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Shoeless Joe Jackson & the Bounty of Paul’s Fertile Garden: Tales from the Hash House Harriers

February 5, 2013

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The Constitution of the Hash House Harriers is recorded on a club registration card dated 1950:

  • To promote physical fitness among our members

  • To get rid of weekend hangovers

  • To acquire a good thirst and to satisfy it in beer

  • To persuade the older members that they are not as old as they feel

In some circles, the Hash House Harriers, or the Hash for short, is also known as a drinking club with a running problem.  And with around 2,000 chapters and counting in 185 countries, its rich history and stringent traditions are only expanding to reach ever more hashers.

Including me and Jamie.  We’re hooked.

The idea is this:

The Hash is a non-competitive running and social club, with a hint of scavenger hunt and a underlying twist of fraternity hazing.  The group meets regularly for runs organized in a fashion patterned after the traditional British paper chase or “hare and hounds” game, where a couple of runners go out before the rest of the group and mark a running trail with bits of paper, chalk or, in Congo, handfuls of cassava flour.

But instead of anything straightforward, these runners, or “hares”, set a trail full of checkpoints, false trails, river crossings, dead ends and other tricks to keep the other runners on their toes.

The social element of the club is just as, if not more important than the athleticism part.  The end of a trail is an opportunity to socialise, have a drink and observe any traditions of the individual chapter, which often include drinking games, songs, mismatched socks, awards and mutual chastisement.

Hash christenings

One of the highest honors that a hasher can earn is to be given a Hash name, usually in reference to a particularly notorious escapade, a personality trait, or their physical appearance.  In Kinshasa, hashers are not named until they’ve done something outstanding, unusual, or stupid enough to warrant one.

The christening ceremony takes place after a run, when the nameless hasher is called by the Master of Ceremonies to kneel in the middle of the groups’ circle, at which time beer is poured over his or her head, to help slough off their everyday name, and the new Hash name is announced.

I can tell you right now that the day I got my Hash name- The Bounty of Paul’s Fertile Garden- was one of the proudest days of my life  (or at least one of the proudest days of my life in Kinshasa).

I was named after a signature cocktail that I had invented for a celebration of the 100th Hash run in Kinshasa, using fresh ingredients from the head hasher’s garden.  In homage to the garden from which these ingredients came, I named the cocktail “The Bounty of Paul’s Fertile Garden”.  It was such a success, that I was subsequently named after it.

The christening of The Bounty of Paul's Fertile Garden

The christening of The Bounty of Paul’s Fertile Garden

Jamie’s naming came not long after my own, and my eyes misted over with pride as beer was poured over his head and he was henceforth declared Shoeless Joe Jackson.

Whereas I earned my Hash name for having done something amazing, Jamie was named after an incident when he showed up for the run with everything he needed, except for his shoes (no one really knows where the “Joe Jackson” part came from).

The christening of Shoeless Joe Jackson

The christening of Shoeless Joe Jackson

The Mother Hash

In Kinshasa, the traffic-y, tree-less, dirty, aggressive chaos of a giant Congolese city often became overbearing.

But the every-other-Sunday Hash took us out of the indoors, outside of the downtown, through villages and fields and knee-deep creeks, among squealing barefoot kids that would join us for an entire 10 kilometers and hardly break a sweat.  It was one of the handful of things that helped us maintain a grasp on sanity that year.

Ironically.

Since it’s kind of a nutso group to be a part of in the first place, what with the secret codes and costumes, the bawdy traditional songs and Hash name christenings.  It’s almost a little… well, cult-ish, as one friend described it.

Be that as it may, it was our cult.

And it was awesome.

We met some amazing friends and saw parts of the city and outside the city that we would have never seen otherwise.  At the same time, despite the drinking games and silly songs, the Hash really motivated us to challenge ourselves athletically, to push through 6-7 miles of overgrown and hilly trails, something I would have never thought myself capable of.

Leaving our mother Hash behind when we left Kinshasa left an empty space in my heart.

Bukavu Hash House Harriers

And when we arrived in Bukavu last year, despite the stunning and verdant scenery, there was no Hash House Harriers to be found.  Jamie and I played around with the idea of starting a new chapter… but the amount of responsibility that this would bring to rest on our shoulders was a daunting idea.

Luckily, someone more courageous than us was not afraid to follow the call of duty, and the first ever Bukavu Hash House Harriers took place this past weekend with great success. I’m still a little sore from the 7 kms of hills, and a bit dizzy from the 65 children that ended up running with us, but I’m definitely still smiling about it.

On on!!

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Tom Robinette permalink
    February 5, 2013 11:32 pm

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shoeless_Joe_Jackson
    Also, Field of Dreams, the Kevin Costner movie.
    Also Eight Men Out about the 1919 Chicago “Black Sox”
    You guys have alot of fun don’t you? Love you. Dad

  2. Aunt Melodee permalink
    February 6, 2013 3:51 am

    I want to join a Yucaipa Hash House Harriers chapter! Only instead of running, we walk. Any takers?

  3. Debbie Kahal permalink
    February 7, 2013 12:54 am

    Ahhhh, I love the Hash House Harriers!!!! I was in group when I was in Nairobi … so so so much fun! Miss yall, Deb

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