August 13, 2007

A drinking club with a running problem

Something dawned on me as the Land Rover negotiated the treacherously potholed road leading to the Leopards Hill Forest Reserve. So that’s why all the expats drive these things. I still didn’t fully understand why they had altimeters installed in the dashboard.

Faint arrows of white talcum powder cryptically marked our route, each one appearing by the roadside just when we seemed completely lost. The sight of other bewildered drivers reassured us that we were headed in the right direction.

“So are you a Hash Virgin?” my driver asked. Well that entirely depends on what you mean by… “Hash House Harriers, I mean,” she quickly corrected.

“Yeah I think so,” I respond, “I did something in junior high school called a harrier, which was basically just a long-distance run through the woods.”

“This is sort of the same thing, except here they drink and take the piss out of you afterwards. They like to call it a drinking club with a running problem… and have a lot of fun with first-timers,” she explained. At least I’ll have some liquid courage for whatever hazing ritual these mzungus put me through. Hopefully they haven’t been on the wrong side of civilization for too long…

The truck chugs up one final incline and we’re at the meeting point: a grassy plateau overlooking a hazy mosaic of beautifully forested hills. Finally some geographical relief! Lusaka is so damn flat. Wow, this is my first time really out in the bush. Are there, like, lions?

A chorus of friendly greetings from various nationalities calms me as I head to registration. I’m pleased to see a balanced mix of Zambians and expats. At least someone will be subject to domestic law if something happens to me. I make my way to registration. “Hasher’s name?” a grizzled Brit asks with a toothy grin, anticipating my response. “None,” I admit, “I’m a virgin.” He puts an asterisk beside my name.

After a bugle call and some confusing rhetoric regarding the prescribed route, we set off. Having barely recovered from a bought of mild food poisoning earlier in the week, I decide on the walking course, not wanting to upset my precarious balance of bodily fluids.

Along the way I chat up the seasoned NGO workers, busily asking questions about their vast worldly experience. Brittle blades of long grass crackle underfoot as we blaze a trail over rolling hills under the delicate afternoon sun. An eagle studies us carefully as we stop at the top of a ridge, reminding me that we are in the African Wilds. So how ‘bout those lions? “Not a chance”, one Hashmate tells me. “We’re so bloody rowdy we scare everything off, virgin Hashers included!” he exclaims with a wink.

Back at the starting point, the advertised post-exercise antics are well underway as we filter in from the walking route. Kegs of Mosi and Castle lager are rolled off a truck, cigarettes are lit and a large circle is formed around an empty crate where the indecencies are to take place.

Two Master Hashers run the show, following a strict agenda of forcing selected parties to chug beer while regaling them with the Hashers’ Anthem. I’m immediately propped up on the soapbox to answer the standard set of ice-breaker questions, but I can’t even blurt out my prepared answer before the chorus kicks in.

“Ohhh... and cheers to Brandon, he is true! He is a Hasher through and through...” they start as I’m muted by downing my liquid rite of passage. This happens every weekend? I could get used to getting a nice shine on out in the country on Saturdays. Some exercise too. “And it goes down, down, down, down,” the crowd finishes as I conclude my inauguration.


Bryn said...

I hear the Hashers are a rogue wing of some cult - maybe it's scientology? Did you finally get assigned a name, comrade?

Scott said...

Dude, I totally skimmed this post, saw the word "hash" and was like "Yes, finally." Then I saw that "running" was in the post title and was like "Oh, der."

Mike said...

I know it's sad that I sometimes refer back to your posts more than a year after the fact, but I'm commenting nonetheless.

The hash in Lusaka sounds way cooler than the one in Freetown. Here, they do it on Monday evenings, which means it requires ducking out of work at like 4 p.m. just to make it on time (damn near impossible), and they only stick around drinking for like a half hour after the run. And I imagine the climate in Zambia was better too. I only did it once.

B. Scott Currie said...

Fair enough Mike, I guess one of the things that makes hashing interesting is that they're all different, depending on who runs them. If I ever get around to starting my KW chapter, I expect a one-time participation! (I can pretty much guarantee it won't be on a Monday and drinking will last longtime)