In a previous post we shared a story from SHTF School founder Selco in which he discussed his experience of Living Through SHTF In the Middle of A War Zone during the conflict in Bosnia in the 1990’s. This yielded an extensive discussion from our community about preparations, strategies, and the reality of what it’s like when the system around you collapses into conflict.
In the following post we present another experience, this time from Cairo, from someone who was there at the height of the riots and violence that would eventually lead to the collapse of the entire political structure of Egypt and imposition of military rule.
As is generally the case, first hand experiences offer an often informative and realistic view of what you can really expect, the challenges you’ll face, the thoughts that will be running through your mind, and actionable steps to take in the midst of crisis.
From the somewhat guilt filled comforts of Greece, I have been thinking about what I learned from the recent Cairo SHTF experience. I am not putting myself forth as an expert of any sort and, frankly, many or even most items on the list below might be flat out wrong….who the hell knows. We were in Cairo from Jan 25th until late Feb 3rd when the neighborhood gunfire became full-auto and regularly occurring. At that point, we decided that Friday prayers (the next day) might not yield a pleasant experience. We had no way of knowing that we had already seen the worst.
Lesson #1….the best weapon for SHTF is truly whatever F*&$ING firearm you can lay your hands on and it does not matter the slightest bit what it is! I had a borrowed three shot semi-auto Beretta 26″ bbl trap grade shotgun. I LOVED IT. It was my baby and I truly miss it now!. That said, I would have given my left nut for my Yugo underfolder or SGL-21. Frankly, I am now of the opinion that if, in the moment, you are being AT ALL picky about firearms then by definition the shit has NOT truly hit the fan. One guy on our street only had a nice little S&W J-frame .22 and he seemed a lot more relaxed than the guys with baseball bats I can tell you that!
Lesson #2…..Good will with one’s friends and neighbors has the power to greatly enhance or even make unnecessary ABSOLUTELY ANY prep you can make (including having money). Bad will with ones neighbors similarly has the ability to completely nullify any prep (again, including having money). I am and was the lucky beneficiary and supplier of the former. As an example, one night on the street a local young cop who lived in the neighborhood asked me “where did you get that shotgun”. I winked and said, “I found it”. He just smirked and said, “Oh…OK”. End of conversation. That’s what is achieved by six years of being the “Cool American” who takes the time to chat with everyone from street vendors, doormen, and neighborhood kids to villa owners and businessmen.
Lesson #3….Bugging out is really only an option if you are lucky enough to be psychic and see the shit BEFORE it truly hits the fan. The bug out plans you have will almost certainly physically be blocked when SHTF. Good luck getting to Alexandria after SHTF in Tahrir square or to Aswan when the government shuts down the rail network! Frankly, we almost realized we had those options before they were blocked off but by they might have been more dangerous than bugging in with our friends and neighbors and banding together to protect the neighborhood. Further, I did not want to be a “refugee” so bugging in was perfectly fine since we prepped wisely. That said, and in spite of the above, when you see an escape route, RUN (see Lesson #4 and #11)!
Lesson #4….Do NOT be too proud to become a “refugee” if you can manage it comfortably. There is a world of difference between being a penniless “refugee” and taking a “strategic vacation” (new term I just invented!) on a commercial flight with a fat wad of cash (see Lesson #13).
Lesson #5…People are stupid. There MAY (repeat…MAY) still be time to prep the very day and even the second or third day the shit is “kinda” hitting the fan (SKHTF! another new term!). Grocery stores MAY still be open and things MAY be as normal for a short time. Now is the time to stock up on little things you may need more of or on comfort items. I saw this happen in Cairo even the first days of the worst rioting. Stores were open even a couple blocks from Tahrir strangely enough….for a while. Day three of the revolution, when Tahrir looked like a legitimate war-zone, the Souq two blocks from the square was selling us vegetables and canned goods and, amazingly, was not all that busy! We cleaned them out and distributed surplus to those in our building who could not or would not go out (See Lesson #2)
Lesson #6….Murphy’s law applies. Preps will fail or break or prove impractical when you least expect. For example, the sat phone I just replaced worked just fine for all of the last five years. I wanted to upgrade and bought the new model that arrived in Cairo a week before the riots when my wife returned from the US. The brand new com equipment that would have totally bailed us out when the govt cut cell and internet….you guessed it….had a bad battery shipped with it!! Moral of the story: Invest in MULTIPLE redundancies! I am now also buying a handheld HAM system.
Lesson #7….Marry well! Perhaps this should be Lesson #1. My wife was calm and collected for the 10 days we were in Cairo during SHTF. She was organizing things around the house and with neighbors and even making improvised weaponry (clubs) even better with the addition of protruding nails etc. She rocks! She also cooked for the “neighborhood watch” and is now absolutely LOVED by the people around us! She helped with Lesson #2 immensely because NO other wives in the neighborhood were bringing tea and food to the guys on the street.
Lesson #8….You don’t have to “bug out” to MOVE and make things a great deal easier for yourself! Just because the shit is hitting the fan where you are does NOT mean it is hitting the fan even 10 miles away. This is not bugging out…just moving. When we were driving to the airport on day ten or eleven, I was amazed that a short 10 minute drive away there were no tanks or APCs and people were calm. The whole vibe was so different that it kinda made me suspect that something was wrong. SHTF had become “normal” for me to the point that “normal” now looked scary and suspicious. We even passed a wedding that was taking place where everyone looked totally calm. We didn’t realize for 10 days that all we really had to do was find a new apartment or take a nice hotel room 20 miles away from our current location. Lesson learned! Don’t become married to your “role” in SHTF.
Lesson #9…When the players in a conflict become ill-defined, it’s time to step aside. If you know who the bad guys are, you can play this game but when it becomes a war of all against all, it becomes imperative to stay out of the game where EVERYONE loses. The Feb 2 riots that took place the night before we left were a perfect example of this. It was no longer just looters we were worried about, it was EVERYONE. Buildings were being occupied in Tahrir presumably by both sides of the conflict and I didn’t want to wait for this phenomenon to come 5 blocks south to us. If SHTF starts to look too much like civil war, it’s “game over” and time to make a change.
Lesson #10…Stockpiling is 100% rational. Even if you wind up bugging out or SHTF is short enough to not use everything you have stashed, your foresight will help others and will contribute greatly to your ability to adhere to Lesson #2. Just because you are able to bug out does not mean others will have the same luxury and these people WILL need your help.
Lesson #11…People WILL sell you out. Be prepared for it and know that it might come from anywhere….”Friends”, Relatives, or employers. Someone will almost assuredly ditch you or put you in a tight spot while covering their own ass. The toughest part of this lesson is coming to terms with the fact that at some point, it’s totally justifiable and yes even forgivable. Understand that at some point your OWN family will be the priority and that you will be the one who is selling out people you know and likely care for. I know that this is not at all a comfortable thought, but it is realistic.
Lesson #12…Some people will surprise you. People from whom you might expect animosity, will sometimes provide you with the help you need and incur substantial risk or personal cost to do it. Just like you will at some point very likely be embodying Lesson #11, you will (or definitely F($**ING should) be embodying Lesson #12 as well.
Lesson #13….Diverisfy your financial position. Gold will not buy groceries (but see Lesson #14) and cash won’t buy an emergency flight over the internet. Similarly, your big neighborhood Christian grocer will get freaked out over the religious implications of SHTF and close. Guess what, he is the only guy in a 10 mile radius who takes credit cards…so have cash! Further, diversify your currencies in international terms by holding foreign currency for the place you intend to bug out too (and maybe even one or two others since you never know where you might be going). From now on I will hold Egyptian Pounds, Dollars, Euros, and Jordanian Dinar….at a minimum.
Lesson #14…Gold….OWN IT! It may not work with the grocer you barely know as a medium of exchange but it damn sure makes great collateral eg. “OK…you keep this gold sovereign and I will buy it back from you for the 200 Egyptian pounds I owe you as soon as the ATMs start working”. It’s great bribe material too, though I didn’t have to resort to it, when you want to get your beloved dog on a “no-pets” flight.
Lesson #15….Silver….Keep some but only buy it in major quantity with your gold when things have calmed down and you know you wont be bugging out! Silver had taken a good dip about a week before SHTF and I was this close to buying a few kg bars the day or two before the protests started. I didn’t and am VERY glad. Silver is of course bulky and heavy and I would not have needed those extra kgs when we were finally on the move ten or eleven days later. Silver is a great medium of exchange when things have settled down after SHTF but it is not a great prep UNLESS you keep it confined to maybe a single kg of junk silver or small rounds.
Lesson #16….Be flexible and creative. SHTF will be unique to the surroundings and people and cause thus necessitating quick thinking that is outside the box and the formulation of solutions to problems that may work today but not tomorrow. Do NOT become married to a situation, your role in it, or the solution to a problem that may not work for you tomorrow.
Lesson #17….Be intimidating when you think it will work. Develop a war face! Be loud and fearless and look like someone capable of anything…it minimizes negotiation and whining in other parties. Simultaneously, know when to fly under the radar and when to say “Katy bar the door!” The nature of SHTF changes over time and necessitates that YOU change who you are to a very substantial degree.
Lesson #18….Stock your liquor cabinet. Do so partially for barter and good will purposes, but also understand that when a curfew is imposed during SHTF, the impromptu “revolution party” will become common. I was teargassed on day 3 or 4 and scooped up six random study abroad journalism students who were literally trapped by police in my neighborhood. The police had blocked off all entrances and exits so these red-eyed kids could literally not get home. We all went back to my apartment where, over the next 6 hours or so, my wife, these kids, and I did some serious damage to a bottle of red label. On top of that, the realistic reason for stocking up is that after a few days of staying up all night enjoying what SHTF has to offer, you will have trouble sleeping and a wee dram never hurts.
Lesson #19…When SHTF is over, be prepared for a LOT of odd behavior on the part of people you know. There will be lots of unnecessary crap about “who did what” during SHTF and arguments about how we can avoid SHTF in the future or how we can rebuild or “unify” in the wake of SHTF. Everyone will think their ideas are the best and the very real conflict between people you know will push you and those around you back toward a SHTF situation to some degree. The moral of this story is, if you are a foreigner, keep your damned mouth shut. Even if you are a local, the arguments are just not worth it.
Lesson #20…You learned who your friends are during SHTF…now treat them that way! For example, I no longer visit my big neighborhood grocer who closed and locked sh!t up tighter than a drum for the FULL DURATION of SHTF. I do, however, now regularly frequent the tiny-a$$ little grocery store with the mediocre selection around the corner. Why? Because it is owned and operated by a 50 year old guy who was open every single day of SHTF and I saw him regularly at 2:00am guarding the front of his store (and others) armed with nothing more than a hippo-hide whip (sjambok). He was doing this when the very reliable rumor was that looters had stolen police vehicles, uniforms, and guns. I don’t care that this guy doesn’t have the shampoo my wife likes, I am buying my groceries from him!