If you are an American trapped in Yemen, waiting for help from the State Department is plain suicide. It is no exaggeration to say you are far better off appealing to the Chinese or Indian governments for help–in fact, that is precisely what the State Department itself recommends.
If that is not feasible, Americans in Yemen must take matters into their own hands, as Mokhtar Alkhanshali of San Francisco did. He was working in Yemen on a project to help local coffee farmers — he is the co-founder of a company called Mocha Mill dedicated to that purpose — when the Saudi coalition began air strikes against Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi insurgency. SFGate has him comparing it to “a scene out of some Michael Bay movie… I didn’t know if I was going to live.”
A harrowing adventure followed as he made several attempts to get out of the country. “The first night they bombed the civilian airport in Sana’a, and so they implemented a no-fly zone, stopped any naval activity so we were trapped in Yemen,” Alkhanshali told ABC News.
At one point, he was taken prisoner by an armed militia gang, which mistook him for a Houthi rebel. “They literally yanked me out of my car, blindfolded me and my two friends and threw us in a truck,” he recalled.
After being released by the militia, Alkhanshali gave up waiting for help from the State Department and headed for the port city of Mocha, a seven-hour drive across the war-torn country. (The alternative was a 28-hour-drive across the “cold, hard desert” to Oman.)
In Mocha, he was able to rent a motorboat — “a small boat, 16 to 20 footer, a small 40-horsepower Yamaha engine behind it,” he told KTVU News. He crossed the Red Sea in this tiny craft and made it to the African nation of Dijbouti, beginning a four-day journey that finally brought him back to San Francisco.
“I’ve never been on a small boat like that, in a huge sea like that, to a country I’d never been to, and not knowing if I’d make it or not,” he said of his six-hour sea passage.
Alkhanshali counts himself “very lucky” to have escaped Yemen. He is sharply critical of the ineffectual U.S. State Department. “Yemeni-Americans have been effectively abandoned in Yemen. Thousands who want to get out,” he said. “No one helped me come home. I’m happy to be back, but at the same time, I feel saddened by the way I came back.”