Associated Press
June 26, 1988

Global Run-and-Drink Club



Global run-and-drink club offers a sense of belonging to strangers in strange lands

Associated Press
26 June 1988
By Brenda Smiley

MANAMA BAHRAIN

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 clues.

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 single group.

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, Willimott noted.

“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 boarding-school hazing.

“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 humiliations.

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.

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