There is a group of people here in Lilongwe that meet on Mondays to go on a run together. At first I thought it would be just an ordinary run but one that I could do off campus since I would be with lots of other people (It’s not a good idea to run off campus alone). I didn’t realize that this is an international running group of non-competitive runners. The runners have no idea where they are going, other than by following markings along the way. The markings are set in advance by one person (the hare) and followed by the group (the hounds). As the group runs, there are small H’s marked with white chalk along the way. This indicates that you are going the right direction. When you come to a big circle written on the road or in the dirt, this means you’re at a checkpoint. A checkpoint is a place where there are multiple ways that you could potentially go. The purpose of these false trails, short cuts, dead ends and splits is to keep the pack together regardless of fitness level or running speed, as front runners have to slow down to find the “true” trail, allowing the rest of the group to catch up. At these, someone proceeds to run in each possible direction and when three consecutive “H’s” are spotted, they shout, “On! On!” and everyone runs in that direction.
I have greatly enjoyed these runs as they have taken me places I would never have expected. We often run off the road along dirt paths that take you through parts of a village, straight through fields that have been burned or plowed, and always alongside Malawians, traveling home from work or going about life. I am often in complete amazement as I see the beautiful sights of Lilongwe and it’s people. There was one run where the sun was setting directly in front of us as we ran past a group of about 20 children playing outside of their huts. They stopped and waved and laughed as we passed through on the well-beaten trail that I can imagine them walking along each day. Then last week we ran past some older children (probably about 11 years old) and they were laughing and ran over to us at our checkpoint. We were close to the end of our run and when we figured out which direction to go, I looked at one of the boys and took off running. We raced and when we stopped, we were both panting and smiling. (I beat him in the short distance that we ran, but I am sure I would lose if we ran longer!)
This group also takes part in a social event afterwards where if you are new, you have to stand in the middle and chug a beer. Being that I work at a Christian academy, I would chug a coke instead and this just doesn’t sound appealing at the end of a long run. So, I socialize along the run, but do not stay after.
I look forward to this hour of running each week. Yes, I can run on campus where I am safe to run alone and I can go up and down the main road as many times as I like, but running with the hash house harriers is so much more than running for me. It is a glimpse into the beauty and the life that I could easily miss if I were going past in a car. I wouldn’t see the beautiful landscape or the people in the light I get to see them when running. I also feel these runs somewhat mirror the way I feel about my time here in Malawi. In both running and living, I have no idea what lies ahead. I am dependent on others to share their culture with me and show me places and people I would never meet before. I also feel like I am moving quickly, only seeing and participating in part of the life here. It’s just like running past a place, between one checkpoint and another. I know I am only seeing and experiencing a part of the beauty and the place, but I will take each day and remain fully present, soaking it in and humbly doing whatever I am able, whether that be teaching students, interacting with parents, or whatever else may come my way.
I am so grateful for the other missionaries and the Malawians that I get to live in community with. Where it is so much more enjoyable to run with others, it is also so much more enjoyable to live life with others. I feel so thankful for the community that is here and the way we live together, sharing experiences and joys. I am also thankful for those at home who are supporting me financially, prayerfully, and lovingly. I know there are so many here with me, in spirit and I wouldn’t be able to run this part of my life without you.