After being stranded in the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of Africa for the past few weeks, Waterville City Councilor Flavia Oliveira is back in the United States.

Waterville City Councilor Flavia Oliveira was stranded in the Cape Verde Islands, off the west coast of Africa, when the coronavirus pandemic struck the United States. With the help of Hilary Koch, a member of the Waterville Charter Commission, and U.S. Sen. Angus King and his staff, she and a dozen Americans were flown back to the United States, where they are quarantined in Rhode Island.

Oliveira, 36, is in quarantine for two weeks in Rhode Island, and will be tested for the coronavirus before returning to Waterville and her four children, she said.

“I’m definitely looking forward to going back,” she said Thursday in a telephone interview. “The first thing I want to do is hug my kids and be close to them — that’s my number one thing.”

Oliveira, D-Ward 2, traveled March 3 to the Cape Verde Islands, where she grew up, to visit family, especially her grandmother, who was ill. Oliveira was to have returned to the United States on March 17, but the U.S. Embassy there canceled flights, she said.

After that, Oliveria sought help from the embassy to get back home. And while officials there seemed responsive, it just did not happen.

Then Hilary Koch of Waterville got involved, Oliveira said.

“(Koch) actually contacted the embassy in Cape Verde, and she contacted U.S. Sen. Angus King’s office, and his assistant contacted the embassy,” Oliveria said. “That’s when things started moving along a lot faster. After that, they had this emergency flight come and pick us up.”

Oliveira was on Praia, one of the islands in Cape Verde. She and 12 other U.S. citizens on the island boarded a Utopia Airlines plane April 10 and they stopped in several other countries before landing in Washington, D.C., she said. There were many people on the plane, according to Oliveira.

“We flew for 24 hours — it was a whole day,” she said.

After arriving in Washington, D.C., she flew to Rhode Island, where she is staying at an apartment in Central Falls until she is able to get tested for the coronavirus and then, hopefully, returning to Waterville.

“I’m so grateful for all the work that they did,” Oliveria said of Koch, a member of the Waterville Charter Commission, and King’s staff.

The Cape Verde archipelago, or group of islands, is in the Atlantic Ocean, about 350 miles off the western coast of Africa.

There are 10 Cape Verde islands, nine of which are inhabited, and five islets. They were discovered and settled by the Portuguese in the 15th century.

Oliveira in March first went to Sal, a tourist destination, but when the coronavirus was ramping up around the world, she was sent to Praia, the capital of Cape Verde, which has fewer tourists. Praia is on the southern coast of Santiago island.

Waterville City Clerk Patti Dubois, right, administers the oath of office Wednesday to new city councilors Flavia Oliveira and Claude Francke on Nov. 6, 2019.

Oliveira said Thursday that when she left Praia for the United States, three cases of COVID-19 were reported on that island. She said streets were shut down there and the army was patrolling. After leaving Cape Verde, she heard the coronavirus cases there had increased.

It was only after she arrived in the United States and saw empty airports — and members of the National Guard at the airport in Rhode Island — that the reality of what is happening here became clear.

“When I got to the airports and saw the ghost towns, that’s when it really sunk in,” she said. “Everything is just sinking in. I’m staying inside the house and taking precautions, washing my hands and social distancing. I feel like this is a new lifestyle.”

While she said Central Falls is a nice small city, Oliveira cannot wait to return to Waterville, her home.

“I’ll be really excited to be back in Maine with the fresh air,” she said. “It feels different. There’s nothing like Maine.”

Oliveira, who was elected to the City Council in November, is an intern with Maine Equal Justice, a nonprofit civil legal aid and economic equal justice organization.

Its mission is to increase economic security, opportunity and equity by advocating for public policies in the Legislature and governmental agencies; providing direct legal services and representation through impact litigation on systemic issues; and partnering with diverse, low-income communities and agencies through outreach, organizing and education.

She said she has stayed in touch with the organization, which is holding her job for her.

Oliveira was able to attend — remotely — a recent City Council meeting and a council budget review session.

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