Service. They arrived in early February, when there were no COVID-19 cases in South America.
They were doing a work-stay on an avocado farm, working four hours a day for permission to camp there.
When there were fewer than 100 cases of the virus in Peru, they decided to end their visit seven weeks early. The government shut down the country without warning and Parham and her friend didn’t make it out in time.
On Tuesday, there were more than 1,000 cases of COVID-19 in Peru, a number that is based on positive test reults.
There are some signs of hope, Parham wrote in an email on Monday.
"Over the past 15 days, it’s been a slow transition from feeling completely in the dark to gaining a sense of hope that I will be able to return home," she wrote.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held a news conference Tuesday about efforts to bring Americans home from abroad and lauded the efforts of the 24/7 Repatriation Task Force.
Pompeo, during a State Department briefing, said individual cases like Parham’s would be an agency priority.
"We have no higher duty to the American people than to pull this off," Pompeo said. "The 24/7 Repatriation Task Force will continue to bring home thousands of Americans in the coming days and weeks. I want to deliver a message to Americans who are still abroad — we remain steadfast and committed to getting you all back."
Parham’s been working with a staffer in Colorado Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet’s office to get direct communication with the State Department. Her boyfriend from Colorado made the contact.
She has been in contact with the U.S. Senate offices of Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley, Missouri Republicans, but said their offices didn’t provide the prompt or detailed information she received from Bennet’s office.
In a response to Parham’s criticism, Kelli Ford, Hawley’s spokeswoman, said his office has assisted in the repatriation of 92 citizens and is pushing the State Department to do more.
"Our office has been in regular contact with Ms. Parham and in turn, we have repeatedly pressed the State Department to expedite her return to Missouri," Ford wrote in an email. "Two of the factors in Ms. Parham’s case include her remote location, which is 17 hours away from Lima, where the State Department is chartering flights, and the fact Peru has in-country travel restrictions."
Hawley is pressuring the State Department to provide transportation Parham and 10 other U.S. citizens located near her, Ford wrote.
Also assisting has been Parham’s former high school teacher, MacKenzie Everett-Kennedy, who has been in touch with officials and reporters. Parham was a student in two Advanced Placement courses Everett-Kennedy taught seven years ago, when Parham was a sophomore.
"All of this shows where there’s a will, there’s a way," Everett-Kennedy wrote. "And for Zoe, this is all happening because there are so many people who are reaching out, making contacts and elevating her case to public awareness. Yes, I made contacts of my own, but helping Zoe has been a community effort."
She’s just doing her part to help, as everyone should, she wrote.
The U.S. Embassy emailed Parham on Saturday telling her a flight had been secured out of Cuzco on Sunday morning. Cuzco is more than 1,200 miles from their location and they had no means to get there.
"It was like salt in the wound to know that there was space for me on a flight, to know how many people were continuing to leave" but no way to get there, she wrote.
Parham hasn’t been treated poorly by anyone in the Peruvian government or any Peruvian people.
"The Peruvian people are some of the kindest people I’ve encountered in my life," she wrote.
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