Monday, December 19, 2005

Of the "hash"

When bidding on which exotic port of call I would be spending this two years, one invaluable resource was "Tales from a Small Planet." Among a bunch of other less valuable stuff, the site offers "Real Post Reports," which provide a refreshing alternative to the stuffy State Department dossiers on each post. The RPP's are a little more candid, and answer questions like "What's morale like at post?" or "What would you ship from home if you could?" or "What kind of social activities are available?" One key was that you could recognize the true pits when the answer to this last question is, "Well, there's always the Hash."

Just about every country that has foreign embassies has a chapter of the Hash House Harriers. This is a group that gets together on weekends to go for a run and then have a beer. They universally refer to themselves as "A drinking club with a running problem." Whether one thinks that little malapropism is hilarious or not is probably a fairly reliable indicator of how much one would appreciate the Hash.

The run is not just a pleasant bit of exercise, but involves a course laid out in advance, marked out Hansel-and-Gretel style with bits of flour left behind and hopefully not licked up by stray dogs. At various spots the trail of flour spots will fork, and one or more forks will be a false trail that one must follow until it runs out to discover it's false. This leads to a lot of standing around and waiting for someone else to figure out which trail is real. It also leads to most people on the course having no idea where they're going until they get there.

Yesterday, in my inaugural run, we ran down into one of the ravines that cuts into the city. It was alternately gorgeous and disgusting. Once down along the stream in the bottom of the ravine, it was hard to believe we were still so close to the crowded city. The walls of the ravine were pure green, with only occasional swathes in the bottom wide enough to support a patch of beans or corn. Of course, the Guatemalans have somewhat lower hygenic standards for waste disposal than those to which most Americans are accustomed. Mostly this meant frequent signs of discarded plastic containers, clothing, toys, tricycles, and so much more. At the frequent criss-crossings of the stream, it involved a higher danger element in slipping into the river due to the certain presence of what one might politely call organic waste. The final straw came as we climbed the tiny steps carved out of rock on the side of the ravine to get back to civilization. The terrain began to flatten out slightly near the top, where one could admire truly gorgeous views across the ravine behind. And it was advisable to look behind, because aparently the lip of a ravine near a city of two million people without regular trash service is too tantalizing a disposal site to resist. Of course, if you just dumped all your trash there, it would pile up and block your view and get smelly, so even the most slow-witted of readers will recognize that the only solution is to light the trash on fire. So, we finished our "run" gingerly stepping through the smoldering ashes of yesterday's tabloids, banana peels, and various dyed plastics that were surely engineered for safe incineration and inhalition, with the flames still roaring on today's trash a few yards away. On the bright side, it was a valuable, up-close look at the lifestyle the vast majority of the people in Guatemala have no alternative but to endure. On the down side, I walked through a burning trash dump.

Once safely back at home, the hash group sings a bunch of goofy songs and while drinking beer, in a format that punishes those who don't participate in the forced making of merry by making them drink more beer, a trade-off I'm willing to bear every time. I've been promised that your typical hash run involves a lot less standing around and near-zero levels of walking through smoldering refuse; we'll see if that's enough incentive to endure the goofy songs next time.

1 comment:

MsBoombastic said...

Contrast this with my experience of today: a humble public servant, walking with the masses over the Brooklyn Bridge because the transit union doesn't want new hires to have to pay 6% of their salary toward their pension. (Sadly, there is no beer or singing at my destination, however.) Upon arrival at my City job, I will spend my day defending the City's efforts to deal with its trash -- thankfully, we've moved beyond tossing it into ravines and burning it. Now we just ship it to Virginia. Perhaps Guate can look into that?