August 2008 in Tanzania through the eyes of an Englishman

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Potter's shattered camshafts.

30/8/2008 - The Potter Saga Continued.

Hemal made a complete mess of our engine. The Isuzu Wizard uses the 3.0L 4JX1 DOHC diesel engine, a pretty advanced power unit. He had put the engine cover back on over a camshaft assembly that was missing a couple of bearing cap bolts (circles), and had a misfitted or missing valve cap. Consequently, when our fundi started it, unaware that it had not really been reassembled, both camshafts broke (arrows), one of them in two places, and valves were bent. This really pisses me off.

Our friend Sudi went to Dar for us because he'd been told someone was selling parts from a Bighorn engine, and that it was the same engine type. They lied - it was the older 3.2L engine. However he has now found a 4JX1 engine, and is hopefully getting half of it - the half above the cylinder head gasket. Between the two engines we should have enough parts to do a decent reconstruction.


Have you got your slab yet.


The first section of the partition.


The retaining wall for the paved outdoor area.

23/8/2008 - Potter, Slab 001, and the Building Process.

Well, the Potter story gets worse and worse. When the fundi had reorganized the timing gears, he did start, but the result was disastrous. Apparently Hemal's lot had thought fit to strip down and reassemble the valve gear - why you'd need to do this to change the piston rings I don't know. When they reassembled it they made a complete cock-up, and when the engine started the camshaft broke in two places. Fearing there could be more, the fundi took the head off and dropped the sump to see what sort of mess had been made of the piston rings. It was a miracle that the engine had started, because the pistons were wobbly in their bores, having had new rings fitted that were smaller than the ones removed. It was also clear at that point that fitting new rings had been completely unnecessary, since it must have had no compression to speak of at all when it started.

So now we're back before square one. The fundi knows dealers in Dar and in Mombassa who presumably import second-hand car parts from the customary sources - cars written off or stolen and dismantled in the developed countries then exported to the third world. These dealers are being scoured for a new camshaft. He remains confident that Potter will be fixed, and I still have my fingers crossed, but I'm not holding my breath.

Slab 001 is progressing. If you've seen the movie 2001 - A Space Odyssey, you'll remember the scene at the beginning where a mysterious black slab appeared for the benefit of primitive man, presumably not far from where I'm living now. Well, Slab 001 - the dining table top - is my version. It's not what you'd call optically flat, but it's getting pretty smooth and has a satisfying organic feel about it. I will improve the technology to ensure greater flatness in the future, and will find an older fundi to work on them. The next one to be built may well have the hand sanding done by some of the grandmothers (mabibi) of the village. There are several of them I know who would certainly do work of that sort to make a bit of beer money, and of course they'll be able to gossip while doing it. When 001 is finished I'll show you a picture of it, and if you like it you'll be able to order your own BritsEye slab by size and colour, and in about three months it will turn up by ship. They won't be cheap, but they will be cheap by the standard of something of similar size hand made in Europe or the USA, and they will contribute to the economy of a country that desperately needs jobs.

My other proposed venture in this direction is to provide "BritsEye Breaks - a taste of suburban Africa". When the house is finished, there will be three en-suite guest rooms available. Later there will be some small chalets behind the main house for the same purpose. So for a modest fee, you'll be able to do nothing in peaceful surroundings and drink Tanzanian beer and vodka at very reasonable prices, and eat African or transatlantic food, and have somebody to show you around. Of course the city is also crawling with tour companies who'll take you up Kilimanjaro, or to Ngorogoro or the Serengeti; or you could attend an event at the AICC; or you can dance all night at one of the city's many night clubs. Watch this space - we shall be wanting some guinea pig guests soon at knock down prices, all you have to do is get yourself from Europe or the USA to Tanzania and back.

Fundis put in the first section of the partition between the veranda and the living area this week, and I have got Innocent - one of the fundis who did the rendering of the house - working on the retaining wall for the paved area outside the veranda. It will be nice when it is finished ;=)


Aluminium and steel.

15/8/2008 - Windows.

Now that the finish plastering is essentially finished, the aluminium windows have been installed in the front-facing walls of the house. They are built using bronze coloured anodised aluminium, and I have had some paint mixed to get as close to that colour as possible to be used for the steel windows and the bedroom doors. The grills have been painted silver with aluminium paint.

The decorators spent yesterday glazing the kitchen door, and the steel windows around the back of the house. Hopefully the aluminium window technicians will return today to install the glazed partition wall between the big room and the veranda.

Adia finally reached some sort of conclusion with Hemal, and Potter was taken to the workshop of the car dealer who sold him to us in the first place. The fundi there determined that the timing gears had been put back in the engine without regard for their alignment marks. That would certainly account for his inability to start. We're keeping our fingers crossed that this was the problem throughout and that we're now in with a chance.


Cali helping me with work in the house.

19/8/2008 - Creeping Progress.

I have been finishing off as much as I can of the electrical system. All the lighting switches, and most of the socket outlets in the bedroom wing are now installed and tested. The few remaining sockets will have to wait until wall tiles are there. I had made a couple of mistakes that involved crawling about in the roof space. This is not too difficult though. Spemba's ceiling rafters are strong and will take your weight. Also I got myself a little LED torch head lamp that straps around my forehead with elastic. It is a real boon - like having an extra hand, and always pointing in the right direction.

My helper Cali assists by finding somewhere comfy to sleep nearby while I work.

I omitted to mention that our house helper Stidi decided that domestic service was not for him. Instead he decided that I should buy some cows and goats, and he would become a shepherd. In consequence he has now returned to Kagera, and we have a new house boy called Amos (in Tanzania that's pronounced with the 'A' as in ham), who seems much more at ease with the work he came to do, and who also gets on very well with the dogs. We will see how long he lasts.

Adia has spent most of the week either at Hemal's garage or at the police station trying to thrash out what is to happen about Potter. The trend is toward us removing Potter to another fundi, with the arguments revolving around how much Hemal should pay of the costs of the repairs to the damage he has done. He want's the police off his back, so I feel sure that a conclusion will be reached soon.
10/8/2008 - No Pictures Please.

We were back at Nane Nane again this afternoon, having lunch with Latifa and Rehema. Latifa, who has been working on the Vodacom booth during the show, reported that first thing in the morning, the show ground had been absolutely littered with used condoms.

Apparently the bars in the show ground stay open until about two in the morning, and after six, admission is free. The Saturday has developed into something of a throwback to older African cultural ways. Since there's no work in the morning, a lot of people go there that night to get very drunk and fuck someone else's wife or girlfriend (and vice versa) on the grass. This must have been an anticipated thing, since a team of show ground staff were available Sunday morning to discretely clear away the evidence.

Bummer! Nobody ever tells me about anything. But in any case, if I'd participated, Adia would have cut my dick off with a rusty spoon and thrown it in Lake Victoria. Such is life. Professional sex tourists should add the date to their diaries.


The nominal day.


A small area of tranquility.

8/8/2008 - 8/8.

Having been warned that it would be a madhouse, I visited Nane Nane again on the nominal day. 8/8 is a public holiday here. It also happens to be the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the US Embassies in Mombassa and Dar Es Salaam, and that of the general uprising against the junta in Burma on 8/8/88. Eight is regarded as an auspicious number in some cultures, so make of that what you will.

It was as promised. The passage through to one of the main areas was positively hazardous. A small child almost got trampled right alongside me, but escaped that fate by clinging stubbornly to its father's hand which eventually dragged it out from the melee.

I tolerated this for a while, but then headed south to the quieter end of the show ground. In that area there were more agricultural exhibits, and the stands of small engineering company, and I found a bar that was quite tranquil. One of the engineering companies was showing woodworking equipment made here in Arusha. I took their leaflet and may be tempted at some later point - it would be really useful to have a small saw bench, and a planer/thicknesser, and ...

Adia was on one of her frequently necessary visits to the hairdresser at the 'mall' next to Nane Nane - African hair! So after I'd satisfied myself that 8/8 was as advertised, I escaped and went around the corner to Joyce's bar where I used to go in the evenings when we had Potter - ah yes, I remember him.

I'd forgotten to mention that our patience eventually ran out with Hemal. Last Monday, Adia and one of her Kagera Mafia friends went to the police about the situation. Our friend Tyson, the motor mechanic, had introduced her to another Kagera Mafioso who was a police officer working Nane Nane. He had listened to her story, and sent her to see the appropriate officer at the Arusha police HQ. A vehicle inspector was dispatched to Hemal's workshop to record the state of the vehicle, where he was initially treated with scorn by Hemal.

Later though, the case escalated to the OCCID (Officer commanding the criminal investigation department I should think). He read the report and listened to Adia's tale. Hemal was summoned, and turned up considerably less scornful. Asked what he was going to do about it he pleaded for yet more time. The OCCID gave him until Monday to come up with something. What happens if he doesn't, remains to be seen.


Stripping down a couple of ripe corn cobs.


The kernels from the two cobs.

5/8/2008 - Turning Aztec.

I am surrounded by maize, but can't get decent corn chips. You can get the commercial snack product, loaded with salt, sugar, and artificial flavours and colours, but not plain old corn chips. I see this as a small business opportunity - If I can train up a couple of housewives in the village to make them in the traditional way, and they are tasty and wholesome, I'm sure they would sell. It's worth a go, there is little in the way of capital expenditure required.

Consequently I had been searching the web to find out how maize was traditionally cooked in the Mayan and Aztec cultures. It turns out that in order to make it a balanced primary diet you have to hydrolyze it somewhat by boiling it with an alkali before using it in cooking. Otherwise your diet will be short of the amino acid Niacin, and you'll get Pellagra. In Africa, they generally get around this by planting beans in among the maize, and eating the two together, when the beans provide what's missing in the corn. Of course the beans also make you fart like it's going out of fashion, especially if you wash them down with a couple of bottles of Eagle - but that's beside the point.

If you do it the Aztec way, the alkali of choice is lime, which you can conveniently get by heating limestone in a fire, and mixing the result with water. Then you boil the maize kernels in the alkaline solution, and leave them to ferment for a while. This softens and separates the skins, and does the magic that makes for balanced nutrition. Then you can rub off the skins, and pound the contents into a dough that you can use for making tacos, tortillas, or tortilla chips - bingo!

So today I resolved to conduct an experiment. I searched around the compound and found a couple of cobs that were pretty well matured and dried up on the outside - one large and one small. Then I detached the kernels, and was quite impressed by the quantity I got from just two cobs. When we harvest the whole crop from the compound we'll have quite a quantity of them. Now I'm going to boil then with lime water and leave them to stand until supper time.

Well it worked out to a degree. The corn kernels turned bright yellow as they came up to boiling in the lime water, and after standing for four hours, the skins came off pretty well. However our grinder was not up to the job of converting the resulting nixtamal into masa dough. Some of it that did get ground reasonably fine I flattened out and put under the grill for a few minutes. The result of that was quite encouraging and corn-chip like, though I should have added a little salt.

I need to find some way to grind the stuff properly. One of those big pestle and mortar things where you pound the contents in a standing position with a big stick will probably do the trick. It's called a 'kinu' in Swahili. I shall persevere.


Nane Nane.


Tanzanian Gouda and Cheddar.

4/8/2008 - Nane Nane.

We had been to Nane Nane on Sunday afternoon and wandered round some of the exhibits. I saw a couple of things that caught my attention. One, a stall selling dairy products, where they had some passable cheese tasting rather like Ementhal at TS 7500 for a cheese about 180mm diameter, and a sisal products stand where they had some simple but well finished table mats. We had resolved to go back later in the week and get both. Today I went back because I wanted to talk to Samuel - our steelwork fundi - about the supports for the table (AKA table legs). As it turned out, his workshop inside the show ground was closed, presumably for the duration of the show, so I had another wander around. At the end of the show ground we had not visited there was a more agricultural section featuring the product of various societies from the Arusha region.

There I found more cheese. The first purported to be Gouda, and was TS 3000 for a cheese about 150mm diameter and 60mm deep. The second was a Cheddar, about the same size, and TS 4000. At those prices - about $2.60 and $3.50 respectively - I could not resist, and brought one of each home. I also found tanned cowhides that I will need for the furniture I have to make. We need to go back later so that Adia can ask about the prices of those - I don't want to get the mzungu price.

The Gouda was not impressive, I think it was just too young. The Cheddar however, was excellent, if a little on the mild side. I think if you bought some of them and let them mature for a few months, both would benefit. I shall also get the Swiss style one later in the week, and then I'll have to have a cheese and wine party.


The house at first August.


Adia and the puppies.


The table top after its initial rounding.

3/8/2008 - August Already.

Soon we shall have been living in Tanzania for a year. I think it's fair to say though that we have something to show for our time. Although the house does not look much different from outside than last month, the whiteness has now crept all over inside. Apart from some odd bits it has also had its first coat of paint. Now I really want to get the tiler in to do the big room, as when he's done that, the aluminium windows and partition that are already built and waiting, can be fitted. Before that though we have to decide on the tiles, and that's causing a lot of procrastination on the part of both me and Adia. It's a somewhat permanent appearance feature, so getting it wrong would be a bit of a disaster.

The Nane Nane agricultural show has started, so apparently by 8/8 the main road into town will be a madhouse. We'll probably pop down and see what's going on later today. I have no idea what to expect, but since this is Tanzania I expect there will be a beer tent, so from an Englishman's point of view it should be just the same as any other agricultural/horticultural show.

The guard puppies continue to grow. Gretel can still get through the rectangular spaces in the grill around the big house, though she's starting to have difficulty getting her hips through - perennial female problem. The picture with Adia gives you a good idea of their size, though of course I could not manage to get both of them fully visible at the same time. They had another of their barking incidents at 02:30 this morning, and so the security company got tested again. This time they did a lot better, though they were still two minutes outside their target. The guys don't seem to mind turning out in the least. I expect it gives them something to do in the night that's more interesting than playing cards or whatever.

I have completed the initial rounding of the table ends and edges. Now it has to be filled where there are imperfections, and then sanded, and then sanded, and then sanded. I am still vaccilating about the design of the stand that will hold it at eating height, and the design of that will no doubt influence the design of the chairs.
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