Saturday, March 7, 2009

running in sierra leone

Its known as the “Hash.” Every Monday a group of Sierra Leoneans and international folks jog or walk along narrow rocky footpaths that meander among mostly low-income neighborhoods. So many of the city’s modest homes, of cement blocks or tin panels, are located in an un-zoned pattern that paths snake by front porches, along side homes, through compounds.

The amazing thing is that no one seems to mind about runners suddenly dashing by; in fact, there is a genuine good spirited reaction and lot of greetings exchanged. And if you get separated from the group, people point out the way, even guide you on the path. I once got behind and was led past some barking dogs by a child no more than five years of age.

The hash works this way: ‘hares” set a trail dropping bitts of shredded paper to mark it. False trails are marked too, with an X at some short distance down the wrong way. Fast runners get to intersections first and often go down the wrong way, only to turn back. By then, slow joggers have caught up. So you go from being in front to being last. Walkers take a shorter route. Afterwards, the group sings some silly songs and ‘names’ a few runners with a hash name. [I’ve escaped that so far as a relative newcomer.]

But I run several times a week by myself, mostly on both sides of a steep valley that leads to the American Embassy at the high point. Because Obama is so popular here, and perhaps because I wore an Obama t-shirt before the election on some runs, I’ve gotten tagged with the nickname “Obama.” People who see me in my red running shirt call out ‘Obama’ from both sides of the valley. It energizes me on days when I’m tired. I think people just like to exchange greetings; and using the name ‘Obama’ is a nice way to do it.

The other day I ran up a mountain peak behind the Embassy, only about a 12-minute jog, but enough to be a workout. On top the clouds came in and the valley below disappeared from view. It was a quiet moment. I stood there for a while, just enjoying the scene, then jogged back home.


Bob Press; Betty Press said...

testing the comment function. Bob

John said...

It is always amazing that someone as old as Bob actually thinks he can run. In Africa even. Seriously, Bob is very old.

Your Chicago Running Buddy,


John Dane said...

I loved both the "hash" idea and your description of it. What a lot of imagination and good fellowship went into this. I wanted to jog along just to meet some of the other people and watch out for the side paths. Thanks for making this experience live, especially the moment above the clouds and the invisible valley.