run-and-drink club offers a sense of belonging to
strangers in strange lands
26 June 1988
By Brenda Smiley
The rugged profile of Jebel
al-Dukhan, the 370-foot mountain of smoke
that is Bahrain's tallest natural promontory, was
silhouetted in the gathering dusk.
A sandstorm buffeted faces and
bare legs, and the fumes from nearby oil wells
assaulted nostrils as the runners set off in a pack,
soon strung out along the steep, rocky paths.
Dust swirled, feet slipped on
loose stones. Some runners fell and were bloodied as
they tried to find the red and green paint smears
marking the right way on a course studded with false
At the end of the trail, they
gathered again for the traditional party, including a
ritual in which first-timers, or those who somehow
faltered, may be required to sit on a cake of ice
while being doused with beer.
It was, said some veterans, the
toughest run in several years for Bahrain chapter of
the Hash House Harriers a group of
run-and-drink enthusiasts whose global network
reaches from Alaska to Antarctica.
According to the group's lore,
the Harriers were founded in Kuala Lumpur in 1937 by
British Army officers looking for ways for them to
enliven a boring assignment in what was then Malaya.
The inspiration supposedly came
from a game popular in Victorian times, and the name
from the dormitory where they lived. They probably
never dreamed their effort to break barracks boredom
would become an international hit.
Interrupted, then reborn after
World War II, the Hash, as it is commonly
known, now exists in more than 90 countries. Perhaps
everywhere there are what the Bahrain chapter's
grand master, Bob Willimott, calls
strangers in a strange land.
There were about a dozen
members when the hash began in this Middle East
business and banking center 15 years ago.
Today the Monday night runs
attract anywhere from 150 to 400 people,
overwhelmingly expatriates, with Britons the largest
Willimott, 50, a civil engineer
from Nottingham, England, said he didn't know a
soul when he arrived in 1978, and he has found
the Hash valuable for making friends
including his fiancee, whom he met on a run
three years ago.
It's also useful for business,
You see a lot of people
you've been trying to contact, he explained.
You go on the Hash one night and there's the
chap you've been trying to get hold of, who never
returned you phone call.
Malis Bernard, al longtime
Bahrain resident, thinks the group is practical for
people who have to travel frequently.
You come clutching the
telephone number of a contact in a country and you've
got a place to stay, friends and a good time
ahead, he said. Besides, you don't even
have to run to be a hasher.
Willimott said the group keeps
a low profile to avoid offending the sensibilities of
a local culture in which boisterous behavior and
alcohol are frown upon by many.
To this end, the
bonfire-and-beer parties, with all their high jinks,
are held in the desert, away from populated areas.
Some Hash participants say they
like the idea of everybody from normally staid
bankers to ordinary workers being treated alike
even if it does have the flavor of English
At a hash meet, nobody's
sacred, everybody's fair game, said Billi
Parus, 36, the chapter's American scribe.
Even the occasional admiral has
been required to submit to the staged post-run
Participants include crewmen of
foreign warships visiting Bahrain. One recent run
drew a busload of 40 American sailors.
Some people join for exercise
running 3 to 5 miles through desert gullies, in one
of the world's harshest climates, where temperatures
run well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Others like the challenge of
following a course, laid out in advance by
hares and marked by false clues to
confuse the pack.
Bahrain's strong desert winds
sometimes cause paper course markers to get lost
and people as well.
WE lost a fellow in '79
and we had to go castin around in the desert with
torches to find him, Willimott recalled.
Most of my social life
revolved around the Hash now, Parus said.
It's more than just a running club; it's the
other things you get to do, and learn about in a
place like this.
She says there are loftier
aspectsto the Hash than just running and socializing.
Once a year, the group co-sponsors a marathon relay,
with proceeds going to local charities.