“You have to come forward.”
“Me? What? Why?”
“Your name was mentioned,” my neighbor says.
Now I hear it as well, “Will the virgins step forward, please?”I don’t exactly consider myself a virgin; however, my neighbor insists I am. And so is Coen, she adds.
Coen and I move forward and are put on the Grand Master’s left, while Ine and Henri (the other virgins of this night) stand on his right.
What the heck is going on?!
Minutes later we are holding plastic cups filled with beer. The microphone is held in front of our faces. What did we think of our first hash?
“I kinda liked the thing with the shredded paper,” Coen comments.
“I just signed the two of us up as members with Thea,” I say.
“You already became a member? That’s great. Okay people, let’s hear it.”
The gang of some 50 hashers sitting and standing in front of us breaks into a song. I feel as if I’m in a student café where new members are initiated. The song is in Sranan Tongo, of which I don’t understand one bit, but the last words are in English – and are an order, “Down, down, down, down…”
The plastic cup has to be emptied in one go. So much for my intention to drive without alcohol in my system. But I return to my seat with a smile. Our first hash has been fantastic and I feel at home immediately.
Running or Walking through Explore Unfamiliar Areas
The gathering is as informal as it can get. We’re all dressed in loose-fitting clothes: shorts, jogging pants, sleeveless shirts, T-shirts, and we’re all thoroughly sweaty with our hair sticking to our scalps. With 40 to 50 men and women we just finished running 5 to 8 kilometers around Palm Village, in Commewijne.
Every Monday, at five-thirty, the Hash House Hariers (or HHH) meets up at somebody’s house or at a more general meeting point such as a bar. Depending on your condition you either walk or run, or do something in between. The route is indicated by heaps of shredded paper along the side of the road, which each week is set by different people (called the ‘hares’).
The Origin of the Hash House Harriers
The HHH started in the 1930s in Malaysia. A diplomat decided to go running on Mondays in order to get rid of the alcohol he had consumed during the weekend. Friends followed and soon the running included socializing – with beer, obviously. The story about the HHH’s origin has some variations but according to one of them, their original point of departure was a Chinese restaurant named Hash House.
As it goes with diplomats, they were transferred to other countries and through the years, the Hash House Harriers were established in over 180 cities and now has hundreds of kennels. Most run on Monday night. For some kennels this doesn’t work.
We’ve been told, for example, that there are 7 Hash House Harrier kennels in Washington D.C with each running on a specific night. After our hashing in Suriname, we’ve hashed in, among other places, Bolivia (on a Saturday afternoon and it’s only every 3 weeks) and in the Netherlands (during a weekend as well).
The Paramaribo HHH has existed since 1989. Because initially it was a kennel of runners, harriers, the name of a fast British hound of the harrier race, was added to the name at some point in time.
Running around the Commewijne District
Hashing in Suriname mostly means running or walking in Paramaribo, however, this one is held in Commewijne, a district east of Paramaribo. Palm Village, where we walked today, is a new residential area for the affluent middle class. Luxurious houses are built on large lots and you can only access the neighborhood via one gate that is guarded 24 hours per day.
The walking route zigzagged through the young, little-shaded neighborhood. Palm Village doesn’t live up to its name yet. Palm trees are conspicuously absent, or still very small. Apparently they need many years to grow to a decent size. In fact, the neighborhood is largely devoid of trees.
We continued on the main road towards the Wijdenboschbrug. It was one of those typical death traps due to cars that kamikaze their way down the road, even though the road is narrow and lots of people are walking here. In Surinamese traffic, pedestrians (or runners for that matter) have no place in the traffic hierarchy. Fortunately, the paper shreds soon led us to a sand path on the right.
The wet season ought to have finished. It hasn’t. We continue to have daily downpours and combined with high tide this almost causes the Suriname River to flood the banks. The sand path turned into grass but because of all the water had become a quagmire. It comes with the pleasure of exploring unfamiliar territories.
Shredded paper told us we were on the right track. The runners went up front. When they encountered a cutback – a cross made of shredded paper – they turned around and searched for another route. This way they covered a longer distance than the walkers and it kept the group more or less together.
We returned to the main road and crossed to the other side. Back to sand paths, free of cars. Bliss. Trees offered shade. This is the village of Lust en Rust, which is one of our favorite areas in Commewijne.
With a number of women we ran and chatted while introductions were made. We were quite in the forward line, which gave me confidence. I had worried a bit beforehand about not being able to keep up with the group.
Planks have been put across ditches to facilitate crossings. Cows were grazing the fields and, typical of this country, we were continuously accompanied by the twittering of birds.
Back in Palm Village it was time for the after-Hash. We are in luck. The Paramaribo HHH has existed for a certain number of years, which was the reason for a little party. Socialising is part of the tradition, but tonight we are fed as well: our host Yvonne and Rignald feast us on loempias, bakabanas (both fried snacks) and saoto (a type of soup).
Judging from the enthusiasm on the dance floor you wouldn’t say these people had just covered such a distance. The crowd goes crazy. We sing along as we dance to cheerful Surinamese rhythms that alternate with terrific dance music from the 1980s.
While dancing I look around. The people here represent more or less all ethnic groups that make up Suriname. Before coming here I had wondered if the HHH might be a typical expat club. Fortunately, it isn’t. Apparently, it did start out that way when the HHH in Paramaribo was established, but tonight I see Maroons, Creoles, Javanese, Hindustanis, Chinese, Dutch Surinamese, whites and all kinds of mixtures. The white people are not only Dutch but include a Brit and a Mexican of German descent.
I am happy we found this group and signed up. I look forward to many more hashes (about which you can read here).