It's been a story in local TV news broadcasts the past week, and SFist noted it briefly here: 26-year-old Mokhtar Alkhanshali, who grew up in San Francisco, became trapped in the capital city of Yemen, Sana'a, on March 27 after Saudi bombing raids destroyed the city's civilian airport. Alkhanshali, whose parents are from Yemen, has an Oakland-based coffee start-up called Mocha Mill, named for the Yemeni town of Mocha where a 14th century Muslim monk wrote what's believed to be the first text on coffee. He's spent the last five months meeting with Yemeni coffee farmers as part of his business, but quickly realized amid the bombing that he was not going to have an easy time getting home the U.S. has no embassy in Yemen, and there has been no U.S. effort to evacuate Americans from the country. As KTVU reports, it took him three days to get back to San Francisco, and he says what he saw and heard that first few days was "like Armageddon. All hell broke loose."
Much of Yemen has fallen under the control of the Shiite Houthis in recent months, as well as factions of Al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and as a result the Saudi Arabian government has begun a highly risky campaign of airstrikes in the country.
Alkhanshali previously communicated with ABC 7 by Skype describing a horrific scenario in which he attempted, last week, to escape via the port city of Aden, a seven-hour drive from Sana'a, where he'd heard there was a ship taking U.S. citizens. But when he arrived there, he and friends in the same car were yanked out and blindfolded by a local militia group. "They assumed I was a Houthi rebel," he said, "[They] blindfolded us and threw us in the back of a truck."
Ultimately they were let go, but now fully scared for his life, and knowing he could not make the 28-hour, westerly drive through the desert to Oman, he made his way to the port town of Mocha where he managed to find a man with a small boat, with "a small 40 horse-power Yamaha engine," who would take him to Africa. “After a few hours it started to sink in," he said to KTVU. "I'm in the middle of the ocean with no navigation equipment."
They landed in Djibouti in northeast Africa, where as the BBC reports, many evacuees from Yemen are ending up. And from there he made his way to an airport in Kenya and boarded a flight to Amsterdam. Then he caught a non-stop home to SFO, all his coffee samples intact.
"It really feels like I was in some sort of action adventure novel," he said.
Meanwhile, a website has sprung up called StuckInYemen which is collecting names 300 and counting of U.S. citizens still trapped in the country. Among them are Alkhanshali's aunt and her five children.