Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Hash Harriers of Freetown (July 31)

Each week a group of men and women from a variety of income levels and nations, mostly Sierra Leoneans, go jogging through some of the back footpaths and crowded local streets of Freetown. They often get lost – intentionally. It’s part of what is known as the weekly Hash Harriers run, part of a global program in many countries.
Today Betty and I joined them after a two-year absence. Eventually, every runner who has completed 25 runs gets ‘named,’ at a ceremony that has the runner kneeling and being doused with a bucket of water. Names often reflect personal attributes, interests, or physical characteristics. We were fortunate to get ‘named’ two years ago as (Betty) Mami Yoko, and I as Bai Bureh, a ‘warrior’ who led a rebellion in the 1800s against paying taxes to the British colonial government here.
I like to exchange greetings with local residents as we run through their neighborhoods. And if you get behind, residents kindly point the direction the group has gone. The ‘trail’ is marked by periodic handfuls of confetti, indicating you are “on-on.” If you come to an X you have to turn back; this gives slower runners a chance to catch up.
Two years ago, the run ended in the same place as today. Toward the final half-mile or so, runners can speed up if they like. Two years ago I was flying down a hill toward the finish in first place when a tall Sierra Leonean flew past me. This time only one runner, a guy in dreds, was ahead, and I sprinted to catch him. I was gaining as I heard calls from the other runners that I had gone the wrong way, and the dreds guy wasn’t even part of our group. But it was a fun outing as I loped in well behind the first group of runners. Others walk a shorter route, as Betty did today, taking some photos along the way.

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