Fleeing Yemen: One American’s Journey From A War Zone To Ohio

How an American left war-torn Yemen on a refugee boat and traveled 12,000 miles for a new life

Jul 01, 2015 at 5:15 PM ET

A 21-year-old American, born and raised in Virginia, escaped war-torn Yemen aboard a crowded refugee boat and journeyed 12,000 miles to Ohio where he’s now hoping his family will join him.

Sharaff al-Mahdi is the family “guinea pig.” It was his task to test the route out of Yemen, finding the safest way to leave the war-torn country and journey back home. If he made it, he would begin setting up the foundations of a new life and then everyone else waiting in Yemen could join him.

Vocativ found al-Mahdi on the refugee boat bound for Djibouti in May, and reconnected with him three weeks at the end of his arduous journey to Cincinnati, where he’s now looking for a job. He is one of several hundred Americans who were stranded in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, when a Saudi-led coalition began bombing the city in response to a government takeover by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.

Al-Mahdi and his family had first left the U.S. and moved to Yemen in 2006 because his parents, originally from the Middle Eastern country, wanted him and his siblings to connect with their relatives and their heritage. They lived in Sana’a and al-Mahdi studied telecommunications engineering. Then, in March, the bombing began. Supplies became scarce. He described long lines for food and cooking gas, and electricity outages that lasted for days.

“My hopes for me and my family are the same as for any family,” he told Vocativ. “We just want to live in peace.”

Here’s his story: