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Coloradans Stranded Abroad Trying to Get Back Home

Lily Cole has enjoyed her experience in Peru, but now just wants to get home.
Lily Cole has enjoyed her experience in Peru, but now just wants to get home.
Courtesy of Matilda Cole

Yasser Hussein, his wife and their two children arrived in Cairo on March 13 with plans to stay until March 28. But with the COVID-19 pandemic shutting borders and airspace around much of the globe, the Aurora family wound up stuck in Egypt.

The hotel where they were staying made them "pay a lot of extra money," according to nineteen-year-old Manar Hussein.

Finally, the U.S. State Department was able to arrange to bring U.S. citizens home from Egypt, and the Hussein family landed in Washington, D.C., on April 1, and are now driving back to Colorado. But for much of last week, they wondered if they'd be stranded for months.

Other Coloradans stuck abroad are still wondering the same thing.

Fifteen-year-old Lily Cole has been living with a home-stay family in Puno, a city in southern Peru that sits at 12,550 feet above sea level, since August as part of a high school exchange year.

As the COVID-19 epidemic spread across the planet, though, her parents, Todd and Matilda Cole, decided to bring her back home to Littleton. "Puno is actually a very nice town, and we love Peru, but we just want her home," says Matilda. "If she was in Lima, we wouldn't be freaked out. But if she catches a respiratory illness [in Puno], they have no hospital, no airport. It's going to be a really tricky situation."

But it's not as though Lily can just hail a taxi and head to Lima.

To reach Peru's capital, Lily will have to take a 27-hour bus ride. And right now, Peru has a strict curfew and movement regulations in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, making travel throughout the country difficult.

"Right now, I'm trying to handle things just as well as anyone else would. Trying to keep myself calm and informed, because there's no good in panicking," says Lily over WhatsApp.

The State Department has been assisting thousands of Americans as they try to get out of Peru and return to the United States. Senator Michael Bennet has even been pressuring diplomats to help get their daughter home, the Coles say.

And the Coles recently got word from the State Department that they might be able to get Lily home within a week.

Other Coloradans may simply be stuck.

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Ben Makinen, a Denver musician and filmmaker, has been in Bali since March 6; Makinen traveled there to be with his Balinese wife for the birth of their son.

Now, with flights back home "prohibitively expensive" and no guarantee he won't be grounded by a travel ban during a layover, Makinen is trying to stay busy and help support his eighteen-year-old daughter in Colorado.

He's promoting a rough cut of JazzTown — his feature-length documentary about Colorado jazz legends such as Freddy Rodriguez Sr., who just passed away after contracting COVID-19 — and asking people to pay $15 to watch the film. "Donations for a ticket to watch the visually stunning JazzTown are the only way at this point for me to generate income," Makinen says.

"We are safe here for now. There have been no mad dashes to hoard goods from the markets...yet," he says via email. "My wife is born and raised in Bali with a large family, she is not worried. ... Indonesians, like many 3rd world people, have had to struggle with a lot of tragedy baked into their daily lives; many Balinese feel this is just another thing to tough out and then get back to biz."

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