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April 2012 in Tanzania through the eyes of an Englishman

Richard here on my birthday.

30/4/2012 - 70 Today.

Life has a kind of road map. You are born, you learn to speak and to understand speech. Then you learn to read and write, and - if you are lucky - this sets you up for getting educated. Then you get into the stage of having a family or families, and start your working life. This stage will probably see you through the birthdays at 30, 40, 50, and 60.

Being 70 is something different. When I was 60 there was the expectation of a life change to something that was potentially quite agreeable. Retirement at 65 saw the realization of this. It went quite well, and I've done a lot since.

But this 10 yearly birthday is 70. The next recognized main event on the road map now becomes death. I can invent events or targets in between, and meet them or fail them, and some events will come unbidden. But however you slice and dice it, there it is, the man with the scythe is standing at the end of the road, staring you in the face. The next major event in your life.

And there's no timetable. My mum lived until she was 94, but my dad died at my age plus a few months. From now on BEV is a journal of the unknown. Check it out. It's a journey you will likely have to make.

My son Richard gave me a super birthday present, he got himself on a plane and came to visit, bearing gifts and greetings from himself, and from my daughters Rachel and Leo. We had an expensive - by my standards - party yesterday with various friends and the village 'elders'. I've been nursing a hangover today, and Adia is not speaking to me over some misdemeanour. Not a 100% happy birthday, but then, 'as thou sowest, so shalt thou reap.' In the traditional summary, life's a bitch, then you die.

Boogaloo tonight I hope for the Manchester derby match.

Wildlife for sale.

24/4/2012 - Ingenuity in Corruption.

There was a wonderful piece on live TV in the Tanzanian parliament the other day detailing a for-personal-profit money making scheme being operated by officials of the Ministry of Tourism.

This involved the illegal sale of wild animals - elephants, giraffes, and what have you, which these government officials are supposed to protect - to foreign buyers.

Think of the organization involved to capture an elephant, transport it in secret to the coast, and get it onto a ship with the appropriate documentation. The mind boggles! Of course, I suppose, the movement could have been for 'research', similar to Japanese whale hunting.

The MP presenting the story gave chapter and verse, and one might think this would result in prosecutions, and an investigation of who within the ministry knew about this. On typical government form though, they are likely to be 'reprimanded', then transferred to some other government job on a similar salary.

How could this be, you might ask? Well one explanation popular amongst the public here is that their bosses might just have known about the scheme, and possibly even have been getting a cut from the proceedings. Under those circumstances you would not want to have any disgruntled ex-employees talking to the press, would you?

The emerging dressing table.

22/4/2012 - Actually Back To Woodwork.

The various bits of dried-up dead skin that were covering the wounds on my left fingers have now broken off so I can see the state underneath. Both fingers have some thin new skin over the wound areas. The least wounded finger is already starting to show the developing signs of my fingerprint. It's amazing how that happens. The saw cut away a chunk of skin, and some of the flesh underneath, But now as the new skin grows, it has the fingerprint marks exactly lined up with the remaining old ones. DNA is a marvellous mechanism! So I am now more confident about starting quite physically demanding jobs again, with due care.

Adia's dressing table is getting there. The picture shows the bits heaped up together but not actually yet assembled. It is far from conventional. About the only reasonably standard feature is that it has drawers. The tower structure to the right will hold Adia's extensive collection of handbags. These currently hang on a modernist coat/hat stand that does not really go with our bedroom. You'll see what I mean later. Then there will also be a separate mirror attached to the wall rather than to the item.

Once the thing is finished I have to decide on a seat to go with it. I have a design in mind, but still have to discuss this with herself.

The latter has now become totally obsessed with Tanzanian politics. She spends most of the time listening to local radio channels, watching local TV, and searching for avant-guard websites that deal with the subject. At least now, because of this new obsession, I have some idea what is happening in the country. The times they are a'changing, but I think we will have to wait for the next election in 2015 before we have the possibility of seeing anything radical. However, there is a considerable groundswell, so I could be wrong.

My eldest son Richard is going to visit us for my 70th birthday next weekend, a wonderful birthday present. I believe I will organize a 'birthday bash' next Sunday (the day before my birthday.) Just what form this will take, and the invitee list, remains to be determined. Leaving things to the last minute adds a certain 'edge'.

A new toy.

16/4/2012 - Almost Back To Woodwork.

Almost because when I sawed an 8"x1" plank of mninga in half this morning, the two halves immediately adopted opposite curves across the width. This from a plank that has been drying out in my workshop for at least three weeks in quite warm weather.

So I dragged myself off into town, where the traffic was horrendous because the police had blocked off roads to accommodate the prime ministers departure to the airport in one of Harry's cars. This annoys me just as much here as it used to do when you could not get on an interstate because of a presidential motorcade back in the USA.

When I finally got to the wood yard, they had no power, so I had to take the wood in its raw state, skirting around the town to get home. Luckily, one of the local woodworking shops had power, and planed it for me. I took the wood home, and sawed the most promising looking piece in half. The two halves immediately adopted opposite curves across the width - you can't win!

On the way home I finally succumbed to temptation and bought a router. I had a bad time cutting grooves to joint the pieces for the dressing table top using the little table saw. The table is just not big enough to get the horizontal stability you need to cut a groove of constant depth. I whiled away the rest of the afternoon setting it up and making some test cuts, some of which you can see in the picture. From what I've seen so far I'm quite pleased with it

I put two of the curved pieces edge down on the workshop floor with a big stone on top, as per the recommendations of Tanzanian carpenters. So now I'm waiting for a small miracle overnight. You can never tell with wood. We will see.

Last bandage off.

11/4/2012 - Dear Diary.

Cheddar cheese on toast for breakfast, with black coffee, followed by corn flakes with sliced banana and milk. Not what you'd call exotic, but satisfying.

Went into town to investigate an Internet price offer from the phone company 'Tigo'. Their MAX package two month price was right (by Tanzanian standards - about $50/month), but unfortunately they only had your typical USB cellular modem. These are fine if you are running Windows, and just want to feed Internet to one machine, but they effectively bypass the SOHO market and are generally problematic for Linux users. I want an interface that will allow me to take a plain old LAN cable to my wireless router, and thus make the Internet connection available to me and Adia and our guests. I can do that by dedicating an XP machine purely to acting as a gateway, but that is to me an environmentally unfriendly solution, and also would not work using the battery/inverter that I currently use to sustain the Internet connection through power cuts.

Checked again at my existing mobile company to see if they had been able to determine how to get my phone to use their SMTP server to send emails. The crowd in there was just about out of the door, so I abandoned that for the day. I want to be able to do facebook status postings by sending an email with attached mobile phone photo. I can get facebook on the phone on a good day, but I don't want the overhead of loading a web page when I can just send an email.

Adia and I went for another bike ride this afternoon. This time a more sensible length, about an hour and a half. Much more comfortable than the previous three hour one. After a shower during which the last bandage came off, I felt quite relaxed and pleasant. In that benevolent mood I managed to fix two magnetic door catches to a pair of the wardrobe doors before I went for an evening beer.

Minced beef, mashed potatoes and veg for supper - nothing exciting, but the day has flown!

Our ex-MP.

The sizeable crowd.

7/4/2012 - Adia's Change of Mind.

Adia has usually been reluctant to attend political meetings, or publicly comment on her political views. Yesterday though, her excitement and curiosity got the best of her. There was a meeting at a gathering ground usually known as NMC (due to its proximity to the prominent silos of the National Milling Company), the purpose of which was for the CHADEMA leaders to explain their position on the sacking of Arusha's MP by the High Court. She attended, and not to be left out I went and joined her in the role of observer. I think that as a mzungu, I was in quite a small minority among the crowd.

There was a sizeable turnout, though my crowd counting expertise is somewhat limited. I gather that a dense crowd is about 1 person per 0.5 square metres. Looking at Google Maps (I was roughly at -3.376495, 36.686787) I'd say the occupied area was about 150x100m - 15,000 square metres. Not all of it was close packed, so I'll say from 20 - 30 thousand people. Surprisingly there was no noticeable police presence, and particularly no riot police. The popular explanation for this was that the crowd/police ratio would have been so unfavourable that the police would have been in grave peril if anything had gone wrong. It could have course also have been that the powers that be wanted to play down the significance of the event. There was no mention of it on national TV for instance.

I should add that during the time I was there, and from what I've heard later, that the crowd, though quite emotionally charged, was completely peaceful. So police presence would have been superfluous or possibly worse.

Of course, there was little of the speeches that I could understand, though the repeated chanting of "peoples power" was clear enough, as was the dissatisfaction of the crowd over the sacking, and the popularity of the newly elected CHADEMA MP for Arumeru East. The latter gave a very effective impromtu speech that had the crowd roaring with approval.

The outcome was, as far as I can determine, that the High Court judgement would be appealed - the leaders live in hope of doing better with the Supreme Court. Otherwise, they felt, the governing party would attempt to repeat the ploy on all possible occasions. I'm not convinced that this was the correct decision for them. A combination of an appeal by the ex-MP as an individual, to clear his name, and to invalidate that ploy; and of another by-election with a new and well-known candidate to hopefully inflict a really bad defeat on the government party while the iron was hot; would have been more 'Napoleonic'. This of course could easily be nonsense on my part, since I don't know the law. Quite possibly if Lema appeals he will remain MP until the final outcome of the case is known, though he could of course resign after lodging the appeal.

The loaf may well not yet be fully baked - time will tell.

Inaccessible bus stop.

5/4/2012 - Oddities.

The bus-stop sign caught my eye as I was walking along Njiro Road at Nane Nane today. There is a widening of the road, as in a lay-by, at that point, so I can see the intended motivation. However, much of Njiro road is bounded, as here, by quite deep and wide uncapped drainage ditches. In most cases these can only be crossed by people who are both bold and athletic, or who don't mind making a spectacle of themselves.

One might have thought that the bus company would have provided a local cap to the ditch at this point, but no. There is no bus company. The buses are the daladalas, mini buses like the one at the upper centre of the picture. They are owned, singly or in groups, by private individuals, and they compete fiercely. So providing such a facility would assist the others, and is not going to happen.

Instead of using such potential organized bus stops, they prefer to stop at road junctions, blocking them in the process and creating quite serious traffic hazards. The traffic police ignore this completely.

My other oddity is covered by my micro-blog item for the day. Some CCM supporters had initiated a civil court action against Arusha's CHADEMA MP on the grounds that he made defamatory remarks about his opposition during the 2010 election campaign. He was elected regardless. But today, a high court decision invalidated his election. This is strange to me in a couple of respects. First, it is unusual in the jurisdictions I know of for an elected representative to be removed unless found guilty of some criminal offence. Second, it costs a fortune to get a civil action through the courts in Tanzania - in various surveys, the judiciary has been classified as one of the most corrupt of all organizations. Also, a contentious politically-based case like this one would probably have been refused when referred to higher courts unless there was pressure from above.

I thought there would be blood on the streets of Arusha following the announcement, but no. Everything was calm. My analysis of the reason for this is that the judgement will presumably cause a by-election. The inhabitants believe that this will result in the re-election of the same candidate, who has not been disbarred, or the election of an alternative CHADEMA candidate. This process will make CCM look even more out-of-touch, shall I say, than they did for initiation of the court action in the first place - since when have election campaigns anywhere been free from a degree of mud slinging.


2/4/2012 - April

My woodwork is on hold at present because of the damaged fingers, the picture shows progress to date on Adia's dressing table. I had started to make the table top when I touched the saw, and that - the top - now only needs gluing up, planing and sanding. Then I have to think of something creative to put at the side opposite the drawer pedestal.

Yesterday there was a by-election in one of the Arusha constituencies - Arumeru East. The Main opposition party, CHADEMA, took it from the ruling party CCM (which has ruled for far too long for any party in any country - 50 years since independence). This despite CCM's best efforts, legal and possibly otherwise, to influence the result. Most of the party's top brass were in the constituency spending taxpayers money, and there have been several reports of skulduggery that I can not of course verify.

The votes were approximately CHADEMA 32k, CCM 26k. In the past it has apparently been traditional for some of the CCM votes to be cast by dead people, so the latter figure may be a little high. There is also a tradition of the purchase of voting cards, which, if you are very poor, might seem an attractive source of cash for the next meal. If that happened, the CHADEMA figure might be a little low.

It was widely feared here that if CCM were declared the winner, there would be blood on the streets, since few in the population thought they could win by fair means. We have been spared that. However, the CHADEMA win cranks up the ante for the next general election in 2015.

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What is BEV?

Brits Eye View is the personal blog of a 69 year old Englishman - Steve Teale, started in January 2003. It's currently 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.

I started playing with it in January 2003, when I was living in Manhattan. At the time I felt I was going nowhere, and exposing the details of my life could be no worse than not. Almost immediately I changed partners, and quickly recognized that while I might be prepared to live in a goldfish bowl, other's weren't.

The same year I lost my job - recession, exhausted my NY State unemployment benefits, and got a job in India. Consequently a large proportion of BEV was written in Bangalore. India was OK, but I could not see what I was going to do there when I retired.

This uncertainty was resolved when I met my current partner Adia in 2006. She was a Tanzanian, studying law in India, so I came Tanzania in 2007. Here we have built a house, and made new friends. The rest, you can read on BEV.

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Visiting Tanzania?

Adia's Place now has On-Line Booking. Please feel free to check it out. It may not be 100% yet, but if you get a confirmation email then it's a safe bet that we got your booking.

In the short term we will re-confirm.

If you have done all the usual tourist destinations, then make a leap and discover Africa! Come and visit Arusha, Tanzania.

You might be able to stay at - a great centre for safaris to the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Kilimanjaro, and of course our own pet volcano, Mount Meru.

Please feel free to contact us. We can tell you about hotels, facilities, prices of basics, etc.

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Studying in Arusha?

Some of the major study centres in Arusha are at Njiro. There, you'll find the Arusha Institute of Accountancy, ESAMI, and TRAPCA.

If you are not happy with the accommodation there, you are only a 5 minute drive from - a secure haven of tranquillity with African food like your mother cooked for you. Price is competitive with the on-campus accommodation.

Just call Adia - 0762 442888 - and she'll come and get you and show you her place. You won't regret it!

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Top 20 BEV Pages.

Exchange Rates.

BEV Software Blog.

I've been working recently on D programming language interfaces to SQL database systems. This is very much work-in-progress, but you can read more about it on the software page. Source code is available at github.

This work is currently on hold, since I am making furniture for our bedroom and there's only one of me.

Moods of Meru.

Mt Meru


Random BEV Poem.


If you are a Linux user, you might want to try this piece of graphical design software I worked on last year. You can use it to design business cards, labels, logos for your web site, and things of that sort.

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