The first hashing event in Almaty, and probably in Kazakhstan, was held in the evening on Monday, April 8, 1995. It was conducted up there on Luganskova Street amid a number of semi-completed posh houses, and an unimproved road. About 120 people joined in the activity, including a large contingent of Australians, many of whom worked for Telstra.
We were the Hash House Harriers of Almaty!
Ah, hashing? Yes, Hashing.
Hash House Harriers is an international group of non-competitive walkers and runners. Events sponsored by a local club are usually known as a hash or hash run. Participants join in a pack of “hounds” (the runners and walkers) that chase down a trail set by the “hare” or “hares” (other runners, usually with prior experience) and then gather together for a bit of social activity. Somewhat oddly, the social activity is known as the On On or Down Down with refreshments, fun, songs and the occasional feast.
All are welcome, young and old, fast or slow; no need to get in shape before joining in. It is best, however, to have a sense of humor.
That April night in 1995 was hot and there was still plenty of sunshine.
I had never heard of hashing before but soon learned that it is a well-established activity heavily supported by expatriates. The events certainly succeed in getting people to mix and even some networking takes place.
Speedy folks run ahead, trying to find the trail. Slower folks follow up in the rear. The trail went a bit cold on occasion or into dead ends, these being intended to keep the pack of runner together. Fast runners try to re-locate the trail while the stragglers catch up.
We did about five kilometres. As if it wasn’t bad enough to be out in the heat, the trail was very steep for part of the course. As a result, we came away from it very thirsty and sweaty. We re-assembled back at someone’s house and drank beer from a galvanized tub with large blocks of ice. We sang songs and heard about the origins of hashing. It was said to go back to 1962 but I now see from Wikipedia that it goes back to pre-World War II days with its origins in Malaya.
Several attendees wore hashing T-shirts commemorating some event or other from various countries over the past three decades.
The songs were all set to favorite campfire tunes known to most people but the words, well, they were not for the delicate ears of youngsters around a campfire! They went beyond suggestive straight into raw. I still have the photocopied set of songs but seem to have hid them out of sight of my children and now can’t find them.
First time participants underwent a kind of initiation. Each one had to down a whole bottle of beer at one go or be doused in the remainder. Not such a bad punishment for someone soaking in sweat and soon heading for a shower.
Hashing is sometimes referred to as a drinking club with a running problem.
I think hashing comes into favor at certain periods and then goes out of favour, probably when some firebrand for the activity leaves town. Later, someone else may pick up the mantle and the activity resumes. What with the cold winters in Almaty, it is understandable that each spring it takes some fresh initiative to get people out again to pound the trail. As an example, I saw a message dated April 15, 2010, on the Kazakhstan Expat Forum, stating that the Hash House Harriers was to be relaunched in Almaty. Elsewhere, another message of October 29, 2013, noted that there was a desire to launch the Almaty South Side Hash House Harriers. They were looking forward to hashes in November and December.
Keep running Hashers!
Note: Telstra set up and operated large satellite dishes that greatly expanded the number of international telephone lines for the country.
Book Sales: Find more stories about Kazakhstan from the 1990s and later in my book, West Meets East in Kazakhstan. It’s available online in softcover or e-book format from AuthorHouse (the publisher), or Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
Website: My blog posts go out on Facebook and often on LinkedIn. If you’d like to see them again or check for posts you might have missed, go directly to my website: viewkazakhstan.com
Consultancy: Although I currently am trying to ensure that my book gets maximum exposure, the fact is that writing and publishing are sidelines for me. My main focus is assisting foreign companies to engage in business in Kazakhstan (or elsewhere in Central Asia) and assisting businesses and individuals in Kazakhstan with their projects outside of Kazakhstan.
Based on my long career as a lawyer and my time spent in Kazakhstan, I take on projects in a wide range of industries, certainly in oil & gas, banking & finance, and minerals. But such a statement insufficiently acknowledges the many spheres in which I have had experience – commercial trading, manufacturing in several areas, transport, directorships of companies listed on the London Stock Excange, shipping, and many more.
For further information, contact me at email@example.com and at +44 1753 885955.