April 2008 in Tanzania through the eyes of an Englishman

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Gretel (on the right).
29/4/2008 - We Have Puppies.

On Sunday we went to see the vet about the shepherd puppies. Adia already knew which male she wanted, and I chose a bitch who looked me firmly in the eye when I picked her up. So Hansel and Gretel are a done deal. They are to stay where they are until the dog house is completed, and were marked with red strings tied around their necks, since the puppies will be on general release at the end of this week. It was drain-mother time when they were let out, and it took the eight of them approximately four minutes to deflate mama. At that point she shook them off and walked away.

The pictures are awful. It was late in the day, and the light was not good, and the puppies were not inclined to keep still and pose. I really must make an attempt to get the Pentax working again.

The builders put a concrete floor in the dog house yesterday, and put a concrete lintel across the front. Now it's reached that stage I have to get one of the guys who does steel work from Nane Nane to come and measure it, and various other things, for a gate. Then Spemba and his roofing men can put a corrugated iron roof on it later in the week. I have to make a wooden pallet for the puppies to sleep on to keep them above the concrete floor and allow drainage for any 'accidents'.

Other than that, nothing much has happened. Potter has to go back today to get new heater plugs and an oil filter replaced - these parts had to be obtained from Dar. Hopefully he will start better then.

It continues to piss it down with great regularity, and all the dirt roads are deteriorating rapidly. There's another full month of this to go according to the Arusha natives.

A puppy house in progress.

The south side of the living block.

Cooking beans over charcoal.
27/4/2008 - Looking Up.

Potter arrived back at dusk on Friday evening. Adia had found a suitable alternator, which though not an exact replacement, had the correct output voltage, and was shoehorned in by ingenious African car mechanics. He's running again now and not eating batteries, though the warm-up problem is still not fixed. I think we need the heater plug to sort that.

We were supposed to pick up the puppies on Friday, but could not get there. In any case there was nowhere for them to stay except in the house where with our current arrangements they'd have had a field day chewing things. So the plan is to go today to confirm our choice, and pay, but to get the vet to keep them until next weekend. They have names now. I quite fancied Bonzo for the male, but that just happens to be the name of Adia's friend Latifa's husband, so we backed off that. I was thinking of Germanic names for a brother sister pair. Siegmund and Sieglinde seemed a bit of a mouthful if you had to call the pair off them off the postman, so in the end I decided on the fairy tale pair Hansel and Gretel. A puppy house is being constructed as I speak about 4m from our bedroom window, against the east wall if the compound. Concrete blocks and a steel grill gate does not sound very hospitable for a couple of fluffy pups, but I'll make them a wooden box to sleep in together in one of the pens and get them some wood shavings or something, and I'll donate them a sweaty old T shirt. With their fur and the worst of the night temperatures here they should be quite snug. They will live in the dog house when they are grown, so they might as well start there.

Most of the roofing sheets were put on the south side of the living room block of the main house yesterday. The sheets are difficult because although they are all the same, the spacings between the stamped tile pattern rows are not consistent. All of the purlins that were carefully nailed up last week had to be rived off and repositioned by a centimetre or so. A couple of the sheets are a bit wonky and need repositioning, but all in all it does not look too bad. The other side is getting done today.

We ran out of cooking gas last night, so this morning there's a charcoal stove standing next to the small house deck with beans hissing away in a pressure cooker. These little charcoal stoves are excellent for cooking many things. They have a good range of control, and can work from simmer to wok frying. The only snag is that it takes about half n hour to get one up and running. Fortunately, Demi had fired it up while we were still in bed.

A very sick Potter.

Rain damage.

Corn and beans.
25/4/2008 - Not Our Week.

Potter went in for a service a couple of weeks ago, in the course of which its battery was condemned as unfit for service even though we just bought it about a month before. The garage lent us a battery for the time being. I was not entirely convinced, so I charged our battery using Pig (the diesel generator), and put it back in the car, at which point it seemed to work just as well as the one they'd lent us. The borrowed one was put in the boot.

Then at the beginning of this week, Adia was in town attempting to see a woman from the electricity supply company, and Potter would not start again - flat battery. We presumed the garage had been right, and she got somebody close to where she was to replace it with the borrowed one. Next morning, guess what - flat battery. Adia went into town by daladala, and I put the battery on charge. When I'd got some charge into it, I put it back, and Potter started fine again. I gave him a run up Njiro Road to get some diesel for Pig, and then switched him off. I should note that every night since Wednesday it has pissed it down like it was going out of fashion, so all of the following narrative has been conducted in thick mud, and we cant use Kiki the motor scooter because she doe not handle well in the mud.

Adia called late afternoon to say she'd managed to contact a vet who had some German Shepherd puppies for sale and that we should go and look at them. Potter started OK, and we drove out to Moshono to see the puppies.

Their dad was huge, and quite intimidating, though a nice looking dog. Mum was of a more normal size, but seemed bright and cheerful, and was also a classic looking shepherd. The puppies were a delight - show me one that isn't. They weren't particularly cheap, but not bad for the going price in these parts. Adia haggled as always, and got a bit off on a boy/girl pair. We were supposed to pick them up today.

About half the way home, Potters lights dimmed. We'd been on very muddy roads so I thought I had mud on them, but when we turned off to go to Joyce's pub for something to eat, the engine also died. We could not leave the car where it was - it would have been tantamount to leaving a car unattended on the Cross-Bronx Expressway, so we tried calling the security company, who offer help of that sort as part of their service. They turned up quite quickly, and were as helpful as they could be, but did not have proper jump leads. So then Adia called Tyson, our local mechanic. Tyson isn't his real name, just a reflection of his build. It turned out that he was in Nane Nane having a beer, so he came to help. Once he'd seen the state of affairs he went back to his shop to get yet another spare battery, and we tried that, but it didn't seem to have enough charge. So then we took the battery out of the security firm's pickup truck and Tyson put that in parallel using a couple of ring spanners, and finally Potter started. He was clearly still in bad way. The lights were still dim; the speedo and rev counter weren't working, and every warning light on the dashboard was on. He got us home with the security truck as escort. We had an evening meal of breakfast cereal, then went to bed. It rained most of the night again.

It goes without saying that in the morning he would not start. Adia phoned the Bosch service centre where he had been earlier in the week for a checkup, and after a while two guys turned up in a taxi lugging a huge battery and proper jump leads. The patient was started with difficulty, but as soon as you took the jump leads off he would stop. Eventually the huge battery was put in the front passenger side, and connected to the other battery with a length of ring main cable. Then Potter was started using the jump leads, and finally the jump leads could be removed with the engine still running. He was driven to the car hospital and kept in overnight.

Adia got a lift into town this morning and actually succeeded in speaking to the woman from the electricity supply company - I don't know the outcome yet. The Bosch centre phoned her to say that Potter's alternator was gone, and so she is currently touring Arusha trying to find an appropriate replacement. It will probably turn out that we have to order it from Dar Es Salaam or Nairobi. Of course, we won't be able to go and get the puppies. We'll have to go there by daladala and pay for them and ask the vet if he will keep them there for another week.

In the meantime, the roofers put up the first steel sheet to discover that the bottom purlin - or maybe all of them, I can't communicate well enough to find out - was out of position by the thickness of the fascia board. This is a deal because these stamped steel sheets have to be nailed at specific points. So the purlin(s) have to be moved. It's not the end of the world, but it contributes to the general sense of a doomed week. I just went out to look at progress, and yes, it's all of them - bummer, that will put the whole process back by three days.

On the brighter side, all this rain certainly suits things that are growing. Our plot, thanks to Demi's seed planting zeal, is now infested with corn and bean plants that are growing like Topsy.

Something completely different.
20/4/2008 - Sorghum Beer.

A week or so ago, Happy, my waitress at my local, presented me with a handwritten price list to inform me that my beers of choice had gone up by 20%. This is presumably yet another reflection of rocketing world food prices. Barley has gone up by some significant factor recently. However, 20% on my beer budget, coupled with the fact that Demi likes a beer so I usually bring her one back, is something I don't need on a fixed income, so some response was necessary.

I was aware that there was a cheaper beer - Eagle - around, and had tried it, but I'd not taken to it because it was ever so slightly sweeter than what I'm accustomed to, and because it was a bit on the strong side - one too many would definitely zap you. Beggars though, can't be choosers, and a bit of mental arithmetic showed that if I drank three Eagles, and took one home for Demi, I would be back to 'budget', and be getting the same buzz for my money.

The other thing I'd noticed about Eagle was its rather unusual ingredient list - water, sorghum, malt, sugar, and hops. Not a beer at all the Germans would say, and what the hell is sorghum anyway. Well it's a grass, like wheat and barley, but more like millet, and happy in tropical climates. The reason that Eagle is less expensive is that because sorghum is an indigenous crop that provides an income to African farmers, it attracts less excise duty. It is actually slightly more expensive to brew than a barley beer. You can see the SABMiller blurb here. So now I can feel morally comfortable with my new, quicker buzz.

The landlady, Joyce, laughs at me a little because I am drinking 'peoples beer', but I can stand that. I'm old enough to make my own choices.

Two halves being assembled.

The first three trusses in place.

A glut of large, sweet bananas.
17/4/2008 - Hold Your Breath.

I guess that the essence of engineering is the sequence design, prototype, build, then test. So yesterday was testing time. I borrowed most of the truss design from a Canadian government publication, but modified it so that the two truss halves could be assembled up at roof level. I had done a prototype truss, which was sufficiently similar to the 'production' trusses that it became one of them. Demi and I built the trusses, and yesterday the design concept was tested.

The halves are of such a size that with a man on top of the wall, and two at floor level, they can be manhandled up to roof level by three strong African lads. Once up there, they were manoeuvred to lie as a symmetrical pair across the beams at the front and back of the veranda and the walls of the master bedroom. Then there were six 120mmx12mm bolts to coax into holes through the plywood gussets and the beams at the top and bottom of the middle of the truss. Spring washers were included to allow for some drying shrinkage of the wood. Where there were difference in the thickness of the timbers, shims had been pre-applied and nailed in place. Once the bolts were tightened, the joints were secured against shear stresses by applying 60mm nails through pre-drilled pilot holes. It all seemed to work rather well. The first three trusses were up before I realized they had started, without a single "how are we supposed to?" question.

The tedious bit was arranging tarpaulins and polythene sheet over the plywood bits to keep out the inevitable rain water. Unfortunately this took almost as long as assembling and positioning the trusses. This is clearly a flaw in my design. I should have applied a coat of varnish to the plywood parts as soon as they were nailed together. That would have kept the water out for long enough to get the roof sheeting on, but that is hindsight for you.

Having finished with the trusses, Demi and I are conducting furtive experiments in rendering in the store room of the new outhouse. It is something of a knack, and we are not there yet. It has to be said though, that the mortar mix we made is now on the wall, with very little residue on the floor. It's far from perfect, but it will do fine for a store room.

The bananas are from our next door neighbours. There seems to be a bumper crop of very good ones around at the moment, and of course, they don't last. I'd put some out to dry, but at this season there isn't really enough sun to dry them quickly. So, it's bananas with everything, and they are huge. One is almost a meal in itself.

The outside loo and store.

The main house roof taking shape.

Demi au naturel.

African 'light goods' transport.
12/4/2008 - Lost Memory.

Well, not me, but my laptop gave me a fright the day before yesterday. It blue-screened, and then subsequently refused to boot. It's behaviour was erratic, sometimes it would get as far as the Acer intro screen, sometimes it would beep continuously, and other times it would do nothing. I figured, with my fingers crossed, that this could be a memory problem with no associated data loss. Unfortunately my toolkit consists of implements for brute force and ignorance, and I did not have a screwdriver small enough to deal with the memory compartment cover.

This morning, since it had pissed it down all night, and the ground was unsuitable for any kind of activity except mud wallowing, I took it to a repair shop in town. The man there noticed once when it got as far as the intro screen that there were regularly spaced defects in the screen presentation, which was a clear indication of a memory problem. He opened it up, and took one of the memory boards out, and lo-and-behold, we were back in business. I've only got 1GB of memory now instead of 2GB, but for what I use it for at the moment, I can't tell the difference. I shall be doing some overdue backups though, having had the reminder.

The outside loo and store are progressing slowly, but the waterproofing of the barbican seems to have worked. The blue plastic tarpaulins over the trusses appear to have kept the rain off the plywood parts. I'm more or less finished making them now, since the roofing guy said I was planning on more that were required for the roofing sheete. We ordered those - pressed steel simulated ceramic tiles - earlier this week. Since they are to be specific lengths to fit the house, they will be about two weeks coming. The roofing guys have done most of the work over the bedroom wing, and they will go off possibly to do a job for Maganga now. They'll come back when the sheets are available to put up my trusses over the wide span, and then quickly cover them. That way there'll be less time when we have to keep them covered with plastic to keep the rain off the plywood.

The picture of the handcart is a graphical illustration of the differences between the economies of Africa and those of the developed nations. In the latter, if somebody wanted five bags of cement and a few lengths of rebar delivered, they would probably get put on a mid-size truck with a hydraulic crane, along with other peoples deliveries. The driver would spend a short time zipping round the neighbourhood dropping the things off - one man, short time. In Africa there is no reason to consider the manpower cost as a significant feature. Manual labour is cheap - jobs are scarce, and people must work for peanuts to feed their families. Two strong lads will put ten or fifteen bags of cement on one of these hand carts and haul them using plain manpower up hill and down dale, and through the horrendous mud. Sometimes for a hill they will have to take part of the load off, take the rest off at the top of the hill, then go back and pull the remainder up, and reload - two men for as long as it takes. If there's more stuff, two handcarts will go.

It seems that nice Mr Mugabe in Zimbabwe is up to his usual tricks again. It's about two weeks now since the election, and still no results. More time is obviously required to fudge the results, and - more importantly - to make sure that anyone who might blow the whistle on the fudging process is either shit scared or dead. It has to be said though that Mugabe is keeping his word. He did say that Morgan Tsvangirai would never hold political power in his lifetime. And of course, we wicked British just cant wait to catch Zimbabwe in a moment of weakness, and re colonize it!

A complete 9m truss.

Demi in full protective gear.

The women of my household preparing a meal.
6/4/2008 - More of the same.

It seems I am doomed to truss production for another couple of weeks. The rains have been reasonably kind to us. It has rained mostly at night, but the sun has got out to some extent during the day so that it has been possible to work in the afternoons.

I have a new helper in this endeavour. Hamisi and Adia were unable to agree on terms for his permanent employment, and I had been paying him an excessive daily rate, so we had to part company. Demi has stepped into the gap, and seems to quite enjoy it. She now knows the sequence of making a truss, and can do the drilling of the nail pilot holes and the nailing, as well as the general help with lifting and carrying.

Her hammering was a little tentative to start with, but I got Adia to tell her to think of someone she did not like, and since then it has become more vigorous. Half as a joke, I bought the three of us a hard hat, safety specs, and a dust mask. Actually we need the dust masks for cutting up the plywood sheets, which produces a lot of fine dust - not good for the sinuses as I know from the past. With a lot of hammering going on, the safety specs are a good idea too. I'm less sure about the hard hats. I can certainly use one, since almost every time I go into the pig pen (generator cage) I bang my head on the steel top cross member. Demi and my hats are orange, while Adia has a white management hard hat. They will be mandatory when we get to actually putting the roof up.

Adia has begun the process of modifying our security arrangements. All the Masai we have tried tended to sleep when they should be on watch, so we have changed tack. We are looking for a decent guard dog, and Adia has had a security alarm system fitted by a company called KK Security. This is vaguely similar to the systems for little old ladies - "Help, I've fallen, and I can't reach my beer". In this case however, a bunch of KK Security thugs turn up in a 4WD pickup - hopefully quite quickly - jump into your compound over the fence, and kick the shit out of anybody who should not be there. We have panic buttons in each room of the little house, and one outside. So in the final system, we will hit the button if Bonzo the dog kicks up a fuss in the night, and Bonzo will then savage the intruders and the security people when they arrive.

Apparently you can get guard dogs from the police here. Maganga knows the Regional Police Chief, and is finding out about what is available. Then I'll have to break off trusses and build a decent kennel.

At that point, the Masai can go. We'll then make the barbican (the gate house) somewhat more habitable. This process has already been started. Adia got some of Maganga's lads to build an outside toilet between the small house and the end wall of the plot, and to waterproof the barbican, which was a typical piece of Adam engineering, and leaked like a sieve. As part of the outhouse construction, we will also get a reasonable sized store room, where cement and my toolbox and such things can go. Then we will do something about the barbican door, which at the moment is just a steel grill. At least we should fit it with mosquito netting. Finally we'll find a Hamisi replacement who is more affordable, who will live in the barbican, be fed as as a member of the household. He or she will be the gatekeeper cum gardener cum odd-job man. Well, that's the plan - hope Adia gets a job sometime soon with all these mouths to feed (me, her, Demi, gardener, Cali, and Bonzo).

Since I am now outnumbered by household members with a taste for African food, I am eating more of the latter. There are many starch vegetables in Africa, and I am now eating more rice, cassava, maize flour polento, and green bananas in addition to my favourite potatoes. My cooking activities are largely confined to simple breakfast dishes.
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