Davidson graduate reports on unrest in Yemen

Home away from home

Augusta has always been home for Jeb Boone, but that life is thousands of miles away.

His reality now is taking cover during anti-government protests in Yemen while scribbling the thoughts of demonstrators on his notepad.

Life now is seeing the love and hospitality of the Yemeni people against the violence thrashing in the streets -- all while filing a news story before midnight.

He used to be a Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School student and a talented musician who played in the school orchestra while dreaming of the Middle East, said his mother, Julie.

Now Boone, 24, is the managing editor of the Yemen Times , the country's most widely read English-language newspaper.

Son of the late Jack Boone, a well-known capital murder trial attorney, he runs the paper six days out of the week. Boone also freelances for papers like The Guardian in the United Kingdom.

"Running the newspaper and freelancing leaves me with about enough time to sleep three or four hours a night," Boone said in an e-mail interview. "The work is physically and mentally exhausting."

Draining, yes, but more fulfilling than any work he's ever done. Amid the violence and his hectic schedule, Boone said his job allows him to see the humanity of the Yemenis in the most unexpected circumstances.

On Feb. 17, Boone found himself in the middle of the violence between pro- and anti-government demonstrators at a protest near the old campus at Sana'a University.

As the battle line moved back and forth, he kept getting caught in the middle of the fray, Boone said. As he tried to get away, a nearby resident grabbed Boone and pulled him into his home.

The man brought Boone water, checked for injuries and ended up inviting him to have lunch.

As fighting and violence raged outside, the two men ate and drank tea until the protest died down.

"Before I left we exchanged numbers, and I'm planning on going to a qat chew at his house this weekend," Boone said. "I don't think I'll forget that for a while. What happened that day is essentially the essence of Yemen. Yemeni hospitality knows no bounds."

So how does a person go from napping in the music practice rooms at Davidson to running a newspaper in the Middle East?

After graduating high school in 2005, Boone attended Georgia State University and majored in Middle East Studies and Arabic Language.

While in college, he studied abroad in Yemen for seven months and later kept in touch with many American and Yemeni friends he had met.

He worked a "terrible and degrading" job after college selling telecom service door-to-door in Atlanta before hearing about the opening for a managing editor at Yemen Observer in 2010.

He took the job in October and began a career covering the daily lives of people living in Yemen.

Earlier this month he left the Observer , a government-run publication, to join the Yemen Times as managing editor.

"To be succinct, the Observer was just too pro-regime for me to feel good about the work I was doing," Boone said.

The violence in the Middle East keeps Boone running full days at the Times . He works with six full-time Yemeni journalists and five native English-speaking editors to put out the 16-page paper.

The journey from Augusta to the Middle East has been a hectic one, but it leaves Boone wondering how he could ever leave the place he has grown to love.

"I don't plan on leaving while I'm having so much success," he said.

A message from Jeb Boone

"To the readers, try not to think of places like Yemen as strange, far away lands. Yemenis, in fact, are a lot like Southerners. They're hard-working, family-oriented, and devout people. They struggle with issues like poverty and lack of access to education. The driving force behind these protests, other than a lack of government transparency and president's 32-year-long rule, is unemployment. Like so many Americans right now, Yemenis are struggling day to day to feed their families and find work."

READ the Yemen Times online. Boone also posts his articles on his blog