December 2007 in Tanzania through the eyes of an Englishman

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31/12/2007 - Bye Bye 2007

Our plot is now almost surrounded by wall, only the corner where the gate will be remains open. The gate should be ready by the end of the week, and the reinforcing steel for the first gate post is already in place. The mud has been removed from the hole for the septic tank, and it has been re-dug down to its target depth of 2.5m. Yesterday the block layers put in most of the septic tank wall, so it will soon be secure against further heavy rain falls.

The Masai that Adia had employed as a night watchman turned out to be already the night watchman at another house about a mile away. Adia was about to summarily sack him, but the family who had recommended him interceded on his behalf, told him he was a fool, and made him give up the other job. Adia has given him a second chance, but he is now skating on very thin ice. If he puts a foot wrong he will be faced with a wrath of biblical proportions.

Tonight we will attend the Njiro Block B Development Association new year party. This was to be held at Tondi's pub - Njiro Resort, but his mother died last week, and it is the funeral today, so the party has been shifted to Danford's house, which has a yard big enough to host it. The party costs the equivalent of about $28 per family, and this includes food, drink, and a DJ, which can't be bad.

I wish a happy new year to my friends and family, and to all BEV readers.
25/12/2007 - Pogged

Well whatever it was I succeeded in roasting it without making it excessively dry, and the rest of the meal turned out just as well. Everybody ate too much, and Adia and I are now recovering. We have decided in principle that we will go out for a walk, but I can see it being some time before that happens. Lydia has gone out to see her friends from church - at her age you can handle a huge plate of food then get up and go.

Well it ain't a duck.
25/12/2007 - Christmas Cookery

Well I thought it was a duck when I pulled it out of the deep-freeze. But after it had thawed and Adia unpacked it, it turned out to be two large breasts - large and heavy. I presume it is turkey, but if so it was a big one, and I'm harbouring a sneaky suspicion that it could be ostrich. There was no labelling on the package, so I shall never know. Durr, on the other hand the ostrich is a flightless bird, so it does not have much in the way of breast. Let's say it's turkey.

Adia is making a sauce out of coconut milk and mung beans. We will roast the mystery breasts, and cook rice and potatoes, and some broccoli. Then there should be something for everybody.
25/12/2007 - Merry Christmas

Building work aside, and suspended for a day, I just want to say that after almost four months, I am happy as a pig in shit here in Tanzania. I have a good woman, who also appears to be happy. Our house-girl and our cat appear to be content - Lydia was positively glowing when she went off to church in the new dress and shoes Adia had got her for Christmas. The people are most hospitable and friendly. It is warm all year round - at least by British standards, and the sun shines most days. You can buy all the staples of regular life in the shops and bars here - beer, wine, meat, cheese, vegetables, kerosene, and cement. The beer comes in nicely graded and declared strengths, so you can regulate your piss-artistry very accurately if you care. (Tusker - 4.2%, Kilimanjaro - 4.5%, Serengeti - 4.8%, Castle - 5%, Safari - 5.5%, Eagle - 5.8%, and a cloudy hooch brewed from bananas - 10%.)

Given the building work situation, I am almost permanently exhausted. I am prone to mucking in, and my old body does not always react too well. Some part of it is always aching, and I'm having a particular problem with my upper right arm and shoulder. But I am very much aware of being alive. I can watch the African sky and the clouds with wonder. I can see stars that I have not seen clearly for years. I can see the smiles and the enthusiasm of the children. I know that I can't live forever, but I have good reason to hang on for a while yet!

Lydia forgot to go to church on Sunday - she thought it was Saturday - no hurry in Africa. Similarly, I have of course neglected the fact that Christmas was almost upon us. My granddaughters will have to settle for new-year presents, and I had no Idea what to send them from here. Arusha is in many respects like a frontier town in the US west in the 1870s. The luxury goods that you can buy in the shops are of course different, and much cheaper in the UK, but otherwise it's the basics - food, drink, hardware, and entertainment. So they will get a couple of the pieces of jewelry that I bought from Mohammed in Bangalore - something for their trinket boxes.

We almost failed to do any Christmas shopping. It was our intention to buy a joint of beef to roast, but we left it so late that there was not a piece to be had at the market in town. Eventually I found a frozen duck in our local supermarket, and a couple of cartons of Spanish wine in the shop at the Total petrol station. So we will survive.

Yesterday evening Adia bought a box of 'recharge vouchers' for the lads on the site. These, in this case, were not the kind you'd get for your mobile phone, but instead were 50ml plastic sachets of Tanzanian vodka. Along with the banana hooch, they are the most popular way of getting high quickly here, being slightly cheaper than the national spirit Konyagi. There are 20 to a box, and Adia produced them as the men were just about finished packing up their gear. They were gleefully received, and the litre of vodka was gone in seconds. There were bottles of soda for the Muslim workers and those of the younger boys who weren't prepared to risk the vodka. Then everyone drifted off for the Christmas holiday. Hopefully they'll all be back on Boxing Day, mixing concrete and laying blocks.

The access road.

The east wall foundation.
23/12/2007 - Infrastructure

The access road to the plot was a mess, to the extent when it was dubious that if there was further rain we would be able to get any building materials in there. We asked advice from various directions, and accepted that from our main supplier, Maganga - who I think has a thing about Adia, and is consequently looking after us better than he would do for most customers. He delivered about 35 tons of rough ungraded moram and a gang of men who spread it about. They did not do a wonderful job, but it was then possible to drive in there without inflicting further damage to the road. We were able to get a delivery of blocks this morning. The work lasted into the night, assisted by the truck headlights. Today we paid one of our regular workers to do some adjustments - basically moving the larger stones that were not well placed into soft spots that had been churned up by the truck tyres.

Meanwhile the flooded foundation trench along the east side of the plot had been bailed out with a bucket, and the foundation was cleaned up and got its three courses of heavy blocks. By the end of the day - and yes, it is Sunday - the damaged wall was back to its original state, and the service block was beginning to look like a building.

Adia had sold the wood from the felled tree to a man who makes bricks, to be used as fuel, and he and a bunch of men came today to remove the pieces. The tree had been partly cut up by one of the men who felled it, but on the day of the storm we had employed someone with a chain saw to dismember the lower trunk. They manhauled the pieces away on a wooden two-wheeler truck. The stump remains, but Maganga has promised that next time his big truck with double back wheels comes to deliver sand it will bring a chain and haul the stump out. I guess then I will try to set the thing on fire and burn it, maybe after a suitable drying period.

After the workers had packed up today I went to Njiro Resort with the fairly specific intention of finding out if there was anything going on for new year. As it turned out I did not need to ask. Our friend Danford, who seems to chair most of the local committees, was there and immediately presented me with the application for the Njiro Development Association new years eve party. For roughly $30 we can both get fed, drink as much as we want, and have music and dancing. I works for me!
22/12/2007 - Recovery

No pictures today - the camera took exception to being in my pocket while working on site. The wall is more or less back to square one, and after the fright of the wind event, the supporting concrete columns are materializing quickly now. The hole is still full of mud. I don't know what will be done about that, but I know that something will.

The way things go must be very similar to the way things went with a 19th century army on campaign. If there was something in the way, some men were sent to move it. It was an order, and the men would do it somehow, and under fire if that was neccessary. Twenty cubic meters of mud would be a daunting proposition to a Britih builder without a backhoe, but in Africa you send some men with a shovel and a bucket, and they move the mud without complaining, and without much in the way of a break. I love these guys, and I'd pay them way over the odds if it was up to me. Fortunately for our budget, Adia understands the realities of African life. The men who are doing the work have a job, and there are plenty of others who would step into their shoes given half a chance. That's just the way it is.

The north wall - before.

Mud hole.
21/12/2007 - Flattened

This morning we were awakened by a call from our builder Adam to the effect that a wall had come down. We rushed up to the plot to see what had happened to discover that four panels of the north wall were lying in pieces in Mika's field next to the plot. Of course in the rush I left the camera on the dining table.

The wall was built in sections with steel for reinforcing concrete posts between them, but the posts were not cast at that point. The night before we had left the site somewhat precipitately when a thundery squall arrived. Apparently about ten minutes after we left there was a heavy burst of hail, and one of those cold down-draft linear wind effects. It was strong enough to bend the nearby electricity cable poles, take the roofs off several nearby houses, fell about five of Mika's banana trees, and to bring down the four least protected wall panels.

The rain had continued for much of the night with the result that a lot of loose earth was washed from the plot down into the large hole that had been dug for the septic settling tank and the foundation trench for the east wall. The large hole was badly undercut so its edges were dangerous, and was three quarters full of yellow mud. The foundation was full of the same mixture. There was mud everywhere - the place looked like a disaster area. Adia and I were pretty glum. The access road was also in a bad way - mud, mud, glorious mud, so we will have to do something to strengthen that.

On the brighter side, many of the concrete wall blocks were recoverable, and the foundation was still in one piece. By the time we got back later in the day, the panels were half rebuilt with the same blocks.

The trench.

Next door too.
16/12/2007 - Vertical Progress

Less text here and more pictures - mouse over them to see a fuller description of what is going on.

Building here is done using pretty basic tools and equipment. Occasionally you'll see a wheelbarrow, and Adam will turn up with a level, but mostly the tools and equipment are shovels, pick-axes, buckets, a line for setting levels, a trowel, and a mortar board.

Given that, and I'll probably say this many times, given the conditions a gang of ten young African men can work wonders. They just go on and on, like the Duracell bunny.

After the stones and moram there's a layer of hand-mixed concrete, carried to the trench in plastic buckets - basically paint or cooking oil containers. The trenches are dug to stepped levels. Then on top of the concrete there are usually three courses of heavy concrete blocks. Even in a staunchly metric country these are 18"x9"x6". They come in two strengths - heavy and light - presumably differentiated by the amount of cement used in the mix. Every ten blocks there is gap.

Unfortunately we had to kill a tree that unfortunately coincided with our boundary, and would in any case probably have fractured foundations. The tree proved remarkably resistant to being killed, poor thing. It took two heroically strong men four days with pick, shovel, and axe to bring it down.

The other significant part of the wall project is a service block that is being built in the north-east corner. This will consist of a room and bathroom for a security guard, and a workshop. Building it now means we'll have somewhere to store materials when the house is being built.

I appear to have started a trend by filling in my section of the trench. Mika and his boys next door filled in their section of the trench today.

A water supply.

Hard stone and moram foundation base.

Then a layer of concrete.

Foundation lintel.

Concrete mixer.

Reinforcing steel at the wall corner.

Severing the tree from its roots.

The tree finally succumbed.

Foundations for the service block.
9/12/2007 - The India Connection

Today Saleh, the man who had been handling the clearance of the stuff we sent by sea from India, arrived with the goods in his small truck from Dar Es Salaam. The consignment had got wet at some point along the way, before he extracted it from the port, and had not been at all well boxed by the Indian shipper.

Remarkably, most of the stuff survived. Some books were in a bad way, there were some wet clothes, and there were some scratches on the furniture items that will require a little repolishing.

Adia's scooter Kiki, and my bicycle were OK, though Kiki was a bit difficult to get started, and I had to take her front fairing off to get the battery out and have it recharged. Saleh is re-registering her as a Tanzanian vehicle.

When we had unpacked it all the living room looked like a bomb had exploded there. However Lydia took it in her stride, and in the following days she systematically restored order, washed and ironed all the clothes, cleaned up the furniture, etc. She is a marvel.

The trench.

The dinner lady.
8/12/2007 - A Full Time Job

When we found the two plots that we wanted to buy and join into one, one of the things that had worried us was that the lower plot had a trench dug across it. This was not in isolation, in fact the trench had been dug all the way through the village of Lemera, mostly along the 'main' road through the village, but then branching away to the south across the land of various shambas, and threading it's way through existing housing.

We had asked questions and consulted the village chairman. Apparently a similar trench had been dug to house a water pipe some years before, and the village had been properly consulted. The residents had agreed on the basis that they would be able to draw free water from the pipe when it was available. Now, the other village served by the pipe needed more water, and they had assumed they could just dig another trench across the same area to draw more water from the same, or from a nearby spring. The Lemera residents were not happy about this, and the village chairman had assured us that it was as good as a dead issue, and would not be a problem for our plot.

Almost immediately after we bought the plot, a contractor did some work on the road, and in the course of this, filled in the offending trench where it was immediately adjacent to the road. I took this as a cue, and, needing some upper body exercise, I bought myself a shovel, and filled in our section of the trench. Filling in a trench roughly 30m long and a meter deep may sound relatively trivial, but I can assure you that given the state of my personal physical fitness, and the fact that here in Tanzania the sun always seems to be vertically above your head in a cloudless sky, and hell bent on melting you into the ground, this was far from the case. It took me three days. The first day was pure hell. I was gasping for breath from the beginning, and pushing myself to get on with the work produced a sensation of nausea. Frequent leaning on the shovel and sitting down on the heap of soil for a rest was necessary. The third day was not too bad, probably because by then I had learned to pace myself.

At the same time a gang of about 8 men that our builder Adam had taken on were actually digging a trench for the foundations of the wall around our plot - initially the north and west sides. If I had worked at the rate they were working I would have been dead within an hour. Such are the realities of age and of having spent most of the last 10 years sitting in front of a computer. The trenches then got a layer of hard stones in the bottom covered with a layer of moram - roughly speaking, pummice, crushed or sieved to about 8mm down. On top of that was to go a slab of concrete.

It soon became clear that watching the action on the plot (builder and workers), pricing and purchasing materials, and working on the design of the compound would become a full time job for as long as it will take.

Lydia - our new family member.
2/12/2007 - A New Family Member

This weekend Mama Azizi arrived on the bus from Bukoba via Mwanza with a new member for our household. Adia's mother has decided to give up her little restaurant in Kashai, and to 'retire'. So, knowing that Adia would soon be busy with either a job or building a house, she selected one of her staff who she considered to be hard working and completely honest for a complete change of life. The girl's mother was consulted, and consented, and I presume the girl also consented - though in Africa I would not guarantee it. She, Lydia that is, and Mama Azizi arrived looking somewhat shell-shocked on a bus on Saturday morning. The bus they had caught came through the centre of Tanzania by a circuitous route but avoided the necessity to get travel papers for Lydia to pass through Uganda and Kenya. It crossed some of the worst roads in the country.

Lydia's mother says she is seventeen, but I have my doubts. I suspect the age may have been determined for the purposes of getting a job. Anyway, it is what it is. In her previous life she hardly ever left the village, and if she did it would be into Bukoba, which is not exactly a metropolis. She was brought up in a one room house with her mother and father and sisters and brothers, sleeping on the floor. Her father died some time ago. She was raised mostly on a diet of green bananas, and maybe got a bit of meat once a week or on special occasions. She is a Christian, so the population of our house now sounds like one of those old jokes - "A Christian, a Muslim, and an atheist were walking down the street when the atheist said ...".

Now she has a room of her own, with a bed, and essentially a bathroom of her own. She will get as much to eat as she wants, and meat most days. She will be clothed, get a day off a week, and get paid minimum wage to boot. She now also lives close to the big city, in quite a posh area. Of course, she can't speak a word of English, which means that she and I have to communicate entirely by gestures, but judging by her demeanour, and her smile when it flashes I would say that she is as pleased as the proverbial dog with two dicks.

On the side of our benefit, she works like little robot. She washes, irons, cleans the house, and so on, and won't stop until she has everything squared up for the day. Then she seems to like to relax by watching Hindi movies on the TV.
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