Shots rang out in the night, three short bursts, -pop-pop-pop- and then silence. I sat up in bed and edged myself toward the window, just peeking around the corner of the window so as not to expose myself. The silence was eerie, heavy and pregnant. I was sure that more gunfire would follow, this was Yemen.
I looked at my watch; two AM Sana’a time, 28 February 2014. Hearing shots in the night was nothing new. Living in Yemen, especially through the Arab Spring and the political upheaval that followed it, gunfire at any time night or day was a common occurrence. One got used to it. But this was close, very close, and I knew, somehow (to this day I cannot explain how or why) I knew that they had come for me.
While I am not sympathetic to the actions of terror groups I can be sympathetic to their motivations. It’s not hard to understand how “I” could be targeted in a terrorist action simply by the nature of the fact that I was a USA citizen living in Yemen. I had been targeted for kidnapping or worse on several previous occasions in several different countries. It’s the price that one pays when living a life out there raw on the edge of the seismic cultural and political faultlines that divide our world. I was out there because I wanted to be. I wanted to learn, to see and to feel. But when that screw turns and you find yourself balanced on the edge of that faultline and fate, survival is the only motive.
Ducking down under the window level I made sure my wife and kids were okay.
“Stay low,” I told them, throwing on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. “I’ll be right back”
I moved through the house, keeping low, careful not to turn on any lights or expose myself to windows. I picked up my cell phone, turned the ringer off and put it in my back pocket. I needed to get up to the roof where I could check the area from high ground without being seen. Yemeni houses are typically stone with a flat roof. The roofs are normally sheltered with a privacy wall six or seven feet high. The privacy wall is often decorated in strategic locations by ornate block that offers a line of vision to the environs surrounding the house; extremely well designed from a defensive security perspective.
I walked up the stairs and as I was about to ease myself slowly out of the steel door onto the roof a barrage of shots rang out in the night. I pulled back inside the stairwell behind the steel door. I could hear shouting from somewhere down on the street below. I inched out of the door quietly, careful not to push hard enough for the hinges to squeak and scurried low over to the wall facing the street. Just then, I felt my phone buzz in my back pocket. It was a message from a friend who was the military attaché and aid representative from a major world government to Yemen. This friend of mine was at the time in Europe for meetings. The message read:
“They are at my house. Gunmen, Be careful!”
This friend of mine lived thirty yards away and I had been to his home several times recently. I peered out through the ornate décor blocks towards his house. I could see quite a few vehicles. Shots rang out again and several armed men rushed out of the entrance door on the front gate into waiting vehicles. One vehicle after another started and sped away haphazardly as the guards at the gate shot several bursts of fire from their AK-47s up into the air. It all looked almost comical, as if a Yemeni wedding had ended up on bad terms. I ducked back into the stairwell. My phone buzzed again:
“Just an idea: you have been 3 times in my house. maybe they ate looking for you, for the American…”
That thought had already occurred to me.
What did I expect?
Every expat worth his salt knows the three basic commandments:
- Watch the price of bread, watch it closely.
- Observe the interactions and the banter of polite and intense conversation on this subject.
- Never, ever involve yourself in this.
Practically everyone I knew back home had been critical of me at one time or another for living in Yemen, in a different culture, far away. I have a very strong opinion on this – with all due respect I had always felt sorry for all those fools. Let them shop at Target! They understood nothing about life and less about the world. Life is certainly worth living but it’s not worth wasting on a keeping up with the Jones’ lifestyle, cars, two or three stall garages, money, local social status. I could care less, let them stand in line. I had my own personal interesting view on life and history and the world and I had been paid back in spades by the wonderful Yemeni people, the great climate the incredible food. I was the luckiest man in the world. I had a great and interesting wife that I’d met in Yemen and we had three beautiful children.
I locked the metal door and descended to check on my family, and as I descended the stairway back to the main house, my heart pounding and knees shaking – I could almost yearn for Target.
The next few days were a series of safe houses, interviews with Yemeni government authorities and United States Embassy officials. Everyone worked so hard to save me and my family that I owe them forever.
How do I feel now?
I took the last flight out and I landed in Ethiopia.
Kyle Foster’s Arabian Notes. Regular updates from one of America’s wildest. High Arabian adventure including a few excerpts from his book in progress. fosterarabiannotes.blogspot.com
*No names appear in story nor do places or people and generally nothing that ever did not exist. But the bravery and the wisdom and the kindness of those who have council are above the command of the sky. Thank you!
More Coming Soon!