Arriving to Yemen during the Western Embassy closure and terror scare this year I was flooded with concerned friends who, aside from the hyperbole restated multiple times to me that the solution to survival is to “keep a low profile”. I regurgitated this in my head repeatedly enroute here, upon arrival and since I have been here. I am pretty weel trained in the logic of low profile operations however something somewhat new to me is the concept of keeping a low profile in a place where the Western white expat population outside of the embassy probably numbers around 100. When I inquired into the “expat scene” in my first week here with my associates “what is the expat scene here like?” they responded with “you are looking at it”.
It was explained to me that you have your embassy folks, say US, UK and other Europeans to be effectively non-existent; you then have your select few off the grid legit expats – those who work and live here – one I made friends with enroute here who has been living here for 15 years. You have little to no tourism at all and then you have your exchange students which numbers probably no more than 50-100 at any given time since the revolution. On top of this you also then have your NGO workers who I imagine are mostly not in the city center and operate out in the more rural areas with some support staff in Sana’a for example.
With such small numbers of – and bear with my racism for a moment – white people here, it is nearly impossible to retain a “low profile”. This number dwindles further when you consider that most of this expat population that is female wears an Abaya and a Hijab covering most of their appearance from say more than 20 meters. Sure if you look hard you can still see a white face, but in Yemen as there are darker skinned individuals from say, Somalia, there are lighter skinned ones too; from say Syria and Iran.
So in the end you are looking at a very, very small population of western dressed, western originated, light skinned foreigners that do not live within embassy confines. This number has to be way less than 100, especially in Sana’a, and I am prone to say maybe around 50. This means that if you fit this bill you are arguably 1/100 highly noticeable people in the entire country. How does one keep a “low profile”?
If you look at the foreign reporters here and calculate the number who have been reported assumed kidnapped your statistical number of likelihood of being kidnapped is actually rather high despite the “feel” of safety you may get while here. Either way, when you further compound in the notion of those who pass through here briefly rarely leaving the confines of their work or school, that are obvious foreigners, your number is even more disconcerting. I know for myself I have seen 1 random white foreigner oddly sitting on a street curb one day; 1 female white foreigner I met whom I previously knew, 1 male white foreigner whom I met enroute here and that is pretty much it outside of my social circles of say a dozen foreigners.