Hash Runs and the "Real" Africa

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Flag of Rwanda  ,
Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Hello all,

I've been quite busy lately to say the least, but I’d prefer it that way over any other way. So… where did I leave off?  Oh yeah, I submitted my Letter of Clearance to USA Basketball on a 1-day rush (costing an extra $100) in hopes that I would be able to play in Friday night’s game.  Unfortunately, the USA (out )of all the countries in the group of countries that includes Rwanda and the USA) screwed up this time, and after 2 whole business days of being able to clear me, couldn’t by the time the game rolled around.  I emailed them, and they explained themselves kind of, but I’m still going to try to get my $100 rush fee back.   I tried to play a little bit of hardball with the guy who wouldn’t let me play without a letter of clearance, and reminded him over and over that Isa and I are putting a combined $50,000 to specifically developing basketball and youth in Rwanda – basically part of his job description, but he didn’t budge.  Good for him.

The game was actually pretty fun to watch.  My team, UGB, was completely outmatched, and outaged, and got blown out.  However, my perception of the talent of the league drastically changed.  There was this one guy for the other team, named Mike, who was maybe the best basketball player I have seen outside of a Division 1 college game or NBA game.  He was outrageously athletic, big for a guard, and had unlimited range (even on outdoor rims without nets) and could see the floor pretty well.  He looked like LeAndro Barbosa plus 5 years and plus 2 inches of curly, thick hair.  I think if he was younger and understood the game better, he could have a shot at the league.  I asked Jacques, my UGB coach, about him later, and he said he’s from the Congo, but has messed up paperwork and birth certificates, so he ain’t going anywhere.  During some parts of the game, Isa and I went to another court to shoot around, and that was fun.  I kinda forgot about not being able to play for 2 consecutive weekends.  We are lucky to have Jacques find us, he has been a huge help and will be for a while - very passionate about basketball and not only that, the RIGHT way of playing basketball.

Saturday morning, I was awoken by a text that said I was cleared to play… FINALLY.  Unfortunately, this was the weekend where UGB only played one game instead of two.  But it was ok because Isa and I had scheduled a practice with a boys team at the Gatenga school from 9-11.  The language barriers were hard to overcome, but eventually some really nice, somewhat basketball-savvy translators helped us out.  I was actually quite impressed with some of the player’s skill level and creativity, but not impressed with fundamentals.  We did simple stuff mostly, ball handling, three types of passing, three-man weave, pick and roll, and post moves.  At the end they played 5 on 5, and it really wasn’t that bad.  One small guy who was the team’s best ball handler and had the highest basketball IQ would not stop asking me for my shoes.  Also, the guys were pretty out of shape.  Even though it was 9 AM and 80 degrees, after the first suicide (which half of them jogged/walked), they refused to do anything else before they could run to the well for water.   We plan to train the team every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday until they play a game on November 5th, which Isa and I are pumped about.

Isa and I then went to what would become my favorite non-basketball event of being in Rwanda so far.  Earlier in the week, Cabot and Skip put us into contact with this guy Chris – all of whom are in the ex-service UN/US training program for military of bordering countries to conflict zones – and he emailed us about taking part in a "Hash Run."  I know you are all thinking that this involved illicit drugs, but it was definitely different.  Isa and I did some research and as it turns out, a “Hash Run” is probably the coolest thing in the world.  The official name of the group is the Hash House Harriers, and it was started in the 1920s by British or some other white western soldiers who would go for a run together every Monday to get rid of their Sunday hangovers (interesting to go out and drink on a Sunday when you’re British and the NFL didn’t really exist in the 1920s).  Anyways, it developed to a practice by many expats in many countries, and even now has a bunch of groups within the U.S.  Present-day  hash runs are basically a get-together of (what I see) as a badass secret society or fraternity.  Most of the time, people meet up, go for a run, and hangout after.  That’s the short version, here is the long version:

We get to the house, and there is “KHHH” (Kigali Hash House Harriers) in all caps sprinkled in finely shredded paper in front of a driveway.  We enter the house, and see people who look like they know what they are doing. We sign up with a guy named “Rambo” and for 2,000 francs (less than 4 bucks), we are entitled to drinks and food and a bunch of really good homecooked food (Snyder’s flavored pretzels have never tasted so good) (Also a heads up – sugar cookies with jelly beans in them are really something you should all try making).  So then, a guy with a “Hash” name (all people are given a hash name in an introduction ceremony once they complete a certain number of hash runs) of an insult I cannot say. Anyways, this guy rounds up all the people who came – about 70 people, the biggest showing in KHHH history – and they sing all these songs that everyone knows besides Isa and I and the rest of the “virgins” -first-time hashers - and “visitors”- people who have hashed elsewhere.  Anyways, we are forced to stand up in the middle of the group and explain what we are doing here, and we are heckled, but all in good fun. Then, the person who set up the course explains the running and walking trail, and everyone heads out on the run. 

You have to follow little piles of the same shredded up paper, and if you come to a fork, you are expected to split up some people.  If your trail ends in a paper shredded “x,” you must turn around, and go the other way.  Because people are faster than others, you are required to scream “On, on!” when seeing the new route of shredded paper (hence the picture of our Hash t-shirts, are you on?).  The trail was simply awesome.  We started in probably the richest neighborhood of Kigali, where all the embassy people live, and we went out to a rural valley.  Up and down steep slopes in fields of I-don’t-know-which-crop we ran, passing confused Africans who looked at us like we were aliens.  The trail was all of 8 inches wide, so I almost sprained my ankle around 600 times throughout the race.  I have never felt such a running high before, even without music.  I guess it is because you are too focused on finding the next paper shreds, or because I was running in a place I have never been before.  Even though I am in somewhat basketball shape, I ran 7+ tough miles, and felt nothing.  Little kids would chase us for parts of the race shouting “Muzungu” (traveler/white person), and goats would jump out of the way at times.  Toward the last quarter of the race, I was in first place of the running group, and wanted to finish so badly, not only because I knew there was food, but also because my left nipple was chafing against my UMich basketball jersey.  So myself and another guy from Britain, are running at a good pace, and we feel like were back to the beginning, only to realize that we have been running the last half mile in the wrong direction.  The course stooped us, so we had to run the half mile back to where we were supposed to go, and we ended up finishing in about 7th place, but luckily, no one really cares.  This sounds corny, but hitting the wrong destination, and having to turn around, especially when I thought I was doing great was kind of a microcosm of my experience in Africa so far.  You do so much, so much planning, so much preparation, and then you find out that things don’t work perfectly, and you just put your head down and keep running. 

After the race finished, we all drank beer and ate good food, and there was a naming ceremony of two girls who had hashed enough races to be named.  I will not mention their names.  The race was so much fun – Isa and I made a bunch of connections – socially and basketball speaking – and I felt included in a worldwide secret society.  I plan to hash in every country I visit now, and want to try some in the States.  Matt, Jillian, and Tommy – you have to hash, you would all love it.

After the race, Isa and I went back to Chris’ hotel to just hangout.  We talked for 2 hours about whatever, and I had some Rwandan tea, which I am now addicted to.  The best part is, when you order, you really get 3 full cups of tea because they give you so much sugar, powdered milk, tea bags, and boiling water.  Its dirt cheap too!

Isa and I took a freezing taxi ride back and crashed.  The next morning, we got up and had breakfast with Matt and Cory, a couple from Boston who live and work in Rwinkwavu and is interested in working with us.  It was nice talking to some young, like-minded Americans over a solid breakfast, and I learned a lot from them, even though they have been here a month longer than Isa and I.  I was very curious about homosexuality here in Rwanda – if its legal, if its accepted, or whatever.  I assumed that it was taboo, considering 95% of the country is Christian, 3% is Muslim, and 2% are something else.  But, I always saw two guys holding hands – even more often than I saw a man and a woman holding hands.  I figured these guys were with eachother, but as it turns out, hand holding is not a sign of homosexuality, but rather a normal practice between two completely straight guys.  I also was very curious to how relationships work here, because everywhere Isa and I go, we basically only see guys out at bars, or guys watching a football game at a buffet lunch.  As it turns out, guys don’t really pay as much attention to their wives as some may expect, and often times, guys have another girl “on the side.”  Perhaps our emphasis on gender equality in our camps could eventually change this. 

After that, Isa and I went to the fastest internet café in Africa basically, and I watched the video highlight of Brendan Gibbons kicking the game winner vs. state.  I heard I the night before on internet radio, but it was so awesome to see the video of it.  Ugly game for both teams, but we needed to end the dry spell.  After that, Isa and I headed off to Amahoro National Stadium to watch the Premier league matchup between a team whose name I forgot, but who everyone was rooting for because they were playing against the RNP team (Rwandan National Police).  The fans were rowdy and it was great watching the game.  Literally 95% of the fans were rooting against the police, the other 5% being the police that were working as security for the game.   The non-police team won and after the game, it was as if they won the superbowl.  Mototaxis were going twice the speed they were supposed to, people were blowing their vuvuzelas, and people were running, dancing, and singing through the street.  It took us forever to catch a bus home. 

Monday, Isa, Jacques, and I headed to Butare to check out another possible site to work at.  Jacques went to the university there – NUR the National University of Rwanda – and lead the team in scoring all the years he played I’m pretty sure.  We did apartment searching and talked to some basketball people there.  It is a beautiful university, and one dorm (pictured) puts the Sunnys at Denison to shame… it has outdoor patios!  Butare is a really cool town in comparison to Kigali.  Kigali is very in-your-face while I would say Butare is like a Midwestern college town in the U.S., pretty quiet, lots of students, and  it has a colder climate than Kigali.  Isa may be going there to work with a month-long Ubumwe camp and other organizations, while I do the same in Kigali.  We met the second coming of Jacques in Butare, who was very friendly and passionate about basketball.  He gave us his number and told us if we needed anything while here, to call him.  It was nice having Jacques - the former big man on campus - there.  He stopped about every 5 steps to introduce us to people.  We even met the president of the University! Once we got back, we went to expat trivia night, and lost again (the questions were impossible), but had a good time.  Chris is going to leave this week to work in Burundi, but hopefully we can hang out with him if he comes back.

Tuesday (today), Isa and I cancelled our trip to Gisenyi in favor of going to Rwinkwavu, to visit Matt and Cory and see if we could build a court there.  At breakfast Sunday, Matt really expressed his and his community’s excitement and vibe, and Isa and I simply had to check it out.  Before visiting, Isa and I had pretty much decided we wanted to build there, because they had absolutely no court (whereas the other areas we are looking into already have courts, that we could renovate) but a high level of interest among kids and prospective coaches, and a growing community with new facilities popping up (a Partner’s In Health hospital, and a brand new Library and Learning Center).  Matt showed us around, treated us to lunch, had us meet people and government leaders, and had us check out some possible areas to build a court.  Fun facts about Rwinkwavu – the soccer pitch is supposedly the first soccer pitch ever built in Rwanda, and was built for the King of Rwanda during the 1920s/1930s.  Also, there was a basketball court there also built for the King during the 1940s, but has been overgrown.  We stood on the old basketball court, and you can still see the trenches that surrounded the old court to keep it dry.  We actually think this old spot may be the best place for the new court. 

Quick hits

-Rwandan T-Shirt of the week – at the soccer game, saw a kid wearing a black polo with “Obama '09” on the back.  There was no election in 2009.  Perhaps he was repping the inauguration…. I don’t know.

-My roommate Tommy Cawood left today for the Congo.  If things on the border get better b/n Rwanda and Congo, I may try to take a 30-hour bus trip over there.  Probably not going to happen though.

-Bus drivers are crazy.  I felt like I was on the millennium force on the highway both Monday and Tuesday.

This week’s plans – get a quote on concrete for building a court, get my computer charger fixed, run practices w/ Gatenga, practice with UGB, do final preparations for our first Coach’s Clinic next week, play in UGB games Friday and Saturday, and possibly ANOTHER hash run Saturday!

Hope all is well over there, Go Tigers! Go Blue!
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Julie on

Love you, Casey!!! So amazing reading about all your adventures.

Uncle John on

Casey: Great stuff. Loving the entries!
Remind me to tell you 2 things when I next see you:
1) What I felt like the first time my male co-worker held my hand on the main boulevard; and
2) How many times I had requests about the future of my moto boots.
Love you man!

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