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I wrote my first survival article-comment some 7 years ago, and I still remember why I wrote it, what “pushed” me to sit down and write it so people who read/discuss survival over the internet for years can read my opinion.
I was checking the survival forums to learn something about wilderness survival because I found I missing lot of knowledge there, and then I stumbled upon discussion about what real SHTF looks like and will look like in the future.
And simply there I realize how whole survival movement foundation is messed up, or built on the wrong perception.
It is like digging through a whole bunch of other people good skills and opinions (together with wrong ones of course) but completely misplaced and misguided.
After writing that first article years ago, I am still writing and trying to point out my view of things, and my way is learned through the experience of 4 years of civil war in a destroyed society.
I still do not know lot of things, I do not know how to operate 20 different weapons, I am not ex special forces member, I do not know how to survive in prolonged period in wilderness, and I am still learning lot of things from different kind of people, on internet and forums and in physical courses too.
But I know how I survived SHTF and how real SHTF looks like, and the real problem is that it definitely does not look like majority of preppers imagine it.
Over time, a lot of my articles are telling the story about same thing on different ways, and it might look like I am telling same story over and over, but again, I am writing from real experience and there are good reasons why I am pointing out the same things often.
So please allow me to address again some common misconception about SHTF.
Changing From “Before to Now”
Starting problem about SHTF misconception is that people have problems to imagine something that they are not experienced in, so if you have not experienced collapse of society you will “build” your opinion about it based on many things: other people experiences, books, movies, documentaries…
When you add to this a whole survival industry of selling things for “doomsday” you going to end up forming your opinion about how life in collapse will look like based on some weird things, and as an result your prepping and expectation may be completely wrong.
For example, you have been bombarded with information from internet that if you buy some product you’ll be not only safe when SHTF but also you’ll thrive and you gonna have something like best time of your life in the middle of collapse.
Now when you multiply this with many numbers (products) you end up buying peace of mind for yourself built on fact that someone wants to earn money from your fears.
And it is not biggest problem, real problem waking up one morning in the collapse realizing that you have whole bunch of things that simply do not work for your situation.
I like to use example that I have read long time ago, about transportation in city when SHTF. One guy offer idea of using skateboard in urban SHTF as transport, and lot of other folks commented that is good idea.
On first look it is great idea, no fuel, no cars or buses, so skateboard as a transport means looks good.
Only problem here is that probably man who mentioned it never experienced real urban SHTF so he can not know how useless idea it is.
Or to put it really short:
When SHTF city services will collapse, street are pretty soon simply full of everything, there are other people in the city too, because services are gone there are not enough resources and because of that other people will simply almost always mean possible danger, so point is to avoid people, or to be quiet when moving, so…
You need to stop to think in terms of normal times, you need change your priorities when SHTF, it is a different time.
For example moving fastest (or most comfortable) stops to be priority, new priority is to move safest (or quiet) or you need to stop to think about having coolest things but new priority is to have things that will work for your situation best.
Value Of The Things
Again it is about thinking in new terms, in the terms when SHTF, and those terms are completely different then in normal times.
I have kind of survival philosophy where my goal is to be ready to survive with as least things as possible, and it is like everything else based on my experienced SHTF.
What that means?
By developing and learning skills and techniques I am trying to be less depended on physical things.
In reality that does not mean that when SHTF I will immediately bug out to the wilderness with knife only, no, I too have preps and things, stashes and plans, weapons, meds etc.
It means when times come I am READY to leave all of that, EVERYTHING – all my possessions, and move away in split second if that means I will save my life.
Are you ready for that?
Are you gonna be able to leave all your preps that you were buying for years, all your fancy weapons, stashes of cans etc and run with what you have on you?
Or you gonna die in “blaze of glory” defending simple physical things?
Survival is about resilience, to move on and on, to overcome difficult situations and come back again.
Do not get attached on physical things, no matter how expensive they are, or how fancy they are, or even if people promised that you’ll “survive and thrive” if you own that things when SHTF.
Life is precious, things are just things.
Problem here is that survival movement today is built on the way that preppers are “forced” to believe that they can not survive if the do not own particular survival product, so as an result there is gonna be bunch of preppers get shot because they defending physical things that someone told them they really need to have when SHTF.
I was refugee more then once, I still remember the moment when all my possessions were an old Browning pistol with three rounds, T- shirt, boots (with wet socks inside) and pants that could stand on its own because of how dirty they were…
I have lost all my other physical possessions, everything was torched or taken away, If I stayed my life would be taken away too in a very painful way.
I run, and survived, and fought again for survival.
And you know what? I bought all the things again.
Things can be obtained again, life can not.
Sometimes you just have to move on and forget on physical things that are dear to you.
One of the topics that I’m most reluctant to discuss about because I find it really personal, but it is there, it is important, so some things need to be considered.
And I’ll be short here, because it is personal for me, and every one of you should think about it for itself.
Yes, there were times when I simply had to reach deep in myself and connect to something higher, to find some sense, to have faith in order to not lost my mind or kill myself because everything was falling apart around me.
So faith is important, or spirituality, or some kind of moral values-call it as you like.
You need to have something!
But problem here is that people often think if they are good folks by the nature, everybody else is good by default (until proven otherwise?).
Through my experience I adopt opinion that everybody is bad until proven different (even if I am good guy)
Or let me put it like this, in really bad times, when everything going to s…t you ll see more bad folks then good folks, so be prepared for that…
I have just finished delivering another ‘Mile In My Shoes’ (MIMS) down here in the Balkans. As always it was a great event with many insights both for the students and me. Having finished the course I got to thinking more about training in the survival and preparedness community.
Learning real survival skills in the field is something that cannot be substituted with anything, but I see people often try to do that.
Another mistake in learning skills is because they are often (almost always) taken out of the context, or even more often, there is no context at all.
Somehow as a result, there is a whole bunch of people learning skills without mindset where and when to use it, or not to use it. (I agree it is better to have skills even without context than not to have them at all, but that sounds more like an excuse than a justification…)
Prepping is a BIG industry, and for lot of people it just needs to be “sugar coated” in order to be consumed.
Two examples here:
When you say to me “SHTF” my first thought is partial or complete collapse of the system and its services, so my second thought is about (lack of) resources, and other people realizing that fact, my third thought is about fight with other people for the resources still left.
It is my thought when you say SHTF.
For some people when they heard “SHTF” their first thought is let’s say ‘power shortage’ that’s going to last for about 12 hours, their second thought is that they need to be comfortable for those 12 hours (only) because after that government (system, services) will jump in and fix things.
For them SHTF is 12 hours without electricity…
Now what is clear here, I firmly believe that there will be event of complete (prolonged) missing of the system (law, medical services, food distribution chain…) and some of the reasons could be new pandemics, economic problems, ethnic race (religious) reasons, chaos, or simply some wide world event.
Important thing is that people believing in any of these two levels have a lot to learn, but the starting point should be different.
For example for the folks who think that it is impossible to meet anything more complicated then short disturbances in electrical supply there is no too much use in throwing to them war scenarios and tactical shooting course, because for them it is maybe going to be fun, but there is no context there for them, no understanding.
It is more use for them to read history books, speak with war veterans-to try to understand that shit (will) happens, even in most modern societies where similar things did not happen for generations.
That is start for them.
Skills and Using Skills In Context
Real danger here is not about learning skills (which is again great thing to do), it is about not understanding how to put it in correct context and real life situation.
If you putting skills learning into good, practical multi day courses of “basic primitive skills learning course” or “wilderness skills course” and play it like that it is perfectly good and useful.
But again there are courses (or books, publications, media, you tube videos) of “how to survive end of the days”, “austere medicine course” or simply “buy this and you will survive and thrive when SHTF” and inside are skills, and list of items to learn or buy without connection to real situations, it is not only scam (more or less) – it is quite dangerous.
What I am trying to explain is best to show through the example.
Let s say there is “where there is no doctor” or “austere medicine course”, and it is like “advanced” too.
In short part of the course goes like this:
-Students start with drinking coffee, and getting know each other
-It is nice, weather is fine, there are snacks and food available, all students feel really comfortable
-They are injuring a pig (or other good sized live animal) and then trying to stitch the pig, or stop the bleeding in different ways
– The pig does not survive and they learned something about stopping the bleeding, and they feel stronger (and disgusted) because of the amount of blood and screams and how ‘real’ the training was.
Good things here that students get some feeling about blood, and they learned something about bleeding and ways to stop it.
But bad thing here is that they been told that now they are ready for SHTF in terms of the bleeding and stopping it.
In reality they are not even close to be ready.
Preferable this is how this part of the course should look:
-No coffee on the course
-No food that day
-Bad weather is preffered
-Students are divided in two groups
-Preferable one at least one student in each group should be slowed down (let say evil instructor will “somehow” cause one of the student to have serious case of diarrhea)
-Students (each group separately) are instructed to carry the pig 5 kilometers to a near mountain or a specified place using compass and map only
-Half way to the mountain they have been (each group) instructed to stab the pig, stop the bleeding and carry the pig to the mountain again (while pig is screaming)
-Groups should hide one from another
-Group who get first to the mountain top with alive pig is winner
Now this is very banal example, and it is here only to in terms of an example, but point here is to understand – there is no sense only from learning skills without putting (and testing) those skills in scenarios that need to be as close to real life as possible.
I mean, if we are learning about stopping bleeding on someone when serious SHTF do you really believe that you ll be well fed, healthy, in good mental state, perfectly capable for that?
There is the huge probability that you’ll be in poor condition while you trying to stop someones bleeding, remember it is SHTF? Actually you may be in condition where you may not be able to stop someone s bleeding at all.
What is the point of testing yourself if you do not push yourself at least close to the limits while testing ?
It is much more important after the some course, book, or you tube clip to understand and realize that you are not yet ready, and to know your current limits than to be sure “you are ready for full SHTF” because your instructor told you that, or simply book saying you that, while clearly you are not.
If you know your current limits you know what more to learn or practice or achieve, and that is good, I learn almost every day something, and in many fields there are unknown stuff for me and there is nothing wrong in that…
Remember “We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.” – Archilochus
A lot of people wonder what an ‘ordinary day’ was like during the SHTF. I was thinking on this and remembered this day. I think it is a good illustration and answers this question… It’s odd to say but we were often glad of ‘ordinary days’ when not to bad things happened…
Rain was falling down for days, and we all felt wet and soaked with it.
Moisture was in our pores, our clothes, and kinda in our heads too.
It was kind of weather that pushes down and back the smoke from your stove, back to your room instead of through the chimney.
Holes in our roof were plugged, more or less, in the way that we managed to “channel” leaks into numerous pots and canisters, in order to keep ourselves dry and also to collect water.
Being dirty is bad, but being dirty and smelly during several days of rainy weather is simply awful.
We dried our clothes above the stove, evaporation of dirty clothes together with smell of dirty bodies, bad “tobacco” (we “discover” some new tree leaves which we used as a substitute for tobacco), handmade oil lamps and tea boiling on stove (we called it sometimes ‘soup’, other times ‘tea’) made a mixture of smells which simply added to the depression of the whole situation.
In days like that alcohol intake would go up high.
When weather was fine I liked to go on second floor, remove tarp and plywood “setup” from roof hole that was made with mortar shell few months before, sit under it, watch the blue sky and drink.
Other folks would say “he is up there again waiting for mortar shell to land on his head” but it was nice and peaceful to do it, and sometimes I just did not care.
Even that weird relaxation was out of the option because of the endless rain.
In days like that we were closest to animals as we could be.
We ate potatoes for days, we managed to get it through one UN convoy that somehow entered city month ago, and it was mess to get those bags of potatoes because while UN forces tried to organized some kind of delivery system- like small bag of potatoes to each family that show up-folks simply overrun them and started to fight each other over it.
Several people get killed then, but we managed to bring home quite a stash of it.
We were happy because of the potatoes, but few days later rumors exploded that potatoes that we get were poisoned, actually it was not for human use, it was meant for seed only, or something like that and apparently they were treated with very hard chemicals.
We continued to eat it, only difference was that we were not so happy anymore about it…
And then a trade chance came to us.
It was my turn to go to visit the guy who “had some stuff for sell-trade” or at least it was information that we get it.
Good thing about this guy was the fact that I knew him little bit prior SHTF, when SHTF he had strong connections and simply had interesting stuff from time to time. He was something like “trustful” trader, he kept his stuff in his house and did trades there, which usually meant either he is stupid or very protected, and he was not stupid.
“Gogo” was his nickname, and we felt good because we are going to trade with him, because his reputation was pretty big and he (we thought) could not afford too many bad stories about trading with him.
It was as safe a trade as it could be in those days.
My relative show me our possession for trade while we were preparing for trip-it was 10 packs of Kent cigarettes, and when I saw that, it was like I saw UFO landing in backyard, with aliens bringing to us food, water, candies, and safety, and flying me then to a rock concert.
In that period cigarettes were rare, sometimes impossible to find and we were even lucky to have tobacco-which was not actually tobacco but grinded “tree” of tobacco plant, or simply all kind of tree leafs that we experimented with.
White filters Kent cigarettes in that moment were something like wet dream of every smoker.
It was pleasure to even see them, to smoke them meant pure happiness.
On my question where he get it? He answered “from some mercenaries”, and I did not want to ask more, I did not care.
We started our way to Gogo’s house around midnight, because plan was to be at the most dangerous place around 0100hrs.
On our way back we would choose a different way.
That dangerous place was big opening between houses, some 100-150 meters of space where we are completely open to the near hill where Anti Aircraft gun and few m84 machine guns were located.
Those machine gun was nicknamed “sijac smrti” which translates from my language to English as a “death seeder” or “death bringer” or similar, and when I first time heard that nickname my thoughts were:”oh c’mon-somebody is watching too many movies, it is bombastic nickname for ordinary weapon”
Later when I was targeted first time from that weapon, when they shoot at me, I correct myself and I thought something like” death seeder? It is more, much more, it is Satan, it is hell, it is pure horror…”
And much later I also realized it is more or less common nickname for some other similar weapons.
So I built pretty fast my respect for “sijac smrti”, that shit was way too fast and deadly. It sounded like whole bunch of small deaths flying directly to you while they screaming.
(years later, after my SHTF ended and all things go back to some kind of let s say normal, I was watching member of Serbian elite parachute unit, while he was trying to explain his battle experience to another guy.
He and his small unit were holding position in dense woods on some hill during NATO bombing of Serbia, it was on Kosovo, and they were attacked by Albanians, Albanians were much stronger by numbers, but poorly trained, as he said, and he and his comrades did pretty well, morale was high, they were tough guys.
And then he said airplanes came. He said planes were firing from cannons destroying the hundreds years old trees like simple matches and obliterating his unit.
But he said that was not scariest thing-pure horror was sounds of that planes and cannons while they firing down on them, while he was trying to explain that he opened his eyes wide and said” it was sound like there are 10 big cows is in the air flying to you and they are screaming because they are being slaughtered”
Other guy was watching him probably not understanding what is so scary about that sound to terrified big strong elite dude.
And I said to myself “Oh man, I know that horror”)
Anyway we came to that open space without too much problems.
Nobody know what kind of view they had there on the hill, but during the night they fired often, without real cause, on that opening, so it was matter of luck sometimes are you going to be shot.
And somehow it was a myth that it is safest to cross it around 0100hrs.
In that time it was many openings like that in the city with different weapon and different tactics for crossing it and different myths about it how to cross it safely.
Lot of folks find God and faith on openings like that while they run or crawl over it.
Of course lot of folks end up dead there too.
I have seen guys being shot dead there while they run as fast as they could, I saw some crazy dudes walking slowly there and nothing happened, some guys were wounded and screamed there for hours with their guts hanging out until they died…
We sat down behind the wall next to the opening and I told my relative “ok give me the cigarettes”
He said “it is not smart, it is for trade”
I did not care, so he gave me one pack, I opened it and smoked a cigarette.
It was cool to smoke it, white paper cigarette with white filter, after long time of smoking trash tobacco in any kind of paper that we could get.
It smelled like perfume to me in that moment.
I finished it and told to him “ok I can die now if I need”
He answered to me “fuck you man”
We run across that space while rain was pouring down, nothing happens, not a single shot on us.
Gogo’s house was close by after that, and nothing dangerous happened until we came to his home.
After some guy show up to us at the yard, we were allowed to enter the house with weapon, which was good feeling but not necessary good sign, but when we saw Gogo he recognizes us, and after some casual conversation which includes people that we together know we started to feel better.
We entered small room, two of us and two of them, sat down and had a drink.
Rakija (A strong, locally brewed spirit) was available then, so it was not a surprise when he gave us two glasses with that drink.
Numerous different kinds of that drink were circulating around, most often it was pure poison, simple not finished product from destroyed distillery diluted with water, but his was soft and nice.
Room where we sat was something like weird version of display room for customers, so we could see all kind of different stuff around in bags or open cabinets.
I saw pack of beer, even couple bottles of coke, and room strangely smelled of coffee which was high luxury in that time, everything there was set up for turning your senses “to want stuff”.
Bags full of something were lying everywhere and steel cabinet from army barracks was locked in one corner.
After some chatting he put down his hand under the table and put “Zolja” (“wasp”) single use RPG on table and said to us “this is good stuff for you folks, and it is cheap”.
I take it and said to him” it is empty man, fired, useless”
He open his mouth laugh with joy and said” ok man ok, you know that and I know that, but how many idiots outside know that? You could paint water pipe in green and state it is RPG and 90 percent of folks would trust you in dark, this looks real man. Just fill it with something, point that thing on someone and ask right question”
“Yea, and then I can be killed from the guy who know that weapon is fired long time ago, he could choke me slowly with his bare hands, no thanks”
He said “ok ok, I agree, but here is right one” and then he pull out brand new one, same type, not used.
We said no man, we do not need weapons right now.
He said “ok ok, I have this too, I sell a lot of these and everyone is satisfied man”
Than his buddy opened wood cabinet behind his head and gave him wooden box, size of shoes box, bit smaller.
I look at my relative and look back at me with short surprised expressions.
It was wooden engraved box, pretty common in households in this region prior the war, something that you would put as a display in your living room, and when you opened it there was small wooden bird with mechanism inside, mechanism was activated by opening box, and melody would start, like birds singing…
Is he trying to sell us wooden singing bird in middle of the civil war?
Then he opened the box and push it to me.
Wooden bird was not inside, box was full-maybe some 25 bottles-vials of Penicillin. It was pretty expensive stuff.
I took one bottle and check it, expiration dates were good, Serbian manufacturer, labels looked originally “glued” on bottles.
But on the top of the bottles some of those were missing small thin metal “cap” that is covering rubber sealed “plug”(trough that rubber Penicillin powder is being diluted and aspirated into syringe)
First thought was that some those of the bottles could be used and then filled with flour.
He noticed what I am checking and said “ yeah, some of the caps are missing man, it is being transported through some rough situations before they came to me, but they are good”
I said” cool stuff man, but we do not need it” It was bit suspicious stuff and way to expensive for us at that moment.
He asked finally what we want.
And I said” Meat man!”
He leave the room and get back with one can, and I know he finally meant business because he brought only one can, without showing how much he actually has of it.
He put it on table and said” I have it, it is “Konj“(horse).
In that time different kind of canned food was circulating around, lot of expired stuff, broken, spoiled…
But popular was “horse”.
Horse had good and bad sides, but more good then bad sides.
It was canned meat, stamped label on tin was saying only something like “help from EU” or “help from UNHCR” I do not remember exactly.
Funny thing was that under the marking “type of meat” was written “meat”. Just that: “meat”.
It was kind of partially cooked meat with huge amount of grease inside that looked like snow.
If we ate grease alone it induced bad cases of diarrhea, but you could use it for cooking, melt it and use like oil for lamp, or simply folks stated that it is good to put it in places where you have pain, like an ointment (“bad knees pain – horse grease, rifle butt to the head-horse grease… 😉 )
Meat alone did not had any particular taste, it was unrecognizable, and people simply after some time said it is horse meat because nobody had clue what exactly it is.
So that can was nicknamed “horse”.
There were attempts to call it “kangaroo” but “horse” just stuck to it.
Simply it was usable.
He asked what we have, and I take out one pack of “Kent” he said “nice” without too much enthusiasm but his buddy stand up and said “where you get these man? Cool”
And that moment I knew we gonna get good deal because they are interested, they just kinda “blinked”.
He said to his buddy ”sit down man and shut up, you smoked too much pot” (Use of cannabis was rampant during the war)
And he asked how much of these we have, I answered it depends how much horse he have and bargain started.
At the end, we agree that we gonna gave him 9 packs for 15 cans.
It was great deal for us, and probably cool deal for him, because he knew folks who will appreciate those cigarettes a lot I guess.
After setting up a deal, and after we exchanged stuff we chatted for a bit and he offered me a hand made cigarette.
He gave me a small tin box with hand rolled cigarettes.
And I looked into the box, it used to be small box for cigarillos I think and I looked at the box, I liked it very much.
We carried our tobacco in all kinds of different bags, boxes, foils or whatever, but that tin box simply was “laying” down in my hand so cool. It was foreign stuff clearly.
It somehow “clicked” and perfectly lay down in my hand when I took it.
I gave it back to him asked where he got that, and he clearly saw that I “blinked” this time.
He said ”offer something, it is nice box man”
I only had that one more pack of Kent, with missing cigarette inside (which I wanted originally to keep for myself)
I pull it out from my pocket, gave it to him, he said” ok, I’ll give the cigarette box for this pack”
It was outrageous price, and I could almost feel my relative sending thoughts to me like “you fucking idiot, pack of cigarettes for tin box? We could get more meat for that…”
But I liked the box.
Then Gogo said” wait the second, cigarettes are missing from the pack, it is opened”
I said” yes, but still man, only one is missing and this is Kent real cigarettes”
Then he open drawer from the desk and pull hammer from it, we almost jumped ready for fight, but he took hammer and hit the tin box.
Then he said “ ok, one cigarette is missing in your pack, box is little bit damaged on one end now, but still working, now it is fair deal, we need to keep our business in some rules, it is reputation man!”
I was looking at him, realizing that he kinda lost it, just like most of us did in that time.
But we make the deal done, and all went good.
We get home in one piece, we ate those cans mixed with herbs and potatoes. Older member of family was happy with grease on his knees for some time…
I had a lot of bitching because of that tin box trade, but I survived.
War ended and years go by, I lost tin cigarette box, Gogo moved to Canada, and I heard he is doing apartment decorating business, and sometimes play guitar in some clubs, and have drugs issues…
Then one year, me and my wife were doing big renovation in my old house, and in some box with all kind of mess she pull out that tin box and said to me” oh it is some box for cigarettes, we gonna throw it away or you need it?”
Then she opened it, and inside she read small words that I wrote long time ago “GOGO” and date of trade.
She asked me “what is it, who is Gogo? Is it man or woman”?
From all of the explanation that I could gave her somehow words that came from my mouth were “ Yep, I could have got maybe two horses instead of that box during the war if I were smart”
“you had horses during the war? You rode it? I thought this was city siege! Where in the world you got horses?” she said looking suspiciously at me. (she spent war years in Germany without too much clue how was it here in reality)
I said smartly” no no,I didn’t ride horses, we ate it, it was good stuff”
Then she look at me with horror stating “you killed and ate horses, how could you, they are beautiful animals”
And then finally I said” you know what, forget it, it is long story, just throw away that box, it is useless”
Still, for a week or so she had suspicious looks at me from time to time.