Hash House Harriers

When I was living and working in Abuja, Nigeria, I was introduced to a fun running/walking group called the Hash House Harriers. This crazy, fun group was made up of people from all over the world. Expats and Nigerians alike. While mighty hot, we did our darndest to follow the trail and make it to the top.

Hash, A History

In 1938, in what is now called Malaysia, a group of British officers started meeting on Monday afternoons to go for a run. The idea was to cleanse their bodies of the ‘excessives’ of the previous weekend. Eating in their mess hall at the time, they decided to nickname their group the Hash House Harriers.

It wasn’t until after World War II that the group was formally established with a constitution. The objectives were recorded in 1950:

  • Promote physical fitness among our members
  • Get rid of weekend hangovers
  • Acquire a good thirst and to satisfy it in beer
  • Persuade the older members that they are not as old as they feel

Hash Today


As the group evolved, so did the rules. First, a “chalk talk” circle would be formed. This lets anyone new understand what to look for as well as what the various call outs meant.

But the hare is still the most vital component. Before the group comes together for a run (usually monthly), a hare goes out and marks the new trail with shredded paper, chalk or sawdust. The hare will often set false trails that challenge the runners (and walkers) to stay alert and be vigilant. The runners out front will yell “on on” when they find a trail marking indicating that everyone is on the right path.  Or they may yell “looking” if they can’t find it. These false trails tend to be at difficult inclines or other challenges and allow for everyone to stop, get a breath and look for the trail. Once the shredd is spotted an “on on” is yelled and everyone is off running again.



In Nigeria our halfway point was always at the top of a hill with amazing vistas looking out on the vast countryside surrounding Abuja. We ran through yucca, coffee and banana plantations as well as over rocks and through thick bush. It was always a challenge and super fun. When reaching the top a truck full of water, soda and beers greeted us and everyone enjoyed a good hour of relaxing, laughing and enjoying the view.

Then “on on” would be called and off we would head down the other side and eventually back around to our starting point.


Post Run

We would be called to “circle up.”  Long standing members would sing songs, newbies would be initiated with silly songs and a dousing of various liquids. It was always good fun.

Hashing in Nigeria was very special as it took me through areas I would not have seen on my own. The countryside is so unique, the people so warm and I really treasure my experience. I will definitely look for a HASH group the next time I am abroad.

Ever take part in a HASH? I’d love to hear your story – comment below.


Nigeria is Wonderful

One week left of my fun adventures in Nigeria.  Since my last post, life has found a lovely rhythm.  Working out, watching a friends choir perform, eating good food, HASHing etc…it has been nice.  Work remains good, even though the kids are getting so excited for the last day of school it is hard to keep them focused on learning.

Since our grades are already done and turned in (but the students do not know that!), I have been having them do projects that they think are just fun and silly, but they are actually learning too.

We started making paper mâché globes – this next week we’ll paint them:


And on Monday they will be performing their rap songs.  We are finishing up a unit on the Heroes Journey in Language Arts so they are creating a rap about a chosen hero.  They had a choice between Greek, Literary, Historical or Unsung heroes.  Here is what the groups chose:  Spiderman, Robin Hood, Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela and Abigail Adams.  As of their last rehearsal they were starting to sound pretty good.  It is really fun to see who has a beat and those that don’t.  I’ll try to video tape them and share with you next week.

I finally caught a photo of one of the myriad of lizards that are constantly darting across my footsteps, bobbing their heads up and down.  They are literally everywhere and some have the coolest color combos, but as they are so skittish, it is really hard to get a photo – here is my best one so far:

IMG_2216And I was thrilled to finally be up close and see this magnificent bird:

Photo by yebomama.com

This of course is not my photo, but I have been seeing flits of red flying by and wondered what it could be.  A couple days ago on a back road driving to drop off a friend’s son, we spotted one sitting right next to the road.  S/he graciously did not fly off for quite some time as we marveled at the bright little creature.  This is a Red Bishop.  There have been so many colorful birds here – gorgeous sky blue, little tiny birds  (think size of a Mouse Tit) and large, golden browns and oranges the size of a large Robin.  I definitely needed a bird book for this part of the world.

I also took my students on a field trip to the Children’s Zoo. IMG_2158

Me and my TA; Lucia.

It was a pretty sad place.  Obviously very little funding and it was a massive zoo.  We saw ostrich, zebra, giraffe, wildebeest, crocodiles, gazelle, African golden eagle, tortoise, goats (originally there to feed the lions but the lions died, so now the goats are on display).IMG_2178IMG_2195And lots of monkeys.  Here is one in particular I found fascinating – look for blue.  It wasn’t an anomaly, they all had them!

IMG_2201   On that note… I’ll try to post one more time before I fly back to the USA.

Have a great week!  Gretchen



Zuma Rock and So Much More

Another great two weeks here in Abuja, Nigeria.  I continue to be so happy here.  The people, the students, my new colleagues… all just wonderful.

Last weekend a few of us ventured out to the infamous Zuma Rock – a monolith protruding from the earth that is 2,400 feet high.  Stunning in its awesomeness.

From different angles it has completely different feels, energy, faces… on one side it looked like the mountain Richard Dreyfruss from Close Encounters of the Third Kind created in his backyard.

Zuma Rock 3As we walked slowly around its base – took us about an hour to make it all the way around – we encountered a few villagers here and there.  The area around it was primarily small farms of yams and papaya trees.

Women Tubers Zuma Rock
Harvesting Yams
Zuma Rock Boy
Young papaya farmer
Zuma Rock Boys Swimming
Boys having a fun swim
Really hard to capture in a photo how steep and large it was. This sloping area was only on one side. Most sides just went straight up from the earth.
Zuma Rock People
Yam farmers
Fun rocks and caves
Fun rocks and caves

As we made our way home, we drove through a village teeming with life.

Zuma Rock Donkey on Truck
Donkey (he is alive – I saw him move!) being transported atop a lorry
Zuma Rock Goat Market
Goat market
Zuma Rock Hawker
Roadside hawker

I also went on another great HASH last weekend.  On our way to the site we went through a very poor village but with tons of happy faces – I snuck some photos from the car:

IMG_1948 IMG_1949 This time I joined the running group.  Wow!  Super hard.  I think we went uphill in 100 degree weather with no shade for well over an hour.  Crazy hard.  Everyone was dying. But I took some shots (again these are with my iPhone) whenever I could of what was around me as I ran (trotted, crawled, walked…).IMG_1956IMG_1958

Such great satisfaction when we reached the top.  The view was amazing.

Water/Beer truck at the top!


IMG_1960 IMG_1961

Me, John (from Tanzania), Tamara (US), Teri (Canada)


Then on our descent back to our cars, I again tried to go with the runners, but the decline was too much for my knees, so I ended up walking – caught all alone between the runners and the walkers.  And it was magical.  Our route back took us through that same village.  All alone, this crazy, sweaty, white chick wandering through a small town in the middle of Nigeria. You might think – scary, but NO!  I was greeted with the biggest smiles, the warmest energy, children running circles around me giggling.  I finally felt like I was truly in Africa.  I was so filled up with such happiness.  I didn’t take any photos as I didn’t want to spoil the wonderfulness.  But I did capture some when I got back to the cars – just before the huge storm hit.

Sunburst as seen through my sunglasses in front of my iPhone lens

IMG_1993 IMG_1994

This last week at school was a crazy one.  It was the 20th anniversary of the school so there were lots of festivities.  We had a flag parade:

Flag parade finale – 40 nations represented by our students.
PTA and Ms. Amy, Head of School, at time capsule ceremony

On Friday the students were released early and we had a party with local food and Nigerian music.  The parents were boogyin’ more than anyone.  The booty’s were shakin’ like I’ve never seen before.  It was fantastic.  We danced in the hallways for a couple hours.  Really fun.

Only 6 weeks left of my fun time here.  I’ll write again soon.

Have a great week.  Gretchen


Abuja Color

Another fun week in Abuja, Nigeria.  My fourth graders are simply wonderful.  They are so kind, polite, funny, talkative, inquisitive… I love them.

The week just flew by with major wind and hurricane rains three of the evenings.  One of which I went to a great Indian restaurant and sat up on the top floor and looked out as the sky lit up with streaks of lightning, howling winds and sideways rain.  The storms here are intense to say the least.

Last night we had another pool party in celebration of the Thai (really SE Asia) Water Festival.  It was really fun, excellent BBQ, silliness with water, great dancing…  This group of teachers, administrators and friends from embassies, Medicine San Frontier and other NGOs is full of energy and interesting.  It will be sad to say goodbye.  I can only hope that I have such a great group to join in China next year.

Next weekend we have four days off, so I am hoping to go hike Aso Rock or Zuma Rock – both famous here in Nigeria, do another HASH and visit a handcraft market.  Thus I will hopefully have a lot more photos to share.

But for now I will leave you with a few new ones.  Have a great week!  Gretchen

Palm base 2
Palm fronds – just loved the feel they exude.
Painter in Abuja
An artist painting by the side of the road to the grocery story. I am so excited to see more art.
Flame Tree at school
Everywhere are flame trees (I have yet to find out the real name for these but they are everywhere in SE Asia and I think I remember seeing them in Guatemala years back!).
Cows at school 3
Cow crossing. Heading home on Friday afternoon – we had to wait for the cows. I just love this. Check out those horns!

Cows at school 2

Cows at school 1

4 Blue
My cuties hard at work.

Continent: Africa, Country: Nigeria

Image by exchanges.wiley.com
Image by exchanges.wiley.com

I’m in Africa!  Since I was a child, I have wanted to come to this amazing continent.  I am simply thrilled to be here.

My first impression of Nigeria is that it is a country burgeoning with hope.  Everywhere you look buildings and roads are being constructed.  In Abuja, the capital and where I am working, the red earth is being shaped to accommodate the large influx of people moving here to work for the government, embassies and NGOs.

I arrived just 12 days ago during my new school’s spring break.  I had finished my Myanmar school year at the end of February and then flew back to the US.  I spent a wonderful three weeks in beautiful Oregon where it was cold (to me), and after a 25 hour flight arrived in Abuja where it is hot, hot, hot!

I am happy to report that hands down, I have never been treated with such inviting warmth, support and immediate friendships as I have here at the American International School of Abuja.  School.Front EntranceEven the immigration and customs officers at the airport were smiling, inquisitive, offering to help and generally joyful.  Crazy!

And it didn’t stop at the airport.  The Curriculum Coordinator who had been covering the 4th grade class I am taking over for the rest of the year, has been nothing but accommodating; helping me transition into the classroom, driving me everywhere to get myself settled and acquainting me with the surroundings and new friends.

I have already been to a pool party (around the pool at my apartment compound), a bush bar (outdoor, under a thatched roof, beer bar) an Indian restaurant, a German Riding Club dinner and a HASH (Hash House Harriers). And today a lovely Nigerian woman came to our apartments and gave us massages.  Nice!

As to the school, it is great.  It is a K – 12 with about 500 students.  The administration is wonderful and organized.  The current principal is the founding principal (20 years!).  They have a wonderful library with computers and loads of books as well as a librarian that gives the kids weekly lessons.  A computer lab, an olympic size pool, lots of playgrounds, a stage in the cafeteria…  My assistant, Ms. Lucia is a dream.  She is wonderful.  She is very respected here and her smile is effusive.

My 20 students come from seven different countries.  Here is a list of their names as I just love the sound and mix of them all: Demateide, Saidu, Amber, Kenya, Omer, Abigail, Othneil, Kambili, Rai, Emmanuella, Hope, Kofo, Lucy, Gabe, Proshun, Theadora, Davide, Fred, Tomer, Halimah.

I will get a better picture of them – but here is a quick snapshot of the class:

Classroom.Day 3Tomorrow starts week 2 of teaching.  The kids are wonderful so teaching is easy.  My only complaint is that they love to talk, but then again don’t most 10 year olds?

As many may know, Nigeria is also having troubles with different factions causing serious harm to others.  It is mostly in the north.  From what I have been hearing from locals and expats, the main reason for the in-fighting is the current president is a Christian and it is apparently time for a Muslim to be president.  I have been told that as the country is nearly 50/50 Muslim/Christian that it is expected that when presidents change, so should the religious conviction of the new one in office, keeping it equal-ish.  The current president (a Christian) took office when the last president (a Christian) died in office.  He is now running for re-election.

Here are a few shots of what I have seen so far.  I am told that taking photos is not looked upon favorably, so I mostly likely will stick to my iPhone for photos while I am here, so the images aren’t as sharp.  Also it is the Harmattam season – when the winds from the Sahara desert kick up and fill the sky.  So the air looks like massive pollution, but it is mostly from the Sahara that is just north of us – kind of cool actually! 🙂

Yam Mounds
Yam plantation – mounds and mounds and mounds.
The crazy traffic. Worse here than in Mandalay! Here they all have cars and go everywhere they want when they want. Most cars are dented on all sides.
The local money: Naira (Nie Rah).
Home.Neighborhood street
A lovely street in my neighborhood.
HASH.Newbies Circle
HASH: All of us “Newbies” getting initiated.
HASH.Hill Top2
HASH: Top of the hill.
HASH Hike: hiking up the hill through a cashew plantation.
At the top of the hill during our HASH hike.
Side of a local market.

More to come.  I’ll be here until early June.  Then back to Oregon to start a hybrid (on-campus/online) graduate program in Geography and then next fall heading to Guangzhou, China to teach secondary Humanities.  A fun few years ahead!

I’ll be back with more photos and insights soon.  Take care!



Kan Kaung Ba Zay Myanmar… Sannu Nigeria

A couple weeks ago I said goodbye and good luck to the wonderful people of Myanmar.  It was a year of re-awakening for me.  Seeing the juxtaposition of extreme poverty literally leaning up against extreme wealth brought me to full attention once again.  I had the good fortune of teaching 29 third graders and helping them to defog their vision and start to see some of the realities of their emerging country.  For those of you that have followed along these last 10 months, you know the ups and downs.  But ultimately it was an experience that gave me yet another lens in which to see the challenges that are faced by so many people around our globe.  And this includes the challenges of the upper class (wealthy) that can easily distance themselves from the hardships of life, but need to keep their eyes open, reach out and help those less fortunate.  That is what I tried to do with my little, wealthy, eager third graders.  I hope they see the world a bit more clearly and with more compassion now.

I am now back in the Oregon, USA.  It is a gorgeous state I must say. So green, so clean, so healthy and working hard to be good to the world.  And of course it is always nice to be home to the familiar.  But I am not here for long.  I am leaving next week for a three month job in Abuja, Nigeria.  I will be filling in for a teacher that had to leave the school year early. This time I’ll be teaching 4th graders.  Will I ever return to the what I know and truly love – secondary and humanities?

I have always wanted to visit the continent of Africa.  I am thrilled for this opportunity.  I am trying to learn a bit of Hausa, one of the many local languages.  “Sannu” means “Hello” by the way.

So until I get settled in Nigeria, I will leave you with a few parting photos of Myanmar, Inle Lake to be exact.  Have a great spring!


Tourists boats on the lake.
I just loved this Buddha. The plants, the color… This one I found in the center of the lake on a small island surrounded by Stuppas in all states of ruin.
Fishermen 1
These are the famous foot paddler fishermen of Inle Lake.
Lotus and fiber
I visited a Lotus flower fiber weaving group out on the lake. They pull the fiber from the stems and weave it into a rough fiber similar to linen. Very beautiful and very expensive.
A typical scene walking down the back streets. Young monks heading back to the temple.
I ordered spaghetti and this lovely man made it right there on the spot.