How do you protect yourself in a foreign country and not end up in prison?
Did you know that elementary school children are often your biggest threat? What do you need to know to stay out of a foreign prison? What means of defending yourself are at your disposal and to what degree can you use them? I have been there and will answer these potentially life changing questions.
Let’s start with avoidance. You must first be familiar with the terrain. If you aren’t in an area of danger, chances are, you will not be harmed. Before you go and when you first arrive, gather intelligence on the area like any military unit would do. Talk to travel agents, hotel or hostile clerks, taxi drivers, bus drivers, or any local with a vested interest in the foreign visitor market. Ask if there are any places you should avoid.
Inquire about crime free places to eat, shop, sight see, and walk. Are there curfews or times to avoid certain places? In many foreign countries you do not want to go anywhere unless it by taxi or bus e.g. Colon, Panama. On the other hand, there are places where you do not want to take a taxi, Barcelona, Venezuela being one. Here anyone can drive a make shift taxi without a license, including thieves and kidnappers. After a couple of days of recon, you’ll have a firm grasp of your surroundings.
The second most important thing you can do is, not be a tourist. We live in a multicultural society. I am aware of no country that hasn’t had foreign visitors or aid workers living among them. This makes it easier for one to blend in. Carry yourself with an attitude of confidence. I’ve ended up in bad areas when I failed to take the time into account. In this situation, I walk down the street with a confident and capable look on my face that says, “You mess with me and I’ll rip your heart out.” Women can have this same look about them or worse. I know this by having had several ex-wives that still maintain the look when I’m near.
Always be aware of your surroundings, not only looking for potential thugs, but noticing people who might help, or places you can duck into. This doesn’t mean looking all around like a nervous, bobble-head tourist.
An exercise I do to keep my mind trained is fixating on one spot and without moving my head or eyes. I am able to utilize my whole peripheral (or as they say in Pakistan, perry ferry all) visual field and observe even the slightest movement. This is how you observe your surroundings. Sound counts also. Once in a situation, I felt uneasy because someone appeared to be following me. I heard salsa music playing nearby. I followed the sound and took refuge in the bar playing the music and left following a few locals.
Beware that markets, train and bus stations, airports, or any place congested with people. These are the hunting grounds of pick pockets and the hidden areas of these same places are often full of thieves. Always keep an eye on your bags, even in overhead compartments or sitting outside while you are waiting for transportation.
Outside of the airport in Guatemala City, my team and I left several containers of medical equipment unattended. When I turned around a local was throwing the last container on a truck before hopping in and taking off. Fortunately, a taxi was nearby and two of us jumped in and followed. The taxi driver knew the man. Stopped in traffic, the driver of the taxi got out and explained to the thief that he had taken only medical supplies intended to help the poor. They both loaded the supplies into the taxi trunk. To alert the policia would have detained us longer. They would, more than likely, have confiscated our supplies until the thief went to court in a few months.