Expat Trouble: Off to Jail (Part One)

by Miss Footloose

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 two 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 – two American, one Norwegian and one Dutch – 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 in Queen Elizabeth Game 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 four of us, too stunned to think of what to do.

How did I find myself in this bizarre situation, I ask myself. 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.

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 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 four of us.

Ah, the naïveté of youth.

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.


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 lunch in a rustic eatery in a small village and order the local grub: matoke, a starchy food 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.

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 Next Week. (I know you don’t have all day.)  Okay, click here and you’ll get there.

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

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Ooh, interesting! And, no – I’m too much of a coward.

I want to know what happend..??!!!Please tell me further….
(thanks for your nice words..)

I, too, am waaaay too chicken to do what you did! Can’t wait for the ending!

Ahhh, at the edge of my seat in suspense!!

I tend to consider myself cautious (is that a synonym of coward? hahaha).

(Thanks for commenting on my blog)

I hate to admit it but one night in Mexico at age 17, two friends and I tiptoed away from our tour group to go with a taxi driver who was going to show us “the real Monterey.” Fortunately someone noticed and stopped us. I think we’d have gotten more than a cab ride.

Can’t wait for more of your story!


What a cliffhanger! Can’t wait until the next post!

@ Queenie, well if I had known this was going to happen, I’d have been a coward too!

@ Merel, well, I did live to tell about it!

@ Bettyl, NORMALLY, it’s really not risky to go camping in the game parks!

@ Angie, I wasn’t brave, we weren’t brave: We were just lacking in good sense.

@ RennyBA’s Terella. Sorry, won’t be in the neighborhood in August!

@ Blissed-Out Grandma: You were lucky! I’ll bet you’d have gotten more than you bargained for with that taxi driver!

@ KC The rest of the tale is coming up!


ooo, what happens next?! 🙂 glad you lived to tell about it!!

Once in Alexandria I waited until the (armed) guard wasn’t looking, then climbed up on a mini-sphinx for a photo. He just yelled at us.

Bloody hell! I’m gripped. What happens next? Talk about a cliff hanger.

Whoa — I may not have all day, but I wished I did once I started reading this! I’ll be back for your ending for sure — I know it’s a happy one because you’re writing this…

Well I’m at the edge of my seat! Bring on part 2!!!!

As for your question, you don’t have enough space here for me to list all the stupid things that I’ve done, but at the age of 22, I found myself stuck in a traffic jam, sitting in a car full of young Mexicans in Mexico City, when someone pulled out a joint, lit it, and passed it around. When the police cruised by, I almost passed out. They’d have had no way of knowing I didn’t inhale.

I once spent the night in a police station in Yokohama, but it pales in comparison to your story.

Beautiful blog and photos, have a nice day Radka.

Ghaaaaa – scary! With my daughter going through Bangkok, by herself today, (her friend staying an additional week), I have all sorts of scenarios going through my head. Much like this one…
Waiting for Chapter 2!

Oh goodness me .. sounds absolutely terrifying! Can’t wait to find out how you get out of this one.

I’ve been surrounded by armed men in Spain and held in a police station in the middle of nowhere in China and on a train full of robbers in Brazil… As you say, the naivete of youth!


what happened?I will come back here, again, next week…I have worked in Africa, in Mocambique, with refugees children..and I will go back again, there, in september…And I know moreless what u mean…
have a nice day and please…take care of u


What a great story–love your tongue-in-cheekiness.


Can’t wait for Part 2! That sounds like quite the adventure although I’m sure it didn’t seem as interesting/exciting at the time. My husband and I were (accidentally) tear-gassed in Mali once (totally wrong place, wrong time), but since then our own adventures have been pretty tame. Here in Italy (where we live at the moment) we don’t grow our own grapes or press our own olive oil, but I’d say we’re closer to Peter Mayle than Uganda prison type adventures right now. 😉 I’m definitely looking forward to the next installment – thanks for the very well-told and entertaining… Read more »

What a frightening experience. Can’t wait to hear the rest of the story. My travels have been very tame compared to this.

Thanks for visiting me at Tea and Talk.

This is laugh out loud funny!!!

@ marigirl: The rest of the story is up! And a good thing the guard in Alexadria (Egypt) didn’t arrest you, climbing on a national treasure. @ Helen Ginger: Writing 30 some romance novels you learn to write cliffhangers: …she trembled, knowing what was coming — wanting it, fearing it. (end of chapter) @ Very Bored in Catalunya: prison, cliffhangers, romance…read message above to see the connection. @ Mary Witzl. Yes, I lived to write about it! @ The pale Observer, Part Two, it’s up! Hope you enjoy. Looking forward to more about your adventures traveling around. @ Mary Witzl:… Read more »

I had to read this post first and shall read part 2 next. Vivid details and I can imagine what a situation you found yourself in as a newly married woman. Thankfully you had your husband there. Alone, I would have been so damn scared. Bribes????

Okay, so being somewhat more awake than yesterday evening, I’ve returned to read the African story. Very exciting! (I’ve read part two too.)
Also picked up about you being Dutch (‘t werd tijd dat ik dat ontdekte) and that you are a famous writer. I mean… WOW about everything.
Off now to read about your visits to the Netherlands and to join your list of stalkers.

Glad you found me 😉

@ GutsyWriter, Yes, it was a pretty scary adventure! @ Carolina, I’m not only Dutch, but Frisian 😉 That said, I only understand Frisian for 99 percent, but can’t speak a word of it, not to save my life. How weird is that? And for all you who care/wonder, Friesland is a northern Dutch province full of farms and cows and it prides itself on having its own language, Frisian. It’s a real language, with a grammar, and is taught in school. Books and newspapers are printed in it and their is even a TV station using it. The Bible… Read more »

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