August 2010 in Tanzania through the eyes of an Englishman

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Visit Tanzania?

If you are planning to visit Tanzania, and come to Arusha, please feel free to contact us. We can tell you about hotels, facilities, prices of basics, etc. Arusha is a great base for trips to the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Kilimanjaro, and of course our own pet volcano, Mount Meru. We now have very pleasant bed and breakfast rooms available at $20 to $25 per night - see Adia's Place. The South House is also now available for longer term visitors.
The BEV Retrospective - 1942/2002.

There was life before Find out what it was like in the second half of the 20th century viewed through the Brits Eye. Read the BEV E-book, currently featuring the year 1970. This is really getting rather stale - it's been stuck there for ages now, but being retired is so busy. I am theoretically working on 1971.

30/8/2010 - A Mistake in Evolution?

Some evolutionary changes are obviously difficult, while others may be relatively easy. For example, if some human tribe had developed three arms, that might have made them considerably more versatile, think in terms of fighting someone who had three arms rather than your two.

Then think about the easier changes. Some people have long femurs - the upper leg bone - and some don't. One might assume therefore that there is no great evolutionary advantage in having a long femur, since we manage to get by with some short, some long.

Our helper Wrega announced to Adia a couple of days ago that he wanted to get circumcised. Apparently this is a cultural thing with some African tribes, and it is a reasonably strong thing in Islam, even though it is not mentioned in the Quran - the final statement. Wrega is what I would call part-muslim. He takes or leaves aspects of the religion as he feels fit - likes his beer for example - so in his case it might well be tribal thing. Maybe his parents did not have the equipment or the money to get him done earlier.

Speaking for myself, I am dumbfounded by the whole idea. A very short or non-existent foreskin would have been one of those easy evolutionary changes. As it is some men are born with short ones, and some with long ones. If there had been any particular evolutionary advantage, then by now one would have thought, the short foreskins would have prevailed.

On a more practical basis, how would you - as a man (you can think about female circumcision in your own time) - react if I told you that it was a good idea to cut off half the nerves that provide you with your sexual sensation. Not well I suspect. The glans (end) of the penis has lots of nerves, but so has the inside of the foreskin that naturally covers it most of the time. When a man is erect, these nerves are all exposed. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to work this out! Similarly, when the man is not erect, the glans is covered, and thus protected from spurious excitement, and the desensitization that might well go with it.

Worst of all, a large proportion of the worlds circumcisions are imposed on very young or adolescent children without their consent. Imposing physical damage on someone else's body without their consent is an assault - one of the clearest infringements of human rights.

Wrega got his chop voluntarily, though he will probably regret it in the night when the local anaesthetic wears off. But he is in a minority. Sadly, based on the existing medical studies there is little or no evidence to show that it will do him any good.

I have not include pictures - you have to pay more to your ISP to be a porn site! But if you want a graphical interpretation, Wiki will show all.

28/8/2010 - Kenya Constitution Change.

I spent some time Googling the new Kenyan constitution. It is very much along the lines of the US constitution - president with executive, upper and lower houses, and separate judiciary.

It had never really occurred to me that the constitutions of the African states that got their independence 50 or 60 years ago would be radically different from that. Maybe I should have thought about it.

After the struggles for independence - easy or otherwise - I guess it was usually the case that there was a strong leader who had prevailed. In theory, the power granting the independence vetted the new constitution, but if you think about it, that was a nonsense. By that point it was a done deal, and the vetting probably consisted of a cursory examination to try and avoid any obvious points that would lead to an immediate descent into anarchy. Other than that, it was probably mostly a case of "be careful what you wish for, you might just get it".

Consequently I think that many of the constitutions simply transferred power to the leader who had prevailed, with some sort of election process to make the thing look a bit democratic.

Despite a constitution of that kind, Kenya had done well. It had a reputation for being one of the more commercially and technologically developed states in Africa. But a lot of that fell apart after the last election. That triggered widespread violence when the old constitution allowed the incumbent president to cling to his position despite the election results.

If the new deal works out, I think there will be a lot of pressures, both internal and external, for other African countries to examine their constitutions, and see how they stack up.

The ornamental banana tree.

Figs developing on our baby fig tree.

28/8/2010 - A Garden Review.

I was looking around our garden the other day, and was struck by the appearance of the ornamental banana tree we planted in the middle of the lawn. The one we saw that provoked is to buy it was maybe 2.5 - 3 metres high and had a short but thick trunk. Ours is now starting to look just the same shape. As it has grown, the dogs have trashed it at least twice. I don't think they have anything particularly against it. The damage has I think just being due to collisions in the night hours, when the dogs tend to run around the compound at high speed. Now though, I think it is almost big enough to survive a direct hit

My other, much more exciting discovery was that our baby fig tree may be about to produce some figs. There are at least two 'buds' growing out at branch points that do not look like new branch growth, but that look very much like tiny developing figs.

I think this is a great sign. I love fresh figs, and if the little tree is doing its best already, this seems to me to be a sign that it will be productive, and might give me many treats before it outlives me. You can be sure that you will see the whole process of their development, up to and including the time they are consumed.

Figs, by the way are an unusual fruit. Not really a fruit at all, but a dense bunch of flowers that grow inwards inside a skin. In cases where they require fertilization, this is done by specialized wasps that get inside carrying pollen from another tree, or in some cases from the same tree (it's very complicated, like other sexual behaviour). Cultivated figs are usually sterile - propagated from cuttings, and incapable of producing viable seeds, so the wasps are not required. It's a bit like bananas in some ways except that a fig tree can live to a great age and continue to produce figs. Ours seems to be starting early, but I hope that if it is suitably pruned and fertilized, it may continue to be a productive tree for 50 or 100 years.

Now the dogs do mess with the fig tree. They love to bite its leaves. Adia says it has quite a distinctive smell, and that may have something to do with it. But if one of them eats the figs, I give warning that I may tan its hide with its brain, and make it into a chair!
26/8/2010 - Lack of Focus.

For whatever reason, I'm having difficulty getting myself focussed on anything over the last couple of weeks.

This week I have more or less finished the hardwood trim components for the big sofa. But it has been without much enthusiasm. I think I may need to take a break from constant woodwork. I am fairly keen to start some development on our adjoining plot, but there are still many finishing off jobs to be one on the existing compound. Also, serious work on the new plot requires a level of financing that isn't quite there at present. We could probably borrow money, but my past experiences of doing that have generally not been great

One of the factors contributing to the negativity is the absence of any half decent wood in our area at present. I really must get my finger out and make a trip to Moshi. There I suspect I would find better supplies of things like wood and leather. Our friend Harry got in touch with his uncle, who is a carpenter, last week. I had been asking where I might be able to get supplies of the wood Mninga. The uncle asked what I needed, and got a couple of pieces roughly corresponding to what I said. But they were horrendously expensive. Mninga is an endangered species, so you get pieces either imported by people with appropriate licences from countries where they don't care, or illegally cut down in Tanzania. Either way it works out expensive, and I don't really want to get involved in the destruction of the species anyway. The other woods that I have worked with, and like, seem to be getting similarly difficult to find.

Unfortunately, when I stop working like there's no tomorrow, my beer belly appears again overnight, so it's kind of a catch 22 situation.

Flooded areas in Pakistan.
25/8/2010 - What Is Expected?

I feel for the people of the Indus valley in Pakistan, but at the same time I wonder, given the religion and the political reality of the country, just what people expect, and what responsibility the other nations of the world should assume for their plight.

I guess that since I have involved religion, I should explain myself to some extent. Pakistan is an Islamic Republic. To be that implies that the whole country subscribes to Mohamed's view of life, as described in the Quran. Remember that one of the primary pillars of Islam is that the Quran is a final statement of how god requires people to live. The Jews, and the Christians had veered from the true path, and Islam was to be the true and permanent definition of how people should live. This in effect tells people that they should never change from the ways their parents taught them, and that if they follow the rules, then god will provide for them, or destroy them as he thinks fit.

This freezing of society as it was in the 6th century, means that it is very difficult for a government to have any reasonable source of income. The Quran does not tell people that they should be good citizens and pay taxes. The great majority of the people who are now badly effected by the flooding don't. So for people to turn round now, and say that their government is not giving them sufficient help, is hypocrisy - how can the government do so? To provide such services, cash in advance is required. Only god provides for free.

It's also an interesting thought that much of the infrastructure destroyed by this once-in-100-years flooding might well have been put in place by the heathen British, who ruled Pakistan as part of a united India for many years.

So the flood victims must now be supported by the donations of foreign governments and NGOs. The people of their native countries are most likely not Muslims, and are in general rather sceptical and alarmed by what they hear of Islamic teachings, and of the political situation in Pakistan. So the donations are a bit slow coming in. The level of suspicion is compounded by the certain knowledge that any cash provided will be diluted by at least a factor of three by corrupt officials, or by extremist opposition groups such as the Taliban. So it is desirable that such aid be provided by NGOs who don't actually allow cash to come into the hands of the providers - just the food etc. The NGOs have to use volunteers, and the number of people wishing to volunteer for Pakistan over recent months must have been shrinking by the day.
So I must conclude that the Islamic god is indeed great for those who believe in him - millions of people say so five times a day. But I must then also conclude that the same god has decided that it is time for a population cull in the Indus valley. We meddling unbelievers are merely getting in the way of his will - the usual western interference with Islamic life.

Our faithful motor scooter Kiki.
22/8/2010 - Same Day Surgery.

I have to confess to being negligent toward our faithful motor scooter Kiki. For a long time now, her battery has been in a bad way, and it was necessary to do a kick start in the morning. Lately she's had to be kick started all the time.

I'd been putting off doing anything because somewhere in my head there is a brain cell that stores the information 'battery = expensive", and because I had assumed that the kick-starter mechanism was an intrinsic part of any two wheeler, that would be good for the life of the vehicle. This it seems is not the case. When they're fitted with a battery and starter motor, the kick-start mechanism fitted is a flimsy kind of thing to allow occasional emergency starting.

My negligence caught up with me on Friday, when the kick starter began to make nasty noises as in gears not meshing correctly. So yesterday, before it became impossible to start her at all, we took her to the piki-piki fundi that Adia has adopted in town. He took the cover off, and lo-and-behold, there was a badly chewed-up helical gear that was clearly past its last legs.

We did a tour of the bike spares shops in town, and failed to come up with a new replacement, so the fundi said a new one would have to be made. He thought he had a similar piece where the other and was messed up but the helical gear bit was OK, from which it would be possible to make one functional piece.
However, this wasn't going to happen on Saturday afternoon, so the fundi asked the rather obvious question as to why we didn't just replace the battery, which need replacing anyway, and which would then allow us to start Kiki with the starter motor while he new piece was being made. So I bit the bullet, and we went back to the main spares shop and bought a new one. To my pleasant surprise, the thing only cost about $21. If I'd known that I'd have bought it long ago. I felt suitably cheap and guilty.

Right next to the fundi, there's a man who makes vehicle seat covers. Since Kiki's seat cover had worn through, Adia got a new one made while we were there. So the old girl now has a new lease of life - a new seat cover and a lively battery. Less of the 'old girl' she'd probably say. Actually she's only done about 11,000km, so she's still really quite young, and I believe Honda engines usually last quite well if you take the trouble to look after them.

19/8/2010 - Silly idea.

OK, I have this silly idea. What if it were possible to define an index by which the 'normality' of peoples lives could be measured. Then there would be some rational basis for classifying other people as 'strange'. Currently such classification tends to be made on the basis of personal prejudices that you were taught by your parents.

Such personal prejudices result in the classification of people in other countries or ethnic groups as being radically different, whereas in reality, their spectrum of personal activities might be rather like yours.

It seems to me that in principle, this could be done by asking people relatively non-intrusive questions about the proportion of time they spend doing some defined set of activities. Of course, defining the activities might be a difficult bit - getting answers would be the killer. My initial guess would be something like:
  • Working,
  • Study - as in non-religious education,
  • Sleeping,
  • Nothing - as in watching TV, going to the pub, or other forms of 'entertainment',
  • Eating - includes cooking,
  • Observing the requirements of ones religion (includes religious education),
  • Sexual activities,
  • Activities relating to politics (excluding those in elected office - that's work),
  • Other - please describe!
This would be accompanied by basic questions to collect relevant information such as ones sex, country, and religion.

If anyone thinks this is an interesting idea I can put together a database and questionnaire web page that might start to give us some idea. What do you think?

Getting there and already in use.
18/8/2010 - Pluses and Minuses.

Making sofas is a minefield. You can make one little mistake while you are constructing the skeleton, and it will come back to haunt you when you put the covering on. In this case, it is the vertical strip above the junction of the back and the arms. A pigs ear in my opinion. I hope to live and learn.

On the other hand, the monster is already serving its purpose. Our current guests migrated to it spontaneously after dinner last night, and have pronounced it comfortable. I guess that is the main thing.

The rear of it is still naked, and I have to decide what I am doing with the front of the arms and below the seat. But generally it is getting there.

I have been moaning about the cold weather for some time. But now the sunshine may have arrived. For two or maybe three days it has been cloudless in the morning, and then for the rest of the day. If that continues, then of course there will soon be water shortages. You can't win.

Green tomatoes.

The monster sofa in the context of our large living room.
16/8/2010 - Decisions and Indecisions.

My workshop is a decent size, but with the monster sofa in there, it becomes tiny. I need to be able to clean the place out, and start on some new stuff, so the monster has to go. Really the only place it can go is to its final destination, our large living room. Since I still have not resolved the leather supply situation, it is going to get a temporary cover in canvas. How long 'temporary' is remains to be seen.

We got the canvas this morning. It's what I would call a Lincoln Green, and goes well with the potted plants that currently form a significant part of the furnishing of the room. However before I could start to put it on, there were more modifications to be made. I had made the back of the thing to be the maximum height I thought might just fly, but it was too high. Sitting at the dining table, the view of the current TV on its new stand was not satisfactory. So I used up some of my degrees of freedom, and that involved modifying the lumbar support bit yet again. I will also have to take maybe an inch off the feet - indecisions

Part of the day also got used up struggling with an engine diagnostic computer that our friend Harry has bought. It's a Chinese device, and tech support is not quite what it might be, along with the documentation. I had been struggling with it to no avail, but we made some progress today when I realized the the 'touch' screen was more of a 'prod' screen. You have to poke it quite vigorously with the plastic stylus to get any response. The software is still not set up right, but I think we will get there in time - more indecisions.

My friend, partner and lover Adia has relented, and made the decision that I am after all her man, and that ramadan should not interrupt that relationship to an extent not applicable to a Muslim husband. I am a much happier man as a result, and I hope that her god - if he exists - will take a benign view of her decision. Thank you Adia.

Padding applied to the monster.
12/8/2010 - The Monster Develops.

Yesterday and today, I put most of the padding on the monster sofa frame. When I was about there this evening, I blocked the thing up again so I could sit on it and get an idea of the feel.

Sadly the lumbar support bulge at the bottom of the back is a little too high, so tomorrow I will have to backtrack, do some disassembly, and adjust its size. This is the penalty for living in a world of constant experiment.

The other monster that is around is ramadan. It started yesterday (depending on who you think actually knows). So now for 28 days I am a second class citizen, subordinate to some 6th century politician. This does not sit particularly well with an old atheist like me, and every year I tell myself that if Adia can take a month off being my partner, I should do the same. Take myself off and go somewhere exotic like Zanzibar as a bachelor. Usually though I'm just too lazy, or too busy, or there's too much inertia, so I let the point slip by. Zanzibar would be a bad choice anyway, since it is predominantly Muslim, and they'd all be busy fasting too.

The hybrid wood/rope woven base for the big sofa.

The South House complete with sofa.
10/8/2010 - Implementation.

This morning and much of this afternoon, I unravelled the experimental sofa base, drilled the full set of holes in the wood frame, and wove the whole thing.

It was pretty hard work. The base is a big piece to work with, and the tensioning of the ropes involves quite a bit of force. The worst bit is threading in the strips of wood as a weave between the ropes. The first couple of strips are OK, but then the ropes start to get pretty tight, and by the time you get to the last strip it's a pig to get in. I'm knackered now, and could fancy a beer, but I'll wait until after five - creature of habit.

I just positioned it roughly on wooden blocks with the other components for the picture. But you can bounce on it, and it doesn't break. I'll have to get a child to bounce on it - they are good at breaking sofas.

As promised, I took a picture of the living area in the South House when Adia had finished its spring clean. I think it looks pretty cool, though a few more pictures and a plant are required. Before it gets let again, we intend to give it a small TV as well. This was omitted in the first place because the cost of a satellite TV setup to provide different programs on multiple TVs was exorbitant. TBS's introduction of digital broadcasting means this is how within the bounds of possibility. Each set can have a separate decoder, and there's a reasonable selection of channels.

An experimental sprung seat base.
9/8/2010 - R&D.

Adia got back pretty much on time, and the shuttle bus dropped her by the Impala roundabout at the north end of Njiro road. Unfortunately this coincided with the mass exodus from the Nane Nane show ground as it got dark. To go get her, I had diverted via dirt back roads through Lemara, and even they were very busy. Foolishly on the way back, I thought traffic going south might be better since the exodus would mostly be moving north. Wrong! The whole exercise took about two an a half hours for a round trip that would normally have been possible in about 20 minutes.

Back in the world of furniture development, as I've said, I want the big leather sofa to be rather more squishy that the previous attempt. One of my thoughts is to make the seat base somewhat more sprung, i.e. not rock solid. Having made a frame for the seat yesterday, I conducted a small experiment today where I threaded a length of PE rope through holes in the frame, and then interwove strips of the hardwood that I use to support the foam padding.

The idea seems to work. The combination feels strong, and if I get the rope tension right, I think it will fly (pun intentional).

I put the previous sofa in the now vacant South House today. With that in there, and the furniture somewhat rearranged, the living area, the whole house in fact, looks great - I'll get a photo tomorrow.

Work of an anonymous artist.

What do you want?.
8/8/2010 - Nane Nane.

Adia has been in Bukoba this last week. By now she's likely in the air from Mwanza on her way home, since I can not contact her by phone.

So that I looked less like a sheep when she got back, I went to get my hair cut this afternoon at Nane Nane. Afterwards I made the foolish mistake of going into the show again. It was heaving, and having spent some time struggling through the crowd to a bar to get a beer, I found the bars were heaving too, with not a seat to be found. So I did the reverse struggle and went for a beer outside.

I could have gone back to my workshop to work on the aeroplane, but somehow the enthusiasm was lacking. So now I have maybe two hours to kill before I go to pick Adia up from the shuttle bus from KIA.

The aeroplane is actually coming along quite well. I have most of the skeletons of the arms finished, and have made a start on the pilot's seat. This one has to be a different design, since I want the result to have the somewhat squishy feel I associate with leather sofas.

I am quite taken with the artwork on the wall - Jackson Pollock eat your heart out. When the show is over I shall go back with the real camera and take another shot. I think it would look pretty good blown up and framed.

The schoolgirls picture was an accident - honestly. I was trying to take just a general view of the crowd, but found when I got home I had a picture of a steely glare instead. It's not clear to me why they were in uniform since 8/8 was a Sunday.

This time killing is not working very well. Maybe I'll go for another beer.

An enormous sofa.

A boot/trunk full of vegetables.
6/8/2010 - August.

By the first week in August, the weather is supposed to have improved from the cool overcast that characterize the winter months here in Arusha. But it is still cold and dismal in the mornings, though at least now the sun is usually breaking through in the afternoon. This first week is also when the Tanzania Agricultural Society show is held at the show ground in Nane Nane (Nane Nane is the spoken form of 8/8, as the show runs from 1 - 8 August each year. There's a similar event in Dar Es Salaam on 7/7 - Saba Saba.) The show has been very low key so far this year, and I think this is largely due to the weather.

I have been there a couple of times, and though the exhibits are rather same-old, I still like the atmosphere of the place. A booth I had not noticed in previous years was demonstrating the 'natural' tanning of leather - that's asilia in Swahili. They have a cow hide stretched on a frame that is much larger than the ones I have bought. The man there initially said he thought a finished hide of that size would be about TS10,000. Another one who was produced to speak to me in better English another day mentioned TS15,000. The actual price will probably be somewhere in between. This would be a much better price than I have been paying, for a much bigger piece of leather.

This discovery comes at an appropriate moment, since the other thing I have been doing this week is working on the skeleton of a large sofa for our lounge. If I can get leather at the lower price it will be feasible to cover it with cow hide. The thing is enormous, and my workshop looks a bit like the Wright brothers' workshop must have looked. I have a feeling that leather could be easier to work with than the heavy canvas I used on the last sofa. Since it is thick, it won't need to be so tight to get it to lie flat, and it will not fray at the cut edges like woven material does. The compensating difficulty is that I have to find some way to join rectangular pieces of cut hide together to make the large sheets of leather required by the current monster.

Harry came to visit earlier this week. He had been to Moshi earlier in the day, and the back of his car was full of vegetables. There's a glut of tomatoes and avocados in Moshi at the moment. The picture was after a sack full had been unloaded for us.
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What is BEV?

Brits Eye View is an Englishman's seven-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.

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We have rooms available at Adia's Place. So if you plan to visit Arusha, give us a shout. You can stay in a rather nice room close to both the city, and to rural Africa, at a very competitive price. Some time early in August, the South House will also be available for longer term visitors.