We don’t mean to whine, but sometimes being a guy is tricky. Here’s our indispensable guide to acting like a man when the going gets tough. While travelling, Graham Hughes, 35, was arrested abroad (in Africa) twice. Here’s how he survived…
Getting wrongly arrested in the UK must be shit; I wouldn’t know. But I can tell you that getting banged up in a foreign country is terrifying. It happened to me twice – once in Cape Verde, off the coast of West Africa, and again in the Republic of the Congo.
I was first arrested the moment I stepped off a rickety fishing canoe with eight Senegalese fishermen at Cape Verde. Looking back, it makes sense why the local police thought I was an international people smuggler: a white Westerner with a boatload of African fishermen.
The best way to avoid trouble is to make as many friends as fast as you can. I had to share
a 10ftx10ft cell with 11 other men. The fishermen bore me no ill will but I didn’t want to take any chances. It’s important to humanise yourself by bonding with other inmates.
When you don’t speak the local language, props can come in handy. I found a pack of playing cards in my bag, so I tried to teach my fellow prisoners some games. At first some were wary but by day two we were friends. Football transcends linguistic boundaries too. I’m from Liverpool and I was amazed at how not just my cellmates but the policemen, too, wanted to talk football. After six days I got my day in court where a Cape Verdean judge decided I was not a human trafficker after all and let me go.
Two months later, I was arrested again in Brazzaville, Congo. They thought I was a spy. I spent another six days in jail, this time in solitary. They deprived me of my shirt, shoes, socks, hat, glasses laptop and mobile phone. When travelling abroad, always carry a spare mobile.
I only had one when I was in Cape Verde, so when the police confiscated it, I had no way of calling home or the British Embassy. I wasn’t going to let that happen again, so when they took my decoy mobile in Congo I used the spare to tweet for help. A strong bowel is key to surviving a place like that. The toilet was the most disgusting I have ever seen. It was a squat toilet and it was covered in shit. I don’t think it had ever been cleaned. Given that I was barefoot, I went for six days without going.
The worst thing you can do when wrongly arrested in a foreign land is get angry. I was banging on the doors all day and night. My cell door was so bent out of shape it took six policemen and a crowbar to force it open. That just pissed them off and I’m sure that’s why they held me for so long.
When in solitary, keeping your brain active is key. I can see why people go out of their minds when left with nothing but their own thoughts. I came up with a fantastic plot for a new Indiana Jones film – I can’t tell you in case you steal it.
Finally the British Consul came to help. While he was speaking to the chief of police, his wife came to talk to me in my cell. She said, “Graham, you’ve got to calm down. Stop shouting and kicking the door. These guys can take you round the back and do bad things to you. It’s happened before.” That was a wake-up call.