Minnesotan stuck in Peru trying to get home, robbed of everything

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It was not a good month for Joy McBrien of St. Paul. 

What was supposed to be a two-week work trip to check on employees in Peru turned into self-isolation, a robbery and uncertainty on whether she’ll be able to make it back to the United States.

“I came to Chimbote, Peru, on Feb. 28, when there was not a single case of the coronavirus in Latin America,” McBrien said. “It was of course on my mind, but definitely never thought I was going to get stuck here.”

McBrien flew to Peru to connect with her employees with Fair Anita. She founded it in 2015 — Fair Anita has partnered with 8,000 women in nine countries to not only give them a steady job with benefits, but also create ethically-made, affordable jewelry that, according to its bio, “is actually cute!”

During her visit in Peru, McBrien was attacked. 

“I was pretty violently robbed on Friday the 13th, as it would be. They stole my passport, medication, my money in a planned attack by a couple men. So because of that I missed my flight home,” McBrien told KSTP during a video conversation.

Since then, she’s been working to get back to the United States. But also in that time, Peru has gone into a COVID-19 lockdown. During this time, no one is allowed outside a home without an ID — or a passport, in her case. According to the U.S. Embassy in Peru, some of the last flights for a while are leaving for the U.S. on Monday, April 6. 

McBrien has connected with about 30 other Americans who are also trying to get home. 

“It feels like a dream at this point, but the plan is to have a bus arrive in Chimbote, Peru, to take us on an eight-hour bus ride to Lima so then we can get on one of those flights home,” McBrien said.

Even if the bus arrives to take them to the embassy, she said their worries are not done.

“We’ve seen a lot of these journeys be unsafe for people. They’re regularly putting on the news people getting imprisoned, or being whipped. So, in all honesty, I am quite scared for this bus ride, especially given that my passport was robbed, so I don’t actually have any form of ID.”

McBrien did say she has a photocopy of her passport she hopes will help.

She’s had help. Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith are aware of her situation and are doing what they can. Also, McBrien’s friend and co-worker Jessica Moes is working from St. Paul to try and get her home. Moes traveled with McBrien to Peru but was able to get home.

“I’m one of — I’m not kidding — hundreds of people here that know and love her,” Moes said. “[We] understand the incredible work that she does and know that it is incredibly important and valuable for her to get home safely."

McBrien doesn't have a great internet connection, but she said she’d give KSTP updates if she can on her journey back home.