Friday, July 6: In the late afternoon, I take my second taxi of the day from Muquttum to Ma’adi. I’m going for the first time on a walk through the desert with the Cairo Hash House Harriers. When I arrive, Mohsen takes me to the market where we buy some lamb and some other goodies for the picnic that will follow the walk/run.
The Cairo Hash House Harriers (CH3) (Cairo Hash House Harriers) was founded in 1980 and meets every Friday afternoon at the Ace Club in Ma’adi, Cairo. Today, after meeting at the club, we go for our walk in the Wadi Degla Desert Protectorate, which is located right on the edge of the Cairo suburb of Ma’adi. According to Nile Guide, it extends 20-30 km from east to west through the desert and ends at Ma’adi district south of Cairo governorate. The total area of the reserve is about 60 sq. km. This beautiful quiet canyon is noted for its limestone and mud formations which are rich in aquatic fossils.
With over 1,700 groups worldwide, the HASH is an “international dis-organization of people who enjoy having fun and some exercise.” (Facebook: Cairo Hash House Harriers)
According to Wikipedia: Hash House Harriers: at a hash, one or more members (“hares”) lay a trail, which is then followed by the remainder of the group (the “pack” or “hounds”). The trail periodically ends at a “check” and the pack must find where it begins again; often the trail includes false trails, short cuts, dead ends, back checks and splits. These features are designed to keep the pack together despite differences in fitness level or running speed, as front-runners are forced to slow down to find the “true” trail, allowing stragglers to catch up.
Members often describe their group as “a drinking club with a running problem,” indicating that the social element of an event is as important, if not more so, than any athleticism involved. Beer remains an integral part of a hash, though the balance between running and drinking differs between chapters, with some groups placing more focus on socializing and others on running.
The end of a trail is an opportunity to socialize, have a drink and observe any traditions of the individual chapter (see Traditions). When the hash officially ends, many members may continue socializing at an “on-after”, “on-down”, “on-on-on”, “apres”, or “hash bash”, an event held at a nearby house, pub, or restaurant.
When we first meet with the lively group, some of the group takes off for a 3 mile run. Others of us take off for a walk up the side of the wadi for about an hour in the hot sun. After we return from our walk, ice-cold beer is waiting for us at the bottom. Here the socializing begins. I see Ahmed, the Egyptologist from the American University of Cairo who I met this morning at the Ma’adi Runners, and Marcel, the French guy who I also met this morning. During the walk I also meet Basim, a 35-year-old Egyptian neurosurgeon.
After having a few beers, the group forms a circle and the “down-down” begins. Here, people are called into the circle for recognition, or harassment, depending on what the person did to deserve being singled out. Again, according to Wikipedia, generally, the individual in question is asked to consume without pause the contents of his or her drinking vessel or risk pouring the remaining contents on his or her head. Individuals may be recognized for outstanding service, or for their status as a visitor or newcomer. Down-downs also serve as punishment for misdemeanors real, imagined, or blatantly made up. Such transgressions may include: failing to stop at the beer check, pointing with a finger, or the use of real names. Commonly, hashers who wear new shoes to an event can be required to drink from that shoe.
All of the above goes on at this hash, and of course since I’m a newcomer, I’m called into the center of the circle to be introduced. I have to down my beer as the members around the perimeter do a countdown, and whatever amount I don’t consume, I must pour over my head. Luckily, I don’t have much in my cup to warrant a drenched head.
After the circle, we have a lovely cookout under the stars. I keep saying to people: “Dusharufna,” which I learned in my Arabic classes means “pleased to meet you.” The Egyptians in the group get a hoot out of this because they tell me it is a very formal way of speaking, as if in English I was saying “I’m so honored to make thou acquaintance.”
During the HASH, I make plans with Ahmed the Egyptologist tomorrow to go on a tour with him to Giza to see the pyramids. Mohsen offers to drive me back to Muquttum, quite a distance away for him. As we head to the car, Basim the brain surgeon runs up and hands me his card.
I have such a fun time at this event that I determine to return every Friday night!
When I return back to our flat in Muquttum, Lisa tells me a hilarious story about how she and Mahmud went for a walk along the Nile and found one of the Presidential Cruise ships docked and empty. They went to sit at the top of the boat to talk, and the next thing they knew, they were cruising down the Nile. They ran to the operators to tell them they wanted to get off the boat, but they wouldn’t turn back because the cruise was in progress. So they got to do the cruise for free, with dinner included! Lisa is hilarious!