Peace Corps volunteer Dan Ritz was pulled out of a country that didn't have the coronavirus to return home to one who did

The day before Dan Ritz left Timor-Leste, a tiny island nation north of Australia, he shaved his beard. It was an act of dramatic symbolism.

"It was my Peace Corps beard," Ritz says. "My not-in-America beard."

For two months, he'd been living out a dream, teaching English with the Peace Corps on the island.

"I love the country," Ritz says. "I loved the people. I want to go back."

That ended last month, when all the Peace Corps volunteers in Timor-Leste got their evacuation order.

Blame coronavirus. It wasn't because of a local outbreak; back then, not a single instance of the virus had been diagnosed in Timor-Leste. But the country was on edge. Ritz says protests broke out opposing the construction of an isolation center to house an Italian man who was suspected of having the virus.

"The police used tear gas to disperse people who were protesting on the street," Ritz says. "It got really hostile to foreigners."

That was part of the reason for the evacuation, says Ritz, who stresses that he doesn't speak for the Peace Corps. The bigger reason, he says, was that the Peace Corps wanted to bring the volunteers home before air traffic stopped.

And so Ritz left his dream job, embarking on a grueling four-day journey home, through eerily vacant airports and sparsely populated planes, from one of the only countries in the region that didn't have the coronavirus, to an American state that was crawling with it.

And when he got back to Spokane, back to his parent's house, he started getting a sore throat. Maybe, he thought, it was that he didn't drink enough water on the plane. Or maybe...

"I'm a little bit sick right now," Ritz says. "And I'm kind of afraid, because my dad's about 60 — I'm questioning if I should be in a hotel or something and not at home."

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About The Author

Daniel Walters

A lifelong Spokane native, staff writer Daniel Walters is the Inlander's City Hall reporter. But he also reports on a wide swath of other topics, including business, education, real estate development, land use, and other stories throughout North Idaho and Spokane County.He's reported on deep flaws in the Washington...