April 2009 in Tanzania through the eyes of an Englishman

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Rancid cheescake.
30/4/2009 - Way behind.

What with trying to get the small house finished, and my obsessive work on the DCat software - which is going very well, I have been lazy here. I knew what I wanted to do, but it just never materialized.

The 30th of April is my birthday, so as I leave this month I am now 67 years old. I shall take a picture each year from now on to record the process of my decrepitude. At present, I still feel pretty fit and am quite active on several fronts, intellectual, sexual, and physical. I hope that the Mexican Flu pandemic doesn't come and strike me down at this point, since there are still a lot of things that I'd like to achieve.

The small house is almost there. I am close to finishing a built-in wardrobe in the bedroom there, then that's about it. After that it's just a question of buying the items we've decided to provide as part furnishing, which we should just have the budget for. Its picture will replace the usual one of the big house on the first May page. I like it, and would have no problem moving back in! We need to get our marketing department into gear and find a tenant.

The puppies of various sizes are looking really good at the moment. We must have got their feeding right. Hansel is getting big - not by the day as he did when he was a puppy, but gradually, and then you suddenly notice that he's bigger than you thought. He and Gretel are both in great shape. Big chest small waist, and very strong legs. Their acceleration from a standing start is amazing, and these days if there's anything in the way they have the confidence to just jump over it. I would not like them to take exception to me, and on the contrary, we seem to get on better than ever. Sigi has been banned from the veranda now, though he has the run of the bedroom wing if he wants to shelter there at night. He doesn't seem to use it though, preferring to do the guard dog stuff with his parents. He is a sweetie.
The weather has dried up again, but the drenching we got the other day has everything growing like Topsy. Of course, it's always the weeds that grow fastest. The corn and beans are doing well though, and there are beans all over the yard that I planted like Johnny Appleseed. My broccoli seedlings are almost ready to transplant, the cucumbers are coming on well, and the lettuce won't be far behind.


These say it all this morning.
29/4/2009 - A Weather Excess.

During the night it rained torrentially. It was not a thunderstorm - not even a distant flash of lightening to be seen. It was just plain rain. But listening to it hitting the roof it felt like there was some giant standing over the house pouring giant buckets of water over it. It was actually quite scary.

When I ventured out this morning I was surprised to find that there was very little in the way of erosion, and not much mud. Adia always says that you get the worst mud after relatively light rain, and this morning certainly appeared to support her theory.

Sigi turned up looking for his breakfast only slightly damp, so he must have had the sense to find some shelter. He was on the veranda at one point around 2am, but later he was probably in his lair under the deck where there's protection from the rain from the roof extension, and where he can join in at being a guard dog. The big dogs sit on the deck when it rains heavily.

Yesterday evening, everything ran out. The gas cylinder gave up halfway through cooking potatoes, there was no kerosene left, and this morning we are down to the last two KW-Hours on the prepaid electricity meter. So the first job today is a trip into town to top up the electricity and get a new gas cylinder and some kerosene.

After that we'll think about the tasks for the day.


The corn and beans in wet soil.


The lemongrass base for our tea and coffee.
28/4/2009 - A Weather Reprieve.

The rains seem to have got re-established. Since I last wrote, it has rained at night quite heavily several times. The corn and the beans are happy, and looking very perky. On the down-side, the big dogs appear to have developed a morbid interest in our vegetable patch. They have realized that they can simply jump over the chicken wire fence and then trample on the veggies. I believe they are doing this out of jealousy because the little puppy is getting more attention than they are.

On Sunday afternoon I did some hoeing between the corn and bean plants to try and keep the weeds under some control. But it was too hot. Within an hour I was sweating so profusely I could barely see through my glasses, and I started to make mistakes, killing beans as well as weeds. So I had to pack it in. Since then it has been cooler, but the ground has been too wet for the hoe.

I finished the bed apart from sanding it and applying varnish. I will leave it to dry out for a while before I do that. Now in the small house, I'm fitting the shelves under the kitchen work tops, and I've nearly finished that.

My next assignment is to make a cage for Sigi. He has to get used to being locked up at times, just like his parents, who have no trouble with it at all. We might actually have left it a little late, as if you put him in one of their kennels he kicks up a terrific fuss. We'll just have to let him do it until he calms down.

The new Masai, Paulo, is now in residence, and we like what we have seen so far. Because he was a friend of Moses, he used to visit before, and the dogs know him and seem inclined to do as he says - usual reason, he feeds them. At the same time though, the Masai do seem to have a way with animals.

The lemongrass - which grows in the yard - caught my attention as a photographic subject. Its effect is mostly aromatic, and thus lost on me with my non-existent sense of smell. But Adia likes it, and the brew makes perfectly good coffee, so I use the same stuff.

My work on DCat - my web application server in D - is going pretty well. I have quite a lot of it working now, and its web page is getting a few hits. At this point I really need to set up a Linux machine so I can get it working the same way on that as it is on Windows XP. The thing is a tremendous amount of work, but a lot of it gets done at night or early in the morning. I don't need as much sleep as I used to do. However, downloading Ubuntu is more or less out of the question with the lousy bandwidth here, so I'm searching for a CD with the computer people in town.


Sigi restored to his usual self.


My new bed design.
23/4/2009 - Some Good, Some Bad.

OK, first the good things. Whatever it was that happened to Sigi in the night a couple of days ago, he quickly reverted to his normal self. He's bouncing about all over the place again now.

As I told you, our Masai, Moses, left in some sort of fit of pique, and Chinga turned out to be a misfit. So we've been without night guard for a few days. I don't like this, because it means the job falls to us, and you have to stay half awake at night. The puppies don't like it either because, I think, they feel they have no backup, and they bark at almost anything. Anyway, Paulo, who used to be Rehema's Masai turned up yesterday with Johana, who acted as substitute for Moses when he went to visit his family. Johana has a job now, but Paulo hasn't, so he's coming to us tomorrow. I like Paulo, and would have poached him from Rehema if that had been a reasonable thing to do. But now I don't have to, since they argued, and she kicked him out. It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good.

The new bed design seems to be sound. The picture shows most of the structure assembled, with the just the side and end pieces to be added. I used the so-called reject timber to make the planks that will support the mattress. They are also structural. The characteristic of the reject wood is that it has curved edges with bark. I just cut off enough of that to make them a reasonably even width, then planed one side smooth. The row of planks is then screwed to two pieces of 4x2 set in from the sides of the bed, and the bed legs are fastened to them with lag bolts so that the legs are set in from the corners. I like the effect, and the whole thing seems very sturdy.

The bad thing is the weather. The rains seem to have stopped, which is really bad news for the country. They should be in full spate now, and if they don't start again, and soon, there will be no crops this year, and many people will starve. It's very worrying.


Beans planted between the corn rows.


Sigi's lair.
21/4/2009 A Miscellany.

Well, I got the rest of the beans planted on Sunday, and we actually got a bit of rain on Sunday night. Whether it will have been enough to get them started, time will tell.

I got my web application server in the D programming language into a state where I felt it could be posted. Anyone who is interested can find the documentation and the source code on the DCat area of BEV. It has had quite a few hits - well, by BEV standards - over the last couple of days.

This is timely, since I must now get back to some work on the small house. Amina has lent us some money so we can get the work finished, and hopefully let it out sooner rather than later. I am making a bed today to a new design I came up with in bed one night. I'll let you know how it goes. Yesterday I did a bunch of small things like light fittings, replacing the inline heated shower head, and connecting the sink waste to a trap and the drain.

Sigi has adopted the space under the deck outside the small house. He can go there when the big dogs are getting bumptious, or when it is raining. Today he seems a bit down. He turned up on the veranda this morning looking like a drowned rat, made a half-hearted attempt at eating his breakfast, and has slept most of the day. I don't know what happened to him during the night. Chinga blocks the way under the gate with boards. Maybe that didn't happen last night, and he got out and into some sort of trouble.

He brightened up a bit half an hour ago and came to give my feet and ankles a good biting, but now he's back to sleep. If he isn't back to his normal self in the morning he'll have to go to the vet.

17/4/2009 - Low-Cost Progress.

This month I am looking for things to do that cost next to nothing, but might produce some useful result. So today, I spent some time on my D programming language stuff, and some time close to the soil.

Close to the soil, I was planting beans between the rows of maize that we now have growing on our spare plot next door. This is a traditional cropping method here. You put in rows of the maize seeds first, and then when they have grown to the point when you can clearly see the rows, you plant beans between them.

The beans seem to do OK in the shade, and being legumes, they fix some Nitrogen to feed the maize. When they're both grown - seems that their growth and maturity timescales suit this way of doing things - I want to keep the whole crop and use it for our personal consumption. Adia is more inclined to sell the crop when it is ripe, and let the buyer harvest it. We will see.

Programming-wise, I have made substantial progress today, after several days when I was struggling with a variety of problems. What I've got now can (roughly) behave according to an XML description of how the web application should work, and load user-provided modules to supply the logic for individual pages.

The documentation that I have so far is not far behind, so there will be a BEV sub-page soon that describes what I have been up to.

Adia's mum Amina got back again today. After her trip with Adia she had gone to visit friends and relatives in DSM. I think that while she is here, she will probably sack Chinga, who she pretty much hired, after having had him as a helper in the past. We have not been impressed with his performance, and It's my personal view that he is not comfortable here, and will probably take being sacked quite well.

Puppy Sigi continues to grow by the day. He is at an age now where his primary objective is to bite everything in sight, though also I have to say that that when he has not seen you for a while, he is pleased as Punch to come and get petted. I still don't have a really good picture. The camera in my phone is just too slow.


Statutory puppy picture.
14/4/2009 - A Livewire.

Sigi is now nearly six weeks old, and has a distinct personality, and is beginning to develop some attitude toward the bigger dogs.

He went for his first shots and check-up at the vet's surgery yesterday. There we removed some ticks from his ears, and the vet checked out his heartbeat. Apparently the heart is high on the list of suspects for inbred puppies. Sigi's appears to be OK at present. If you could see him move around at the moment, you'd probably reach the same conclusion yourself. He's getting to be very quick, and very determined.

This being the case, it is difficult to get a good picture. He won't pose, and the camera on my phone is pretty slow in reacting after you press the button.

He sleeps next to the door to the living room out on the veranda now, and seems to be well on the way to house training himself, since now he usually goes out onto the grass if he wants to pee.

As you will probably have noticed, I'm becoming very fond of him.
13/4/2009 - Too Little Too Late.

I am pleased to see President Obama lifting some regulations governing interaction by US citizens with Cuba. But it's just not enough. Sanctions were imposed on Cuba shortly after Fidel Castro's forces defeated those of right-wing dictator Batista in 1959. Yes, 1959 - 50 years ago.

Now Batista was a dictator - had people killed who didn't agree with him. But he was replaced by something worse - a communist! Just how bad could things get?

It would have served the US and the people of Cuba well if the Eisenhower administration of the time had simply ignored this change. After all, the worst you could say was that one bad apple had been replaced by another. But no, the people of Cuba had to be protected from the scourge of communism (rather like the people of Vietnam).

The result was that a large number of Cuba's higher classes jumped ship and moved to New York and Florida. Very soon they formed pressure groups that were a serious concern to politicians seeking election in those states. Those politicians worked on other politicians to convince them of the sense of isolating Castro, and soon the situation became entrenched.

Of course it wasn't helped by the missile crisis in 1963. But if the US had not forced Cuba into the arms of the Soviets, then that would never have happened anyway. The Cuban economy, Batista or Castro, didn't need confrontation, it needed US citizens to continue to buy Cuban sugar, rum, cigars, and holidays.

I believe that the holidays became another perpetuating factor in the equation. The USA, with its strange laws about the age of maturity (you can die for your country when you are 18, but you can't buy a beer) fostered a strange culture. Various states, particularly in the east, where Mexico is a long way away, turned a blind eye in some respects, and encouraged under 21 students to holiday there, where you could probably get plastered without too much trouble. Soon it became clear to the politicians in those states, that if the Cuba embargo was lifted, the industry that moved students to the east coast resorts would move them to Cuba for not much more. Once there, they could get plastered legally for a lot less cash, enjoy the Carribean climate, and fraternize with rather willing Cuban girls/men at the same time.

So, just like in Vietnam - now a peaceful but still struggling country that is a threat to no one - don't blame the communists, blame US politicians!

As a parting swipe, let me ask how sure anyone is after the last year, that US style capitalism is in fact the dogs knob, and that all other forms of government should be suppressed?


Passion fruit.
13/4/2009 - More Gratuitous Flora.

All the organic rubbish we have had since we moved into the small house at the beginning of last year has gone onto the compost heap, and is now remarkably compact. At this stage I should be turning it over to get some air into it, but it has been taken over by a new owner.

A passion fruit vine has sprouted out of the bottom of the heap and is now growing vigorously along the wall behind. My guess is that it has as many roots going up into the heap as it has going down into the ground. So it looks like the compost, which should have got dug into the vegetable patch, will now have to be dedicated to the passion fruit vine.

This is no big deal, the compost didn't really cost us anything, and I can get cow manure for next to nothing for the vegetable patch. On the positive side, it looks like the vine is going to be a productive one. It is only about nine months old and it's already producing fruit. You can't eat the damn things of course - they are all seeds - but they make wonderful fruit juice. They have pretty high acidity so you can mix them with blander things like mangoes and bananas.

I love it when useful things like that just grow themselves.


Water going to waste.


Adia with combed out hair.
12/4/2009 Wet Weekend.

The rain up to present has mostly been at night, but now it's raining during the day as well. The water scene picture was taken from the veranda of a bar close to my barbers shop. I had gone there yesterday since we were going to a wedding reception in the evening, and I was looking rather like a sheep. As I arrived, so did a rather sharp thunderstorm which took the power out. So I went into the bar to wait until they got their generator sorted out.

I think that if the water that falls as rain during the wet season here could be collected and stored on a reasonable scale, then it would be possible to irrigate substantial area around the city with consequential economic benefits. As it is heavy rain like this just runs off the roofs and into watercourses that lead to small rivers. They run south, and eventually dry up somewhere out on the plain - such a waste.

Adia has been away for a few days on a mission with her mother. She went to some place in the middle of nowhere about four hours drive south west and a river crossing by boat from a town called Morogoro. Apparently the river had real-life hippos and crocodiles. I'm trying to persuade her to write up the trip, but I'm not confident that it will happen.

She was working on her hair too, and combed it out before going to the salon. The picture's not good. I think the camera focussed somewhere completely different because of back lighting, but you can get the idea. I rather like it like that, and her hairdresser said the same thing. I tried to persuade her to go to the wedding reception with that style, but she wasn't having any.

The puppy Sigi is still growing at a tremendous rate, and has now become quite agile. He can get up the steps to the patio, and since he's still small enough to fit through the grill squares, he is now a regular visitor on the veranda, especially when he thinks it's a meal time, which is pretty often. I'll get a progress picture tomorrow after he's been shampooed.

I've been working away on my web application server in the D programming language. I have it running as a Windows service now, and accepting requests from the Apache web server. Within a few days I'll have got enough stuff together to put together a web page about it - though it is still to a large extent vapourware - but I think it's getting there.
10/4/2009 - The Wee Small Hours.

I woke up at about 04:15 this morning to go for a pee, and noticed as I was in the bathroom there was some sort of chirping noise at the back of the house. Now there are lots of chirping noises around here, insects, birds, and so on. Nonetheless, I thought I'd better take a look, so I pulled on my work jeans and a tee shirt and wandered out into the night.

The dogs were by the door, vigilant as ever. They're lonely at night now that Moses has gone, and they want you to make a fuss of them. In Gretel that's manifested by a tendency to jump up to get to you, covering you in mud in the process. Anyway I fended her off, and we went round the back of the house to discover that it was the water pump, which sounded like it had destroyed its bearings. I turned it off at the outside switch and checked the big tank. It was completely empty.

We've been having problems with the float valve recently, with the tank overflowing and wasting water, and thus money. So I'm guessing that Adia has impressed on Chinga the importance of turning off the water when it's not needed. Unfortunately she hasn't similarly impressed on him that it's necessary to maintain a good level of water in the large ground-level tank at all times.

I trudged down the yard to turn the water on, and was greeted by young Sigi, also anxious for company. He's lonely too, having no brothers and sisters, and the big dogs tend to be over rough with him. After I'd run water into the tank for maybe a quarter of an hour I tried the pump again and it primed itself and sounded more normal. But I suspect the damage is done, and the mistake will cost us a new pump at about $85, which is just the sort of expense we don't need right now.

It didn't actually stay on for long. It must have more or less filled the top tank before the bottom one ran dry. So I turned it off and went back down the yard, now in pissing down rain, to turn the water back off so the big tank would not overflow.

It's about 05:15 now, probably past peak burglar time since by now some people will be on their way to some jobs. So I'll go and see if I can get back to sleep for a couple of hours.


New look forum.
7/4/2009 - Made the Switch.

OK, so I have thrown away the existing forum. There were no messages in there to speak of anyway.

I have replaced it with a much simpler web-based news reader by a guy called Terence Yim who I think lives in Hong Kong. It gives access to the Usenet newsgroup free.blogs.britseyeview. Surprisingly there was no entry in the Usenet free tree for blogs, but there is now. The NNTP (Network News Transfer Protocol) server that is used is hosted by a German outfit - albasani.net. I knew nothing about NNTP the day before yesterday, but Alexander Bartolich - presumably the 'alba' in 'albasani' was most helpful.

The Usenet free tree is what it's title suggests. You are free to say anything you like - there's no moderation and no censorship. So we'll see what sort of spam I get on there - at least one message so far, but it was in Polish, so I have no idea what it said. This particular NNTP server is text only, so we shall be spared the porno images.
4/4/2009 - Frustration.

I have had a discussion group associated with BritsEyeView for some time now - possibly three years. In that time I don't remember getting a single response to what I'd written on the web site.

At the same time though, I have had a small but constant stream of people registering with the forum, but never leaving any message. I presume that this is because they want to use it for some other purpose, such as user to user messaging. I spend some time deleting such registrations every week. So I am considering removing the whole thing.

Now I am also a regular visitor to the D programming languge newsgroup. This works just as I want - a plain old Usenet newsgroup. There's no need to join - if you want to say something, you can just post a message. If you don't, your other option is to just go away - suits me!

However, to make this idea work, you have to have a cooperating NNTP server that will allow you to create your own private news groups. There is no way I can host one here, the bandwidth restriction is an absolute killer. So I want this sort of facility to be provided by some US or Euro web site. It you have to look at some minimal advertising, then so be it. Is there anyone out there who knows of something like this?

I have spent all day fighting with this, and got nowhere. So I am pissed off - so much so that I had an extra beer tonight and am now classified as being officially drunk by Adia. Such is life!



The house at April first.
3/4/2009 - April Already.

We got a new helper from Bukoba yesterday, summoned by Amina (Adia's mum). He's called Chinga, and although he is living in the Masai hut by the gate. He is not intended as a replacement for the Masai, but rather as a domestic helper. He did this job for Amina at one time, and she trusts him, and that's a thing that's not particularly easy to achieve.

The introduction to the dogs went quite well. There was a few minutes of vicious barking and growling and showing of teeth, but they soon calmed down. Now of course he has fed them, so he is definitely a friend.

As if they might have known, KK Security turned up in the middle of the night on a random patrol. Chinga heard the vehicle coming and pressed the KK emergency button. So at least he's a reasonably light sleeper like me, knows what to do, and will be an extra pair of ears in the night.

We've spent every bit of money we can afford on the small house this month, so development activity must now grind to a halt. Actually we've spent more than that, and my Internet connection will get shut off in due course until we have the money to pay.
However I have the PCMCIA modem that we got to go to Bukoba at Christmas, so I can use that - albeit more slowly - and pre-pay it as I go.

It was my daughter Rachel's birthday on the first - the big '40'. We spoke briefly on the phone and exchanged emails. Rachel - I hope the evening went well.

We woke this morning to find that Potter had a flat tyre - passenger side front. Chinga and I put on the spare which is OK, but I'm damned if I can find a good jacking point at the front of the car. The point we used pushed the jack to its limit but I just could not find anything closer to the ground. I hope the tyre is OK, I don't want to have to replace it at this point.

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Brits Eye View is an Englishman's six-year personal blog about life in Arusha, Tanzania, and previously in Bangalore, Manhattan, and the Bronx. It deals with life in general, building a house, food and drink, computer programming, opinion on current affairs, 20th century history, and so on. It may give you some insight into what life is like in 'the third world', or encourage you to visit Tanzania.