David Coats and “The Yemen Years 1976-1981”

I am the son of David Coats, and I have worked with the Yemeni American News from nearly the beginning, writing articles, shooting video clips and supporting in many other ways.

By: Stepehen Coats
The Yemeni American News

My involvement and love for the paper has developed out of a genuine friendship with the editor, Rasheed AlNozili, as well as my fond memories of the land and people I remember from my childhood so long ago.  So much of that passion is due to my father and mother taking me there and living from 1976-1981 a truly unforgettable experience. My dad recently came to visit us in Michigan from Idaho and we interviewed him to hear directly about some of his memories.

Asking my father to put forward his background in a few sentences, he said “I am a school teacher by trade and I worked for 35 years as a school teacher.  I was teaching in Oregon and I had the opportunity through a brother-in-law of mine to go to Yemen and teach school in the International School there. I am kind of quiet, not very outgoing but my wife was very outgoing and adventurous and she was very much interested in going and I was too and so we went kind of on a spur of the moment.”

The decision to go to Yemen was not a rational one but the eagerness to discover. My father tells us “We made the decision to go to Yemen not knowing much about it except I read one or two articles in National Geographic about Yemen before we went. And our main goal was to enjoy another country, another culture as well as teach children from many nations. Some Americans, Yemenis and many other countries.  That was part of the joy of the experience was just meeting people from all over the place and for us Yemen was a very unique place. I hadn’t traveled much before that.  A lot of times when you travel you go to places that look very much alike, the big cities all look alike.  Same kind of buildings, same kind of traffic, but in Yemen everything was so different! It’s kind of a shock not having traveled much because you end up in a city where so much is different even just the physical environment in the city.  Going past stores, the smells were different and so your first impression is like, ‘What am I doing here? Why am I here? Did I make a big mistake?’ But once we got adjusted a little bit it was a very rewarding experience. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

The first major issue facing an American in Yemen is obviously communication. He recalls having a hard time doing so. He says, “it was difficult at times to communicate without much Arabic, we were able to do a little bit of travel we didn’t do a lot to begin with but you pick up a little bit you can use for travel.  Quite a few of the Yemenis knew a little bit of English. The grocery store we shopped at was run by some brothers and they spoke perfect English. We asked them, ‘Where did you learn your English?’ They said, ‘Detroit!’”

My father recalls all the fun activities we had saying “We did some hiking, a lot of the villages were on top of mountains. I remember we would go out on weekends when we didn’t have school. We would go out with the family and maybe sometimes another family and we would take a picnic and sometimes we would hike to the top of one of the mountains and look at the villages.  We felt very safe, people were very friendly, it seemed like that when they found out that we were Americans, they liked Americans, the people we bumped into.”

Then we left to Yemen to Saudi Arabia. “I went to Saudi Arabia once to interview for a job in Dhahran. I think I spent one night, had the interview and then came back and it was a very strange experience in one sense because the flights back and forth from Sana’a to Dhahran all the other passengers were Yemeni men going back and forth to work in Saudi Arabia.  I was the only non-Yemeni on the flight and I am generally quite a bit taller than most Yemeni men. When I was getting ready to come back I went to the airport early so I could do all the things to check in for the flight and there was a line forming so of course I got in line. I think it was Yemeni Airlines and when I got in line I was standing quite a ways back and there were a lot of shorter Yemenis in front of me.  The man from the airline went like this (motioning with his hand forward) he was wanting someone to come to the front of the line and I thought there was somebody really important around me or behind me. He actually wanted me to come to the front of the line! I was a little taken back by that. The way they were giving me preference over the Yemenis but I wasn’t real good with Arabic so I couldn’t argue with him very well so I just did what he wanted. But I felt very uncomfortable.”

The current situation in Yemen is obviously not well. Mr. Coats reflect on the situation saying “It makes me very sad to hear some of the things that are happening in Yemen and Yemen deserves better than that. The people deserve better.  It makes me very sad because the country has such potential and the people.”