To my US friends, I hope you had a wonderful 4th of July!! I hope you spent this weekend watching fireworks, drinking beer, grilling out, and enjoying the beautiful summer weather. More than that, I hope you’re celebrating your freedoms and independence. As much as the media tries to divide us into red and blue, I think we’re all more alike than we are different, no?

The 4th of July is a national holiday in Rwanda, too. Liberation Day marks the end of 100 days of genocide 21 years ago. Needless to say, the fourth of July is not an excited, fireworks-filled holiday like it is for us. Out of respect, the US does not celebrate July 4th in Rwanda, so our 4th of July work party will be next weekend.

I ended up having an amazing day on the fourth. The first half of the day was leisurely. I finished a book (The Interestings), started a new one (11/22/63), and did lots of lounging. That lounging came in handy when I somehow found myself walking across the entire city later in the day. Seriously.

I intended to walk 3km to an art exhibit, stay for an hour, and get a cab to the meeting place for my first Hash with the Kigali Hash House Harriers, but when I got to where I thought the exhibit would be they had no clue what I was talking about. So I decided that even though I really didn’t know where I was going next, I would walk. The benefit of Kigali’s hills is that you can stand on one hill, look across the city, and choose a building on the other side of the valley to be your target. The bad thing about Kigali’s hills is…well… the hills.

This gives you a bit of a glimpse of the topo here. And I didn’t take a straight shot since I had no clue where I was going, so add a couple of winding kilometers to what the map says.

kigali walkingOn my way to my destination, I took a shortcut through a field with well-worn footpaths and plenty of pedestrians. The field was full of randomly dispersed maize plants. I haven’t walked through a corn field in probably fifteen years, and I didn’t know that I missed the smell of late afternoon summer corn until I was suddenly flooded with memories. Corn is corn (or, well, maize), and the smell of middle-of-the-city Kigali corn brought me right back to the Maine cornfields of my youth.

When I was nearly to where I thought I ought to be (it turns out that the building I selected on the horizon was the right one!), a man pulled over and said “are you going to the hash?” I suppose a white gal in running clothes was a dead giveaway. I don’t normally hop into the cars of strangers, but this man was wearing a hash house harriers t-shirt and I was beginning to wonder how I’d find where I was supposed to go, so he came at just the right time.

The Kigali Hash House Harriers are a friendly bunch. I’ve been wanting to do HHH for several years since it combines two of my loves (drinking and running), but it just hasn’t worked out. I especially love the objectives of the original HHH in 1938:

  • To promote physical fitness among our members
  • To get rid of weekend hangovers
  • To acquire a good thirst and to satisfy it in beer
  • To persuade the older members that they are not as old as they feel

Of course back in that day only men were allowed, but now the groups are happily coed. I only snapped one photo last night, but it captures a happy moment. Halfway through the run the group stopped at a bar for a beer (obvi).IMG_0135But I must say that there is also a crude edge to HHH. Either you drink up in the allocated time, or you choose between chugging your beer or dumping it over your head. I unfortunately was a bit slow drinking my beer at this bar pit stop, so I found myself being circled as I chugged my beer (side note: I do NOT chug beer. I’m a lady, not a frat boy). In this case, however, I quickly downed my beer as the crew stood around me and sang a little chant that I won’t type out here (my parents read this blog!!!).

After the run, we ended up at a bar called Cool Garden (not so ironically, it really was a cool garden). Since this was my first HHH, I had to get in the middle of the circle of runners and answer random questions about myself and then chug a beer. Being the center of attention is my least favorite pastime – which is why I’ve avoided HHH in the past – but sometimes you just have to face your fear and meet new people and be ok with trying something new.

Thank goodness I did, because I discovered that the group was SO nice. My newfound friends invited me to go out to Sundowner at 10pm that evening. 10pm is usually my bedtime, but I’m so glad I broke my rule and went out. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have danced with these fun Rwandan kids until >2am (and they really were kids… 22 max).

Walking across Kigali, running around Kigali, participating in my first Hash, and then dancing all night with a mix of expats and locals was an incredible way to celebrate the Fourth. Unique, but incredible. And definitely a good alternative to a bbq back home with friends.

I hope you had an equally lovely holiday.