If a person lives in a place with limited resources, or is stranded in the desert, or even has the luxury of being on a safari in Africa or in a jungle in Latin America but suddenly runs out of water or food, there are some useful skills that can aid survival, as survival skills trainer Mohamed Shahin explained at a recent workshop at the El Sawy Culture Wheel in Cairo.
“The science of survival skills is used to help people live in the wilderness,” Shahin said, adding that he had also used these skills living in the Siwa Oasis in Egypt. “It all started with my passion for living and surviving in the wilderness. Then I decided to become an expert in the field in order to teach others professionally,” he said, adding that it was important to have the right information if you are in a life-threatening situation.
“The science of survival was discovered by the original inhabitants of countries with challenging climates. Unlike the way some of these people are depicted on TV today, making them look as if they are primitive, in fact they were highly intelligent and certainly intelligent enough to survive,” Shahin said.
“The idea is to eat a variety of food and to be able to live anywhere. Some 200,000 years ago man first existed in Africa and then moved to other parts of the world in search of food and water. He also acquired the skills of survival in the process that helped him control nature,” he added.
Those who need survival skills the most today are people who work in natural settings. “The most important thing is to have a strong will to survive. The second most important thing is to have knowledge. Make the most of what you have,” was how Shahin put it. “Some things that people think are rubbish could be very useful to help you to survive.” For example, a rope could be used as a trap for a wild animal that could then make a meal.
“You should always protect yourself from the weather when out in the open. During the day, you should wear sunglasses and try to remain in the shade to avoid the sun. Wear clothes that preserve the moisture of your skin and shoes that allow the air in. In case of sand storms, you should have something to cover your head and mouth. In the winter, youshould wear layers of clothing to keep out the cold. Wear acrylic and woollens, not cotton,” he said.
Tree trunks can be used to build a shelter. “To make sure that any fire you light warms you, it should be in the direction of the air coming towards you. If you dig a 30 cm hole in the ground and sleep in it the heat difference can be 15 degrees C. Creatures that live in the desert usually make such holes to survive. Humans can learn from them how to survive as well,” he added.
“Another important thing is safety,” Shahin said. Fires should be lit to keep wild animals at bay. “Never enter any cave unless you are sure that no wild animal is in it or has lived in it. Watch out for animal foot prints. Foot prints with claws could be wolf prints. Look out for waste, especially non-dried waste on the ground as this could mean a wild animal will be back. As a rule of thumb, if you see a wild animal do not run away but slowly move away from it,” he said.
“Maintain communication with others. Have an old mobile phone on you, the type with buttons since its ability to connect to a network can be better than more modern mobiles and its battery lasts longer. A 13 cm by 16 cm mirror may help you contact a plane 16 km away by waving it in the air,” he added. If the plane flies in a circle it means that the pilot has caught the signal.
“One fire is enough to help someone to see you, but if you light three in the shape of a triangle this says that you need help. If you are in a forest, you could also light the three fires on wooden surfaces that you can float on the surface of a river as no one will see a fire in the middle of the forest because of the trees.”
“You could also use a torch, switching it on and off repetitively to mean ‘Save Our Souls’ (S.O.S). You could write using coal or rocks on the ground. Always make sure that the letters are in a different colour to the colour of the ground. You could draw an arrow using the same technique to tell others the direction you have taken. Think about setting fire to a tyre or to some wood.”
An average human being needs to drink six to eight litres of water a day in the desert while only two to three are needed at home, Shahin said. “To get water, you could filter any water you find by using a container like a bottle, cutting it from the bottom, turning it upside down, putting a layer of coal at the bottom, then a layer of rocks or gravel, and then a layer of sand .This filters out the solids. Pour the water through the three layers and collect the filtered water that comes out.
After that it will need to be boiled before it is ready for drinking.”
Shahin said that in the wilderness it is also important to be on the lookout for potentially poisonous food. “Plants with thorns or bright colours could be poisonous,” he said. A close watch should be kept on food in the wilderness as animals like foxes could steal it.
To keep mosquitoes away, smoke can be used or mud rubbed on the body. Charcoal can be used for stomach upsets, and Shahin recommended a rule of thumb for testing for dangerous plants. “Test the plant before eating it by rubbing its leaves on a delicate part of your hand, like the part between the thumb and the index finger. If your skin goes red after 15 minutes, do not eat it.”
However, the real priority is water, he added. “People can live for three weeks without food, but they can only live three days without water.”