Yesterday I was kidnapped, held for several hours, put in a hood and handcuffs, pissed on, roughed up, abused verbally, humiliated and it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. This was because it was the third day of a course that most journalists, photographers, charity workers, first aid workers go on in order to prepare themselves for a hostile environment such as war or a disaster area. It’s often a requirement for insurance coverage. Hostile Environment Training takes three days and I was trained by https://www.hostile-environment.co.uk near Andover in England.
It’s not cheap (£1,120.00p for the course, plus transport and accommodation) but worth every penny. I now view the world very differently and feel far more confident about travelling. It’s also useful for everyday life.
You learn the ‘Golden Triangle’ of basic skills necessary to survive well in a hostile environment: first aid, navigation and communication. I learnt where to sit to be safest in a taxi, back seat behind the driver, how to spot a landmine (you can’t, they are tiny, virtually invisible as are the trip wires), what a gun does and where to position yourself if you are being attacked. The latter depends on the weaponry used, short guns or long guns, mortars or grenades. If you watch Hollywood movies and TV shows for advice you won’t last long.
You know those scenes where cops hide behind a car and are miraculously safe from bullets? It’s bullshit, bullets go through metal like a knife through butter. There is only one place in a car where you are safer and that’s crouching behind one of the wheels. Even so, escape from there as fast as possible because a car attracts gunfire. If there are several of you, huddle in a row behind the wheels, then escape as fast as possible, spreading out in different directions. Why? Because every second counts and the time it takes for a gunman to choose which way to point his gun could give you enough time to hide.
If being shot at in a building, the advice is different. Short guns can’t penetrate walls but long guns and mortar shells will. Don’t hide under a desk or table, it’s pointless. Stand a metre away from a wall as bullets go in a straight line once they hit a Wall and will hit you if you are learning against it. For mortar, lay down in the crevice between the wall and the floor. If you are being rescued, do not stand on the wall where the door is. Soldiers will not open the door, they will blast through the adjacent wall. So crouch down next to another wall, hands on head, mouth open. Dynamite can suck all the air out of a room so you don’t want a vacuum within your body. Hands on head is so that the rescuers don’t confuse you for a terrorist. You want to show that you haven’t got a weapon.
Another movie trope that is misleading is that a grenade goes off when you take the pin out. Untrue: it explodes within 5 to 7 seconds of releasing the lever on top after you take the pin out. If you don’t depress the lever, you can replace the pin. Unfortunately it is impossible to throw a grenade far enough away, to not blow yourself up and everyone else within 50 metres at the same time.
If kidnapped, bunch your fists when they slip on the handcuffs. If they tell you to flatten out your hands, you are dealing with professionals.
Other kidnapping advice: be compliant, be polite, be honest. I’ve a tendency to be honest but on my kidnapping experience I found myself making up stories, saying I worked for the Red Cross, that I thought the man in the black balaclava screaming at me was yes indeed ‘very pretty’, and that my parents in their 80s would be more than happy to hear from them by phone and pay £100,000 in ransom.
On the other hand they asked me my address, my car number plate and I gave it to them as well as all my real bank details (honest!). They used Google Earth to look up my address and ask the colour of my front door. Sometimes I laughed, which was a mistake because I’d get clubbed around the head or put in a ‘stress position’ as a punishment. Stress position is doing the plank or squatting on the balls of your feet with your arms out. After several minutes of plank I had to ask for a rest, describing my caesarian birth operation which severs your core abdomen muscles. I’m not sure if they’d understand that if I was in Yemen, Syria or Ukraine. It’s kind of a first world problem.
We got feedback after the kidnapping, which is filmed and assessed. I was told that my humour was disarming which could work for me or against me. It made me human and you want that because dehumanising someone is the best way to kill them. On the other hand it could trigger extreme violence. What did I say? I had a large machete dug into my chest and was told that if I didn’t tell the truth the ‘pretty’ black balaclava man would cut out my heart and make me eat it. ‘You want that?’ he leered. I shook my head ‘ No because I’m a vegetarian’. Even I could see the ex-SAS soldier acting the part cracked a smile.
You act in strange ways under pressure. You learn a lot about yourself.
Take a Hostile Environment Training course with HET at https://www.hostile-environment.co.uk/courses/heat