Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Hash Express


The past two weeks have been full of both work and fun. I finished the last of my site visits in the field and have moved on to the analytical stage of my project. My colleagues here have been very helpful.

On the 5th of July I was supposed to visit the genocide museum here in Kigali with some friends, but due to the declared public holiday, it was closed. We ended up heading to a bustling market in a part of the city called Remera. The name of the market is Kimironko if I'm not mistaken. To me, replacing a trip to the museum with one to the market serves as a metaphor for the optimism that is Rwanda's new calling card. This is not to say that the lessons of the genocide should be forgotten, or that everything here is a-ok, but that trends are positive. The market was arranged as a covered central area, divided into two sections: produce and textiles. The central area was ringed by a number of shops selling everything from meat to cell phones to a comprehensive DVD set of Bruce Willis' work. I picked up some carrots and giant avocados for a dinner with a UTEP professor that evening. Mimicking Bugs Bunny, I munched one of the carrots for quality control right there in the market, much to the amusement of my friends as well as the vendors.

The dinner that night was at a lodge called One Love, owned by a Rwandan who is married to a Japanese lady. In addition to being a lodge, One Love's mission is to produce prostheses for those who cannot afford them at traditional outlets. Dr. Sarah Ryan, a communications professor at UTEP, was a wonderful host and it was attended by Americans, an Australian, Rwandans, and people who would be hard to classify as being from any one country. Like the quote painted on a wall at the Kimironko market, "every meal is a story."

Wednesday of that week was another dinner at One Love, this time with Dr. Ryan's student group in attendance. It was fun to be the semi-seasoned person listening to descriptions of other people's first day in Rwanda, although a month doesn't get you anywhere close to actually knowing a place, nor would a couple years.

Last Sunday I found an Anglican church to be somewhat drier than the Pentecostal one I went to previously. One pastor did give us a ride into town though, which was a plus. It's always exciting to meet someone with a car who is happy to give you a ride somewhere.

Later that afternoon I met my friend Amir, an investment banker turned photojournalist, to see a couple art studios in the neighborhood behind my apartment. One of the studios runs a program that teaches kids dancing - there are two age groups, one from 5-15 and another from 15-25. Some of the kids have had the chance to go to international exhibitions. After watching a set of dances, we chatted with the artists and I was reluctant to leave my conversation chair, a carved wooden one with a sleep-inducing reclined angle. That night I helped my USAID friends prepare a pancake dinner, which was phenomenal. Thai coconut pancakes I believe, with regular syrup, a pineapple-mango-macadamia sauce, plain crushed macadamia nuts, sliced bananas, and nutella as toppings. I had never had nutella before - always wary of it, and now I know what I was missing.


Thanks to a suggestion from someone back in the US, I followed a couple links and found the contact info for Hash House Harriers here in Rwanda. For those of you who don't know, this is an amazing running/social club, started by some British officers in Malaysia in 1938. It's not for the faint of heart or the humorless. I found the contact info last Friday and immediately called. Got through to "Crazy Horse" (oh yes - after you have completed a certain number of hashes and led your own, you get a hash name) who offered to pick me up from one of the main shopping centers downtown on Saturday afternoon. I got weird looks from people as I waited in my sleeveless shirt and stubborn farmer's tan (I haven't done any swimming to take care of this), but adventure beckoned. Crowding into the backseat of a red hatchback, I was introduced to an American lady, a young Indian named Joshi, and Crazy Horse. We picked up two more, making it really crowded, but the mood was happy.

My first hash was organized by "Rambo," our hare for the week. The hare's job is to set up the trail. His rules were expressed on the course through piles of shredded toilet paper. One meant you were on the right track, and accordingly, you were to shout "On On" as you passed the marker. Two piles indicated a checkpoint, where the trail split, and you had to find the real one. This included trips down false trails, sometimes as far as 100m. These served to slow down the runners so that walkers could close the gap, keeping the group closer together. Three piles meant you were dumb and had reached the dead end of a wrong trail. Four piles equaled success and that you should rendezvous at the bar next to where we parked, where the back section was reserved for us. The Kigali Hash has good representation by both Rwandans and expats, and there were about 20-25 people yesterday.

I did well at the start, and it was the type of running I love - over mixed terrain, dirt that's easy on my knees, and glorious views of the surrounding hills and the marshlands below with a river winding through them. We were wrapping around a massive forested hill. I was near what I think was the front, although people were scattered all over the place, with Rambo running back and forth blowing his whistle, supposedly "guiding" people, though after getting to know him I am not so sure. Near the top of the ridge, the trail got really confusing, and I ended up picking the wrong direction with a Dutchman, who had been hashing for years, and I think should have known better. Either way, we ended up reaching the trail we had started on, and so we kind of backtracked towards where we thought people might be coming down the hill from, but seeing nobody, we headed back. Eventually we ran into some other lost stragglers, then the front-runners, who called us cheaters. We playfully lied that we had passed them, and raced back to the end point at the bar. Once there, it was discovered that only 6 or 7 people had followed the proper trail, which involved going through a swamp at one point, so it was easy to pick out the true hashers, both by sight and by smell. Of course, nothing but compliments for Rambo's trail. Overall a great group of people, and I wish I had looked for them earlier in my stay.

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