Do you think traveling in foreign countries is exciting? Well, it certainly can be, but sometimes as an expat or a globetrotter you get more excitement than you bargained for. Here’s the story of what happened to me and my man and three of our friends when we went on a camping trip in Uganda, East Africa.

Sometimes Stupid Happens

We’re off to jail, a bush prison somewhere in Uganda, not our intended vacation destination. Our passports – three American, one Norwegian and one Dutch (mine) – have been confiscated. Back in Kenya, where we live, no one will miss us for weeks. Cell phones have not yet been invented.

We are young, idealistic and innocent, and we were on our way to go camping and look for big game in Queen Elizabeth National Park. Only we were arrested before we got there.

We’ve been ordered to follow the police car in front of us. We are in our rented Peugeot, the rear window shattered. With a convoy of fifteen big trucks behind us on the narrow road running through the protected game reserve there is no escape possible. Besides, the policeman in charge is armed and dangerous, not to mention drunk out of his skull.

We are silent, the five of us, too stunned to think of what to do.

How did I find myself in this bizarre situation? I could have been in Holland in my mother’s house drinking tea and eating windmill cookies. But no, I had to follow my heart and come out to Africa to be with my beloved American, who is a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya.

And then I married him, which led me to accompany him and a couple of friends on a camping trip to the game parks in Uganda to admire the elephants, the rhinos, the hippos and crocs in the Nile River.

Hippos in Uganda. Photo by Chrissy Olson

You can be a nice Dutch person, eating cheese and leading a responsible life, and one innocent step at a time you arrive at this moment and before you know it, you’re perishing in an African jail cell.

What kind of place will this jail be, out there in a bush village in deepest western Uganda? I think of this as we follow the police car in front, like lambs to the slaughter. I think of being separated from the others in a cell by myself, of rats and repulsive food and malaria and dysentery and every horror I’ve ever heard of in my life.

“It will be an international incident,” says Norwegian Lillian hopefully. “Three western nations involved.”

If they ever find us, I answer in silence, the words too terrifying to speak out loud. We may be dead and buried before our Peace Corps friends in Kenya will even miss us.

I squeeze my husband’s hand. We’ve been married six months and maybe we will never sleep in each other’s arms again. You think of these things, you know.

We should not have come here, knowing what we know, but we are young and, okay, stupid. We started our trip a couple of days ago in Nairobi, Kenya. The news on the radio that morning was not good. In Uganda someone had tried to shoot President Obote and the country was in a state of emergency with roadblocks everywhere and heavy security at the borders.

Nothing to do with Americans and Europeans, we all agree that morning. Purely an internal thing. Why call off our trip? Nobody’s going to be interested in the five of us.

Ah, the naïveté of youth. Have we never heard of being in the wrong place at the wrong time?

We ride the train to Kisumu and cross Lake Victoria by boat. On the other side we rent a car, load it with our camping gear and some food and off we go, direction Kampala, the capital.

Slowly.

Roadblocks everywhere. Long lines, lots of waiting. The police and soldiers are not interested in us, as expected. None of them search our car for weapons or suspicious persons.

In Kampala the roads are clogged, but once we are out of the city things ease up a bit. The scenery is spectacular, lush green hills, terraced and cultivated with a variety of crops. How beautiful this place is! How happy we are we didn’t change our plans!

We stop for food in a rustic eatery in a small village and order the local grub: matoke, a starchy dish made from boiled plantain. People are friendly, interested. We laugh, we chat. We are far from the capital and everything here is fine.

We roll on, through small towns and villages, past shops and markets, enjoying the drive, until after several hours the countryside becomes less populated. We’re driving down a narrow road through a wooded area when out of nowhere appears a cute little boy. We’ve not seen a sign of life for miles, no villages, no people, no roadblocks. Where did he so suddenly come from?

An explosion of sound breaks the peace as a rock hits the back window and shatters the glass into a thousand pieces that go flying everywhere in the car. The cute little boy, running, disappears in the trees.

We are not hurt, but our hearts pound with shock. Not knowing what else is lurking in the trees, we drive on without stopping. Of all the dangerous wildlife we might have come across, a little boy was not what we had expected.

Finally, we reach more open country, a game reserve. A sign warns us we are in a protected area and it is prohibited to leave the road and cruise across the reserve in search of game.

Uganda Road. Photo by Alexandra Mitchell

We have to do something about the broken window, about our possessions covered in shards of glass.

We find a place to stop and turn the back of the car off the road into the field to sweep the glass out of the car and keep it off the surface of the road. Other people must be using it, although we’ve hardly seen any traffic. Neither do we see any big game wandering around, but perhaps that is just as well at the moment.

It takes a while to clean up the mess. Our food boxes are closed and fortunately we find no glass amid our consumables. We decide to have a little something to eat before driving on, and I take out a knife to cut up some bread. I look up to find the road no longer empty.

A long line of trucks is winding its way towards us, a police car in front escorting the convoy.

The police car stops. All the trucks stop. They hail from the Congo, we can tell, hence the Ugandan escort. A huge, fat policeman rolls out of the car and comes barreling toward us. It is clear from his ferocious expression that he is not a happy man. He is also armed with a gun and these two facts do not a good combination make.

Trouble is upon us.

To Be Continued. Okay, I know you’re into instant gratification like the rest of us, so here it is: PART TWO

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Have you ever been in a dangerous situation abroad? Have you ever done something not too smart?

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As an expat or a traveler do you worry about the food in foreign countries? About what to eat or not to eat? What is healthy, what is not?

Insalate di polpo, Italian octopus salad, is delicious

Photo by someone who calls herself supercalifunkysexy

Well, research studies are out and the final result is below. Miss Footloose apologizes if you have already heard about this on the evening news, but it is important, so she feels it is worth passing along.

WHAT TO EAT OR NOT TO EAT, IS THAT THE QUESTION?

The Japanese eat very little fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or Americans.

On the other hand, the French eat a lot of fat and also suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or Americans.

The Japanese drink very little red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or Americans.

The French and Italians drink excessive amounts of red wine and also suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or Americans.

Conclusion:

Eat & drink what you like. It’s speaking English that kills you.

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So just learn Japanese, or French or Italian, and then go ahead and drink plenty of wine, eat paté de foie gras to your heart’s content, and possibly try out some of the these delicacies:

Photo by Z Andrei

The above is a fruit, as you may have guessed, classified as a citrus fruit. It’s called Buddha’s Hand, so you should be safe.

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Photo by Jacqueline w

These, dear readers, are barnacles, and apparently they are on the menu in the Azores, Portugal. You’re given a little fork with which to pry out the meat from the shells.

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Rambutan I Photo by Arria Belli

Does this look scary? Well, it’s actually very delicious. It’s a fruit found in South East Asia and the round hairy balls grow in clusters like grapes. We had them in Indonesia and our daughters loved eating them. Rambutan means ‘hairy.’

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And if you are really brave, you can give these a try:

For sale at Amazon. Click the picture.

I’m sorry to do this to you but I could not resist offering this picture to you for your viewing pleasure. No, I have not tried these. The closest I’ve come to a scorpion was a big live one, coming right at me on a narrow path as I was walking toward the beach at night in West Africa. I saw him in the light of my flashlight and decided to turn back and get out of his way. I didn’t know I could have salted him, cooked him, and eaten him. One lives and one learns.

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What have been your challenges in the food and diet department while living in foreign countries? Did it bother you not to have familiar foods? Was it difficult to use the locally available foods in your cooking routines? Any funny stories?

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