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August 2011 in Tanzania through the eyes of an Englishman


30/8/2011 To Id, Or Not To Id.

If you want to know why the Islamic states can't get their act together, I can think of no better example than today in Tanzania.

Their religion is highly subject to interpretation, and everyone wants to interpret it their way. The case in point today was the determination of what day was Id al-Fitr (which is roughly Arabic for the festivity at end-of-fast).

Mohammed determined it in terms of the lunar cycle, which I would guess in Arabia in those days was the most reliable indication of where you were in time. Sun angles were much more difficult to judge, and while a sundial might tell you what time it was during the day, it was pretty useless for telling you where you were in the month, so the lunar month was widely used in those days as a measure of the passage of longer term time, even though it is unrelated to the seasons.

It was only in countries where agriculture was important, or in the north where you wanted some indication when the winter had reached its nominal worst, that techniques were developed to determine the time more accurately in the solar cycle time scale. An early example of such techniques is Stonehenge in southern England, which predates Mohammed by about 3000 years.

So Mohammed specified the fasting month in terms of lunar years and months, and said that it was to begin in the following lunar years at the beginning of the 9th month as soon as the old moon disappeared, and to end when the following new moon was observed.

One of the primary points in his teaching was that what he wrote was a final statement - clever thinking that. And devout Muslims take it rather literally. They dress in 6th century clothes to be like Mohammed, even though Mohammed simply dressed in the fashion of his times (I suspect he was a bit of a ladies man, and would not have wanted to appear a dork.) Of course, they all dress in different 6th century costumes - it's a matter of opinion.

Consequently, the date if Id can not be determined to the day until someone in your part of the world has actually seen the new moon. So if you live somewhere like Seattle, where it is quite often cloudy, then without other ingenuity, Ramadan might last for months. It's a bit like that at this time of the solar year here in Tanzania.

Now of course, since Mohammed's times, people like Kepler and Newton have determined that it is possible to calculate with great precision exactly when the new moon would be seen at any point on the Earth's surface if there were no clouds in the way. Such information is readily available on the Internet. Many enlightened Muslims take these findings quite seriously, and go out to look for the new moon at the calculated time.

Some of those in Tanzania may have seen it on Sunday, and others on Monday, and it was widely accepted that Id was today, though in fact the math might have said yesterday. But there's a national committee that determines when Id is, since it is a national holiday. On the nights in question they were obviously doing something else, as they believe Id is tomorrow. Many Tanzanian Muslims have observed Id today, but some will do so as instructed.

The moon was out and clear this evening, and judged by the set of photos from which my image was extracted, it was about two and a half days into the cycle. I don't have a picture - my camera is not up to astronomical observations. But Adia, who was a moon watcher as a child in days when the sky was clearer, agrees.

This stuff is just a particular example of the deficiencies of a 'final statement'. The Quran says nothing about the proper or improper use of high explosives, or nuclear energy, or most of science. So the Islamic nations are unbounded in their moral attitudes in such directions.


28/8/2011 Yes- Still Alive.

Despite the slow progress on the web page, yes, I am still alive. If you are a regular reader, then you already understand the reason for my tardiness. For the record, there is actually quite a lot going on - not here - but in the world at large.

In Libya, Gadaffi has belatedly offered to take part in talks on in a transition of power, albeit through the agency of one of his sons. You have to hand it to him for trying, since in reality the power transition is now a done deal. He is just playing on the fact that the restoration of normality in Libya is going to be a difficult process. People could think that the experience of an old hand night speed this up. But forget it - that is not the suggestion. I'm sure that Gadaffi has not yet given up his accustomed assumption of power, and is just looking for ways to discredit the opposition. It's not going to be easy, period!

And in New York, a hurricane - though now, not quite. But even a big tropical storm could cause a lot of problems. New York, or more specifically, Manhattan, has to be my favourite city. I did not spend many years there, but in the years preceding the start of BEV, I walked that city more than I have walked any other. The combination of that, and associated map reading, leaves the place very clear in my mind. I still love New York.

Through my eyes, the situation in the states between Israel and India continues to deteriorate. Iran is already a writeoff, with Irag not far behind. Afghanistan will follow as soon as the US troops are pulled out. Once that is the case, Pakistan will descent into the same sort of situation where power seeking politicians take over the country using Islam as an excuse. Then it will be up to Israel, China, and India to contain this area of banditry. They will probably be more successful in this than the western powers were in imposing change, since all of them are less squeamish.

The west can help then by shutting down facilities for these countries. In the relatively near future it may be necessary to delete their Internet connections, international flights, telecommunications, and so on. Maybe if they actually go back to the facilities of the 6th century for some time, they might decide to be more accommodating. If not, then presumably, such sanctions would harden.

Russia could screw up such an approach if it chose to do so, and therein lies one of the big diplomatic challenges of the next 20 years. Hmm ...


22/8/2011 The Fall of Tripoli?

I said a long time ago that I thought the conflict in Libya was on a slow but inevitable course, and it now seems I may have been correct.

As I write, the freedom fighters are gradually taking over Gadaffi's stronghold. He appears to have gone elsewhere. This process now seems to be sufficiently advanced that the remaining Gadaffi supporters have little chance of holding out. The freedom fighters have among their ranks the people who kicked their opposition out of Misrata, so they know about street fighting.

I suspect that the NATO involvement increased in inverse proportion to the level of public interest and media attention. Also of course, the freedom fighters have learned a lot rather quickly, and now appear to be able to act in a coordinated fashion.

Another interesting phase will begin soon. Libya appears to be an intensely Islamic country, but for many years now, the baddies have been defined by Gadaffi edict.

In the new Libya, I suspect such guidance will come more from the mullahs than from the government, and their inclinations will probably be much the same as mullahs elsewhere.

At the end of the day, the baddies will be us westerners who don't respect Allah, drink alcohol, and so on. Only time will tell.

I do hope though that the Libyan people will now be free to express their opinions in public without the risk of sudden disappearance or worse. As outsiders we have tried to assist in this. We can do no more.

Yesterday we had our first completely 'Internet driven' guests at Adia's Place. A German man emailed me before we went to England and booked a room - just for one night. Yesterday, he and his wife arrived as arranged after their safari in the national parks. We took them to the airport this morning for their flight to Zanzibar. I think they were pleased with what they got, and I'm certainly pleased about this small milestone. It does prove that we can reach out.

My software development is progressing very well, to the detriment of my communication with BEV readers. I will try to do better.

The precious fluid.

15/8/2011 Madhouse Economics.

I had talked about running the generator excessively, and by the way, we had five consecutive days with no power during the day.

I neglected to mention that as well as no electricity, we have during the same period occasionally had no water, and could not get petrol to run the generator. Let me tell you the story about the petrol.

Before the five days I am talking about, some government body had issued an edict that all petrol stations should charge the same price, and that the price would be reduced by about 10%. Later, we were to find that petrol was not available at most filling stations. To give a clue why, one of the English language newspapers here said:

"BP Oil Company has defied a government directive to oil dealers to end a week-long and to resume supply and sale of fuel by Wednesday evening, the Energy and Water Utility Regulatory Authority (Ewura) confirmed yesterday."

I quote literally. A week long what, you might ask. Well basically a strike I suppose. The edict was obeyed to the extent that the suppliers' filling stations displayed the new prices. But at the same time, some products - primarily petrol (gasoline), and also paraffin (kerosene) - magically became unavailable.

The regulatory authority were quite miffed about this. But to me it was not surprising. If you are running a business, and some body with legal authority orders you to reduce your prices, then you must do so. But also, if you are running a business, you presumably have the right to decline to sell your product, simply, if you like, because it does not suit you to sell it at that price.

BP was not the only company with an attitude, and consequently supplies at filling stations very quickly dried up. It was announced later on national TV that BP was to be shut down

'Negotiations' went on, but to me this government edict seemed to be madhouse economics - a throwback to Tanzania's post independence communist regime. We are now supposed to have a 'market economy'. If that is the case, and the government wants to see a decrease in fuel prices, than it should cut the level of taxation on fuel products!

Presumably as a result of the negotiations, some fuel started to trickle through, and it seemed that the suppliers must have backed down. But no! Today the prices at petrol stations magically went up again to a level close enough to the original price to be indistinguishable. So it seems like the government backed down. Maybe in one of their meetings someone remembered that that they have a substantial shareholding in BP (Tanzania), and possibly in other supply companies.

So I'm guessing that the trickle will now become a flood, and that the government will lose another large chunk of whatever credibility it still has.

I don't mind paying the original price - it beats sitting in the dark and having a computer that is so much scrap metal.


12/8/2011 - Obsession.

OK, so I'm in an obsessive programming phase.
He's programming crazy,
he's programming mad,
the program craze has ta'en away
the wee bit o' sense he had. 
T'would take a pneumatic hammer
to get inside his head,
since 'war Steve began this nonsense,
he's barely seen his bed.
I mentioned a while ago that I had lost the source code for the label and card program I wrote for Windows back in the early 90's. So now I've got myself trapped into making a similar thing to work with Linux. It's actually coming along quite well, but GUI programming is hellishly time consuming, and some of the geometry required to transform graphical rendering paths makes you head hurt.
I've written some postings on the Software page describing some of my experiences using gtkD to write this stuff. I find that using the D programming language for this sort of stuff does make you pretty productive - it is a joy to use.

Nane Nane has come and gone, and the weather is still dismal. The show was something of a damp squib this year due to the weather and the economic situation being created by the lack of even half an electricity supply. We've had none during the day for three days now, so we're spending $7 a day on petrol to run the 2kW Chinese generator. How long that will stand up to heavy use like it's getting I don't know. I'm keeping my fingers crossed and changing it's oil regularly.

We've had guests again, one for three weeks, and two more for two weeks - all ESAMI students. We also have a few one-nighter bookings lined up later this month. So Adia's treasury is looking more healthy again after the England trip.

Adia has started making more sophisticated breakfasts, and even with the electricity supply difficulties and lousy weather this latest batch have raved about the place and swear they'll never stay anywhere else in Arusha. The'll hopefully be repeat visitors in October when it's their next ESAMI session. That's what we want.

4/8/2011 - August Already.

Excuses, excuses! My ex-wife and dear friend Lynn was reduced to nagging me today about the lack of postings. You know my usual list of excuses, so I am not going to go into detail.

So it's August, and also coincidentally, it is Ramadan. I usually moan on about that at length, so this year I'll make an exception, and keep my mouth shut.


It is also the time of the TASO show at Nane Nane (eight eight), which customarily starts on August 1, and runs through until the eighth. I had expected it to be quiet this year, because the economy here is in something of a decline associated with the 50% reduction in electricity supplies.

I was correct in this. The first couple of days you'd have been hard-pressed to realize there was anything particularly special going on in the show-ground. The JKT bar has however been busier than usual, so I have made that my local for the days of the show. The schedule is:

  • Wake up, pee, and have a quick cold rinse to get rid of the cobwebs.
  • Check the exchange rates of the pound, the dollar, and the Tanzanian shilling.
  • Make some breakfast - I'm on my own with this, since it is Ramadan.
  • Work on my current programming project until about 16:00, with occasional interruptions to mend broken plumbing, etc.
  • Have a shower and get changed out of my old track pants and tea shirt into slightly less old versions.
  • Go to JKT to have my evening beers somewhat early, combined with whatever little shopping is outstanding for the day - usually petrol for the generator.
  • Work on the software again until maybe 22:00, or I'm too tired of it to make any further progress, with a break somewhere in this stint for our evening meal.
  • Sleep until about 03:00 hours, then wake up and work out the programming problems I've encountered in my head - this is surprisingly effective. By morning I usually have a pretty good idea of what needs to be done.
  • Go back to sleep for some unpredictable length of time, then start the cycle over again.
Adia's sister Zawadi and one of the new house girls went back to Bukoba on Monday. The house girl that went back was clearly homesick, and only wanted to eat Kageran-style green bananas, which we don't have all that often, and the two of them were fighting. The youngest one - Shadi - has remained. She seems to quite like it here, eats whatever she's given, and is a promising worker. She's not much older than my grandchildren! But she has a proper smile (maybe not quite the one in the photo), not the kind of death-head grin that my family specializes in. Maybe she'll be a keeper!

Today's primary interruption was to take our youngest dog Sigi to the vet to get his fairly regular steroid injection. It's one of the long-lasting ones, and I'm hoping he won't need to have all that many more. When he was younger he was a mess. He was always too light or too heavy, his coat and skin were terrible, and he use to scratch himself to near death. Now he's much healthier. His coat looks pretty good, and he's the right weight, but he still gets into scratching phases - hence the injections.

The back-years music is still in disarray - I still have not done July! I will try ... version 3.x
If you can see this, you probably have JavaScript disabled, and BEV 3 will not work as designed."

Squash This List

Check out the BEV retrospective
currently covering 1942 - 1975.

1976 is yet to be started.

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.

At about the same time I had the ridiculous idea of extending BEV backwards to cover the years 1942 to 2002. So far I have got to 1975. For the years 2003 - 2011, choose a year/month from the tool bar. For 1942 - 1975, choose a year.

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.

We now have very pleasant bed and breakfast rooms available at $20 per night. The Old Cottage and the South House are also available for longer term visitors.

Studying in Arusha?

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.

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!

This Month's Posts

If there's something particular you'd like to go back to, just click it here

Top 20 BEV Pages.

Exchange Rates.

BEV Software Blog.

I've just posted some short articles on Getting Started With jQuery Datatables.

I started to use this recently, and while the result is pleasing once you've got it working, I found the getting-started documentation disappointing.

Moods of Meru.

Mt Meru


Random BEV Poem.

60 Years Ago - Hits of the Month.

50 Years Ago - Hits of the Month.

30 Years Ago - Hits of the Month.

US Billboard #1

 Kim Carnes: Bette Davis Eyes
Stars on 45: Medley - no link found, sadly

UK Chart number 1

 Specials: Ghost Town

20 Years Ago - Hits of the Month.

US Billboard #1

 Mariah Carey: I Don't Wanna Cry
 Extreme: More Than Words
 Paula Abdul: Rush, Rush

UK Chart number 1

Jason Donovan: Any Dream Will Do
- no link found
 Bryan Adams: I Do It For You

10 Years Ago - Hits of the Month.

Contact BEV.

If you want to get in touch outside the built-in comment system, email Steve Teale.