December 2008 in Tanzania through the eyes of an Englishman

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Visiting Tanzania?

If you are thinking of travelling to Tanzania, and paying a visit 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.

31/12/2008 - Happy New Year.

It's a lot to hope for with the economy as it is, but let's just keep our fingers crossed.

The MV Victoria left Bukoba spot on time at 9:00pm, after Potter and some other cars had been loaded by crane through a hole in the deck down into its bowels.

I found us some seats in the bar, and we ate some chicken that Amina had cooked for us along with potatoes that Zawadi had cooked for me, and drank beer or Fanta. Zawadi came with us on the boat as she needed to buy school bags for the shop, and the prices are better in Mwanza. But by 10:30 we were all dozing, and Adia said we should go and nap for an hour then come back for the New Year, which we duly did, though she only made it with a couple of minutes to spare.

It wasn't anything very special. At midnight the captain sounded the ship's horn, and everyone in the bar clinked glasses and wished each other a Happy New Year, but it was our third New Year together, and I was glad we had got up.

And then it was January, and 2009, which means I have to turn over the web page, and that may not get done until we get back to Arusha.
30/12/2008 - And.

I was thinking while waiting for my dinner, for which I am duly thankful, that the estimates of Malaria deaths make an interesting backdrop to the discussions about Gaza. It's thought that about 3,000 people a day - mostly young children - die in sub-Saharan Africa every day. Extrapolate that across the world, and you're talking on the order of 10,000 a day. Add in other avoidable diseases, and you can probably double that.

Do I see demonstrations in the streets about this: no. Do the media work themselves into a froth about this: no. Are the deaths driven by the views of politicians and extremist religious leaders: no. Can anything be done about it: yes! For example, the availability of cheap anti-malarial drugs and insecticide treated bed nets, and mechanisms to deliver them to the affected communities, could cut this figure dramatically, at far less cost than wars.

So perhaps the answer to the Gaza issue, and other similar war situations, is to just let them get on with it. Relegate the news to the bottom row of stories on the worlds news TV programmes and web sites, and in those reports, quote the death figures - including the women and children - normalized in terms of the estimated avoidable deaths in the world during the relevant period. That would probably rate the Gaza deaths at around 0.5% of avoidable deaths during the last few days - a small blip due to the behaviour of irresponsible politicians.

Deprive the politicians and religious leaders of their news highlight and lets see if they can find other, more effective, ways of getting business done. Little or no news coverage would imply little or no loss of face, and this would make it much easier for leaders to achieve compromises.

30/12/2008 - Yada, Yada.

Rain again this morning, I got up late, breakfast much the same, disappointing mango. However we are booked on the MV Victoria for Wednesday evening, so soon we will hopefully be able to get on with our lives.

We returned to the Victorius Perch yet again last night, and this time they vindicated themselves. They had the beef, and it was tender, and served with real and reasonably hot mashed potatoes - yeah!

I don't know what to make of the Israel/Gaza situation. Whilst I strongly agree with many that the Israeli attack is disproportionate, I also think that the continuing Hamas rocket and mortar attacks are reckless. There's no way that the Israelis are just going to ignore them, and they're certainly not going to quit Israel and say "OK, here are your lands, you can take them back now." So common sense would seem to dictate that the lot of the people of Gaza is not going to get any better until the rockets stop.

Perhaps a better way of making the point would be if Israel launched a rocket in the general direction of a Palestinian population centre each time a rocket was launched at Israel. Then there would be a one-to-one relationship between Hamas actions and death and suffering in the Palestinian population. Under those circumstances it might become easier for Palestinian voters to realize how utterly pointless the current system is, and to recognize that the past is the past, and is irreversible, and that a path must be found to move forward.

It is in any case improbable that Hamas has the ability to stop the rocketing. It's fighters appear to consist of a bunch of hotheads with little discipline. I say this because for the slightest reason their masked men fire their weapons into the air in densely populated areas - hardly the actions of responsible defenders of the people.

Of course, it has to be said that there are plenty of hotheads on the Israeli side too. Those who set up settlements on Palestinian land; those who deliberately live dangerously within range of the rockets and cry shame when the rockets come - for political reasons; and those who believe that the only good Palestinian is a dead Palestinian.

I also think the USA should be much more independent in its foreign policy toward Israel. Israel can get away with actions like this because it knows the USA will stall world diplomatic action until it has done what it wants to do. The way that governments in the US seem to be puppets of the pro-Israel lobbyists has been one of my principle gripes about the USA for years. I often wonder what the outcome would be if US voters were asked directly whether their want their tax dollars spent on military aid to Israel: but the tail continues to shake the dog.



10,000 TShilling note.
29/12/2008 - Groundhog Days.

Yes, it's feeling like that movie again. This morning there's the rumble of thunder and the patter of rain. Breakfast was the same as yesterday, and later in the morning we will go to the port to see about our trip back to Mwanza.

Actually, the mango today was better than yesterdays, but I increasingly favour the trip back on New Year's Eve. However, a visit to Bukoba for Adia is a bit like attendance at an Ent Moot, and I don't know that a week and a bit will be enough time for everyone to say everything that has to be said.

The pound is dismally weak again. Just before Christmas it zoomed up to the dizzying level of $1.56, but now it's down to $1.47 again. I should consider myself lucky compared to many other retirees though. Millions of Brits have taken advantage of the EU by getting themselves a little house in France, or Portugal, or Spain, and other places, to spend their retirement in the sun. In their case, the pound has weakened even more dramatically against the Euro, the currency of their cost of living. I have been buffered to some extent by the falling value of the Tanzanian Shilling against the dollar.
I'm glad we chose Arusha as our destination in Tanzania. Apart from the fact that I like the city, it's significantly cheaper to live there than it is here in Kagera, or even in Mwanza. I think this is all driven by fuel price. I could be wrong, but I suspect our petrol and diesel in Arusha come to us from Mombassa in Kenya, which is the major port in East Africa, and is quite close. I reach this conclusion because the fuel in DSM is more expensive than it is in Arusha, and here it is even more. Clearly your litre of diesel has a market related price at the refinery or the port gates, but then you also have to pay to have it brought to where you live.

The TShilling comes out of ATMs in the 10,000 denomination, unless they are short of those notes in which case you get the 5,000 ones. The 10,000 TS note is currently worth about $8, so a trip to the ATM will get you $320. The 10,000 note will get you 14 loaves of ordinary bread, just over 4l of beer (Kilimanjaro), or about 7l of diesel.



Lake Victoria from the bluffs to the south of Bukoba.


Bukoba from the bluffs.
28/12/2008 - Life's Rich Pattern.

We went back to the Victorius Perch last night intent on eating the beef that Zawadi had last time, but they had no beef. So we left, and went to the Spice Beach Motel and ate chicken and chips again. I drank a bottle of the Drosty Hof red wine.

Consequently, this morning I did very little, and in the afternoon not a great deal more. We went to the port to see if we could make a booking to get back to Mwanza, but not surprisingly, since it is Sunday, the booking office was closed. Our choices are Wednesday or Friday, so we can do New Year on the MV Victoria, which might be OK, or in Bukoba where it would probably have to be Lina's. I tend to favour Wednesday, as I'm running out of things to do, and getting antsy to be home.

After the port I got Adia to drive up the steep road to the top of the bluffs to the south of the town, looking for photo ops. Unfortunately none of the pictures I took came out particularly well. You can't see what you're taking a picture of from the phone screen in bright sunlight, and in any case the lens is too wide angle, but I've picked out the best two from the bunch. I really must get a replacement for the dead Pentax.

Adia is mediating a meeting between Zawadi and Ibra in the next room. They were arguing again this morning, before Ibra went off to work. But they want to talk, and Adia may be able to prevent it from deteriorating into a shouting match. It's getting a bit heated at times though. Of course, though I understand what's being talked about in principle, I can't understand the details.

Tonight I believe we will eat in - Amina has provided a chicken, and I am promised potatoes.

27/12/2008 - Some Revelations.

It rained again this morning. We got up late, and as we were contemplating getting out of bed, Adia spilled some beans about things that were going on. First, apparently, Zawadi and Ibra are pretty much on a collision course. Both of them have been reading each other's mobile phones and not liking what they saw. Ibra is now sleeping on the sofa. The mobile phone is the principal tool of the unfaithful and the principal cause of their discovery.

Then Sudi phoned her to ask when we would be going back. I said that I'd have no problem taking him back in Potter, as really he'd been quite a help on the outbound trip. But then Adia said she wanted to avoid him. Apparently he's been chatting to Zawadi about how she, or we have been treating him. I don't know and don't want to know the details. Everything he's done for us, as far as I've been aware, he has volunteered to do, and Adia has been under the impression for months that he was just a friend and a good guy who wanted to help. I've been skeptical about this from the beginning - if someone or something is too good to be true, the chances are that its not.

But when they were in DSM it seems that Sudi knocked on her hotel bedroom door and made a pass at her - which was declined. Then when her mother and sister met Sudi on Christmas Eve day, they both instantly told Adia to dump the friendship forthwith. Adia has seen now that he's just a typical man after all - possibly a bit more patient than most. Also it has become clear that he believes the mzungu has lots of money, and he's been thinking in terms of getting some of it via Adia. So now we have to organize our return so we won't be on the same boat as Sudi back to Mwanza. None of this is a great surprise to me - by the time you get to my age you've seen most of the tricks that people get up to. It is true, whether I like it or not, that we are indebted to Sudi for the things he has done for us. But if I know my woman, retribution will be swift and irreversible, so there's bound to be bad blood as a result of the whole episode.

Currently I'm trapped at Zawadi's house. Two fundis are here attempting to recharge the refrigerant in Zawadi's fridge. They did it once a few days ago, but it leaked away and the fridge stopped working again. When they've finished I shall venture out and look for the CD again. But I'm guessing that I will end up downloading the drivers from the manufacturers web site when we get back to the permanent Internet connection in Arusha.



A new restaurant in Bukoba.


Some things are everywhere.
27/12/2008 - Back to Sleepy.

On Boxing Day, Adia's game plan was to attend a funeral. Mine was to go and see if the man had got the Bluetooth CD yet - life is really exciting here in Bukoba.

Well, the man hadn't, or rather he was not there, which amounts to the same thing. So I was in town at 1:30, with nothing much to do, and gravitated back to the New Bamboo. The pub was quite busy, but the town was like a ghost town. What had been a busy corner in front of the pub was now deserted, with most of the shops closed.

A Swedish couple appeared out of nowhere, and sat at the same table. They had been to some place in the west of Kagera where their daughter is working for some NGO. That evening they would take the MV Victoria to Mwanza, from where they would make a Safari into the Serengeti, and then move on to Arusha.

After they left, Adia called me to say that she was back at Zaire from the funeral, so I walked back, and from there we went back to Mama Azizi's where I was fed with green bananas and beans and fish. It seems that the entire cuisine in Kagera is designed to make me fart continuously.

After that it was time for a little nap - little being two hours in this case. Then it was time to take a shower and get ready to go out for the evening. We went to a small motel down by the lake beach where we found a table full of people that Zawadi knew, and joined them. Now I'll tell you, the British have a reputation as drinkers, but the Africans can give them a run for their money. The men were drinking Konyagi - the Tanzanian spirit drink - and the women Drosty Hof - a South African red wine that's about 14% alcohol - bottle after bottle. I stuck to Kilimanjaro at 4.5% as I could see it was going to be a long evening. They asked us to share their food, a spicy mixture of french fries, chicken, and salad - pretty good. As is inevitable, when we were through at the pub we moved on to Lina's, where we met the immigration guy who got me my most recent residence permit. We did our best to cement the relationship there, a I shall need his services every couple of years.

Adia got the dancing bit in her teeth, and I was doing quite well in that respect until I suddenly ran out of steam at about 2:00am, at which point she somewhat reluctantly took me home.



Adia was spot on.


The sign at Amina's cafe.


A little flirt.
25/12/2008 - No Plan.

Adia was right about the ground condition. When I went out to see the result of the rain it was like looking at a beach where the tide had just gone out. There were some puddles, but a notable absence of mud.

It appeared that there was no plan for the day. Adia wanted to go with her mother to visit somebody who was in hospital. This was not entirely what I had in mind for Christmas Day, so I opted out. She left at about 2:30, and then I persevered with this stuff for a while before walking down to her mother's cafe to see what was going on. They were still there, and eventually took of to the hospital at about 3:30, leaving me on the phone to my children.

By the time three hours had passed I realized that the 'no plans' statement was quite literal. There was to be no surprise Christmas dinner.

I had spent the time at the pub next to Zaire. When I first arrived, the staff were busy tarting up the area at the front of the pub. It's a strange place, and does not appear to have a name. There's an area behind the fence at the front that normally looks pretty bleak and uninviting - no tables or parasols. Then there's a room inside that has so much furniture in it that you feel that you might be hard pushed to reach a seat, or find the maze-like path to the bar. Round the back, with a separate entrance at the side, there's an area reminiscent of a cattle auction yard, with some corrugated iron rain covers, and wooden benches. This is normally the busiest part of the pub, and is where the least wealthy inhabitants of Kashai gather to drink banana liquor and watch football on the small TV there.

The staff were moving tables to the front area, covering them with shiny new brewery advert tablecloths, and surrounding them with chairs. Everything was cleaned, and the outer steel fence was draped with a cloth similar to the stuff used for lace curtains. I assumed at first that this was for some private function, but it turned out to be just because they were expecting that more families would turn out on Christmas today.

The landlord's daughter was operating the bar facing onto the rear bull pen. She quizzed me as to why a mzungu was in their pub in Kashai, and tried to get me to try the banana liquor. However, I'm not quite up for that yet. It's cheap, but it's about 10% alcohol and probably blows your head of if you drink it like beer, also it looks rather like bottled pig swill, so I'll reserve that pleasure for when I'm old and destitute. When she discovered I was with Amina's daughter, she became less interested in talking to me.

The little girl in the picture flirted with me shamelessly, probably encouraged by her mother, who didn't seem to be too strong on the shame thing either.

By the time Adia and Zawadi got back, at around 7:30, I'd had a few beers and was hungry and grumpy. The hospital visit had got extended to include visits to various relatives - this is inevitable in Africa, and another reason why I'd excused myself from the hospital run. The pub was doing chips mayai and beef skewers. I was prepared to settle for them at that point, but they did not want to eat there, so we just had some as a snack.

Later, back at Zawadi's, I got a meal put in front of me consisting of tenderloin, potatoes, and a salad, at about 9:30. So I did get a Christmas dinner of sorts after all.



Christmas eve in Bukoba.
25/12/2008 - Merry Christmas.

Indeed! Compliments of the season to all BEV readers. Here in Bukoba it is raining - I'm dreaming of a wet Christmas. It started with a few patters on the roof after I was first woken up by the girls clattering pots and pans in the courtyard outside our window. Then there were some distant rumbles of thunder followed quite shortly by some pretty heavy rain.

Adia says its effect is different here, the ground is generally very sandy, so it does not turn instantly to sticky mud as it does in Arusha. However I have not ventured out to test this theory yet, but since I neglected to throw my wellies into the back of the car before we set off, I hope she is right.

Most of yesterday just vanished - we didn't get up particularly early. When I got my act together I went to see the man about the Bluetooth CD. He said he would get me a copy from a friend who has the same device. Late afternoon Adia went to get Potter washed, and I dropped off at the New Bamboo pub to people watch. It's my view from there in the picture.

Bukoba has acquired a couple of new hotels since we were last there. In the evening we went with Mama Azizi and her husband Ibra to see what one of them was like.
The hotel is called 'The Victorius Perch' - it's not clear to me whether this is a typo that propagated to the sign boards, or whether it's a play on words. If I were to judge by the number of typos in the English menu, I'd go for the former. The menu was strange, lots of things you wouldn't expect, and missing things that you would. Perhaps the whole thing was a play on words, and you just have to know what to order.

For example, Zawadi ordered the BBQ - barbecued beef - and that turned out to be quite a decent steak cut into pieces. If you'd ordered some chips from the snacks menu, or a side of mashed potatoes which were available with the main courses other than the BBQ, you'd have been well on your way to a meal. Ibra had the BBQ chicken, and said that was good too. However, stumped by the menu, Adia and I had ordered veg samosas, spring rolls, and a chips mayai, and by the time we'd got through those, we were full, so we didn't investigate further.

After the food, we went across the road to a night club called "Lina's". I quite like the place, they play real music rather than generic dance music crap. No picture I fear - photography is not popular, since the majority of people in there are probably with someone who they shouldn't be with. I came away with the impression that a lone mzungu visiting Lina's might find it very easy to get laid. Of course, this being Africa in the early 2000s, that might not be all you'd get - the HIV rate here is about one in fourteen, and since the government is now giving Aids sufferers drugs, you've no chance of determining who might be sick by appearances.

We had a discussion about it in the afternoon. Adia's mum Amina, who watched two of her children die unpleasant deaths with Aids before the drugs were available, thinks the drugs are a nonsense, and will simply perpetuate the disease. She thinks everyone should be tested, and those who are positive should be topped. If they are not able to come up with a vaccine, it might come to that some day if the human race wants to stay around. As I said, Merry Christmas!

Anyway, after Lina's we got home around two, and didn't get up until hunger prevailed. I've just had cheese on toast of sorts, made in Zawadi's toaster oven. It's not very well designed, as the top shelf is miles away from the grill elements, and I couldn't find anything to space the toast up from the shelf, so it took ages, and when I'd finished I had partially melted cheese on rock-hard dry bread. Ah well! On the other hand, the breakfast fruit - mango, banana, pineapple, and avocado - was excellent, as it always seems to be here.

23/12/2008 - It's Technical.

We brought Adia's computer with us because there's less on it to lose if the rough road did a job on it. However, when I reached the point of attempting to transfer the pictures from our respective mobile phones, I discovered that it does not have Bluetooth. So getting a little USB Bluetooth device got added to the list of things we had to do yesterday, along with visiting Adia's mum, checking Potter's tyre pressures, standing in line for half an hour to get cash from an ATM, and trying to find out the outgoing mail server address for the Vodacom Internet service that I'm using while I'm here.

The Bluetooth thingie - from a company called Billionton in Taiwan - worked immediately, but has very limited options, like basically find other devices, pair, send a file, and receive a file. The ones I have bought before have all had a much wider repertoire. Also, the blister pack said it contained a CD and a quick start guide, and I didn't see either. Suspiciously though, there was a little square plastic envelope, about the size of a CD single. I shall return to see the man who sold it to me today - it would be handy to be able to transfer a bunch of files at one go.

Getting the outgoing mail server address was more of a problem. The local Voda customer care centre was a bit sketchy on what I wanted. They gave me something that sounded like a typical corporate server name, but it wasn't the complete Internet address I expected. So Adia phoned Rehema in Arusha, and she sent a girl across the road to the Voda office there, and later an Arusha techie called me and said, "Ah, you need to use smtp.vodamail.co.tz." That sounded much more like what I expected. I suppose they authenticate you by looking up the source IP address in a database, determining if they just passed that out to someone who connected to the Internet service, picking up the corresponding phone number and then checking your prepaid balance. As they say, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

The Voda Internet connection eats money. So I shan't be doing any work on the BEV Retrospective while I'm here. That's a pity, as I will have time to kill, but the research involved is far too Internet search intensive to do over a connection where you pay by the byte.

I don't know the plan for today. Samuel, another Kagera Mafia we know from Arusha, is also here for Christmas, and he was talking about a beach party or something tonight. We'll have to check that out. Before evening I'm fairly sure the plan will involve Adia visiting a lot of old freinds and relatives. I shall look for photo opportunities.



The dirt road with the Rift Valley wall to our west.


Like driving up DelMarVa from the Bay Bridge.


Fun on the MV Serengeti.
23/12/2008 - Safari Completed.

Well, so here we are in one piece in Bukoba, breakfasted and showered.

The journey was pretty good on the whole. Potter was marvellous, that old 4JG2 engine gives you the impression that it would drive forever. Two tanks full of diesel took us 800km. There is about 175km of tarmac road coming out of Arusha, followed by 165 miles of variable quality dirt road to get to Singida. Potter's heavy duty shock absorbers seemed to be well up to the punishment, and over the 340km stretch to Singida I was able to average almost 52km/h in as close to rally-driving style as I am up to. It was hard work though, especially with my graduated bifocal glasses. To look ahead to see oncoming traffic and bends you have to look through the top of them, but to spot the bad ruts and bumps you need to be looking through the centre, so inevitably I hit a few large bumps. It seems that no harm was done.

After Singida, it is now nearly all tarmac. Sudi, who is also from Kagera, came with us to visit his folks for Christmas with his little daughter, and he drove the rest of the 800km in about the same time.

Potentially it could have been much quicker. There are no police cars, radar, or speed cameras, and the road is very sparsely populated except for bicycles, so you can easily do about 120km/h. Fortunately for the inhabitants though, at each village the road passes through, there are speed bumps, and these really chop back your average speed.

The stretch to Singida reminded me of driving west through Pennsylvania along Interstate 78. There you always have the Blue Ridge on your right. In the Tanzanian case, it was one of the Rift Valley walls looming on our west/right.

After Singida I found the ride to Mwanza to be very reminiscent of driving up through DelMarVa in the eastern USA after you've crossed the Bay Bridge from Virginia Beach. Long straight level sections of road and gentle curves running through mostly flat country with little villages of rural housing every so often. There were a lot more bicycles though.

We got to Mwanza just on nightfall, as we'd hoped, and after a little look around Adia and I decided to stay at the New Mwanza hotel, and Sudi found a place that suited him. The New Mwanza isn't all that new, but it didn't cost an arm and a leg, and the food in the coffee shop was actually rather good, especially when washed down with a few bottles of Safari.

The room was a bit of a let down. Someone had left the window open, so although they sprayed it for us while we went out to eat, we got eaten by mosquitos. The AC worked but was noisy, so to sleep you really had too turn it off and suffer the heat. As a final touch, one of the strands of the hotel's Christmas decorations was hanging down just outside our window, and it flashed in some complicated pattern, illuminating the curtains all night. But we got some sleep, especially later when it cooled off a little.

In the morning we ate the hotel's breakfast, which was nothing special, but adequate. Then we had to go and see the man that Mama Azizi had arranged things with at the port, to see what we should do to get Potter on to the MV Serengeti for the trip to Bukoba that evening. We left him there with our luggage inside in a secure area. Then we had 8 hours to kill before the ship left.
We wandered around for a while, and I had a couple of early beers while Adia window shopped. Then Adia got her hair done, and I got a manicure to try and get my nails back into a tidier state after my recent building work. Then we walked around the bay a little distance to a Chinese restaurant we ate at two years go and ate spring rolls. Soon enough it was time to go and board the ship and claim our cabin. Strictly speaking, the MV Serengeti doesn't have any. It's passengers have to sit or sleep on wooden benches. But the crew make a standard practice of renting out their cabins, so we had a couple of bunk beds to sleep in.

The ship carried plentiful quantities of beer, and also came up with some very presentable food that was cooked by a couple of older Muslim men in a very tidy kitchen. The gave us a choice of rice or green bananas with either fried fish, beef, or chicken in soup. We had a fried fish dinner and a beef dinner, and shared. Both were excellent. The fried lake fish had the edge over the beef, and the bananas were outstanding in texture and flavour.

We had another semi-sleepless night in the hot cabin, but we both slept in spells. The ferry stopped at Kemondo bay at about five in the morning, so we got up to witness the proceedings there. Then we managed to get to sleep again before we reached Bukoba just before seven.

Mama Azizi was waiting on the quay. After they'd extracted some sacks of mangoes and some other vehicles through the bow door, I was able to reverse Potter off the boat, and Adia drove like a queen in triumph from the port, and through the town, initially to Adia's mum's house, and then to Mama Azizi's, with her big Isuzu SUV a source of wonder and envy to all!



Car wash, African style.


The long and winding road.
19/12/2008 - Where did that week go?

Some further work has been done on the house. The wide variations in ground water level and content between the hot dry summer and the wet winter inevitable cause some movement in a new foundation. Consequently we had some minor cracking in some walls and in the floor of the big room.

A fundi and his labourers came this week to put some steel across the cracks and fill them. What they do is to cut Z shaped channels across the crack into which they then insert a Z shaped piece of reinforcing bar, then they mortar the steel stitches in. Hopefully the foundation will have stabilized by now, and that will hold it.

I have been doing some alterations to the under-floor plumbing in the master bedroom. For whatever reason, I'd got my level wrong, and I was really pushed to get the drop on the highest section of the sewer pipe. So I had to hack holes in the concrete floor and put in new shower and floor drains about 150mm higher up. The drop should be fine with that.

It has been decided that we will drive to Bukoba for Christmas, or the new year, or both. Consequently, Adia has been pulling out all the stops to make Potter as perfect as possible so she can return to her hometown as the conquering heroine. During the rainy season the winding road that joins our village to Njiro gets pretty treacherous, and Adia had banged the front passenger side wing against the steel rail of one of the bridges across the two streams between here and there. So Potter had to be washed so he could then be taken to a panel beater to be straightened out. Now he is as perfect as he's going to be.

Driving to Bukoba is problematic in that there's a section of the road in southern Kagera that goes through a forested area - check out the map that shows our route. This is a haunt of bandits - the buses passing that way get a police escort. The bandits are particularly active toward the holiday season, so we don't fancy the idea of this old mzungu and his young wife driving through that section alone at this time of year. Consequently we'll have to put potter on one of the ships that ply between Mwanza and Bukoba, and getting a place on one of those is tight at this time of year. As it stands at present, we'll get one that leaves Mwanza on the 22nd.

It leaves in the evening, so that means we need to set out early Sunday morning to be sure we have plenty of time to cover the 700km from here to Mwanza, where we expect to make the overnight stop. The drive is Arusha -> Singida -> Nzega -> Shinyanga -> Mwanza. The Arusha to Singida section is rough road, but hopefully most of the rest is tarmac or concrete.



The reincarnated Potter.
13/12/2008 - The Shopping Expedition Returns.

Adia and Sudi arrived back safe and sound with Potter full of various purchases including a quantity of pineapples and oranges that they'd bought at a roadside stall at ridiculously low prices. Most of these have now been disbursed to various neighbours.

Adia had found some really nice wall lights. I think they may be a little small for the large room, but two of the bedrooms have wall lights, and they will certainly look good there. We may have to bite the bullet and drive to Nairobi to find some things. There were also ceiling lights for the big room, and I got a new pair of jeans.

I was quite excited to drive the now fully functional Potter, and my anticipation was fully gratified. When the 4JX1 engine was running - many months ago - Potter's performance had been excellent. Now he is back to similar form, and should probably be regarded as Potter 2. He has the maintainable 4JG2 engine, replaced gearbox control unit, refurbished and one replacement gearbox control valves, and so on.
The problems with the low gears seem to be completely fixed, and he now leaps away if you just tickle the throttle.

The fundi who changed the engine said that there were serious design flaws in the 4JX1 engine before about year 2000 such that if the engine was opened by a regular car mechanic without the full workshop manuals and the proper diagnostic equipment, the chances of it ever running again were slim. In contrast, the 4JG2 engine is a lower technology but very reliable diesel engine used in large numbers in Isuzu fork lift trucks. It can be taken to pieces and reassembled by any reasonably competent mechanic, and is difficult to kill.

In the African environment, that is pretty much what the doctor ordered. His bodywork is in excellent condition, and the dealer we bought him from, who was using him as his personal vehicle, fitted heavy duty suspension components. I am expecting him to outlast me!



Adia's tile shop.
12/12/2008 - Lots of Tiles.

Adia and Sudi are due back any time now. A truck bearing about 850kg of ceramic tiles preceded them, having travelled overnight. Because the roads are full of such trucks at night Adia and Sudi preferred to roast in DSM for another night and drive during the day.

The tiles seem to have made it here intact - I don't see any evidence of breakages. Of course, they are in boxes, so time will tell.

There are several batches: 75m2 of 600mm sq porcelain tiles approximating the colour of a creamy marble for the big room; 50m2 of terra-cotta like tiles for the veranda and corridor; 21m2 of 400mm sq porcelain tiles for our bedroom; and 40 some m2 of tiles that will go into the small house when it gets renovated.

I still have not found an effective way to keep the puppies out of the vegetable plot. They seem to find the smell of the cow manure that's in there irresistible, and they're very strong and quite ingenious when it comes to getting through or under the fence.
The cunning little buggers do it after it's got light in the morning when Moses has retired for a pre-breakfast nap, which is usually before I've surfaced. Consequently no one has had a chance to chastise them yet.
UN Human Rights.

There was a snippet on BBC World News tonight about the historical human rights declaration many years ago. This featured a Pakistani official, presumably speaking for Islam, who said of free speech - roughly speaking - "How would you feel if I came into your parents home and said "blah, blah, blah," and so on.

Well, my primary comment is that "blah, blah, blah," does not help anyones understanding of anything. Let's translate it into something hypothetical, but probably not short of the mark. "You yourselves have led tremendously immoral lives in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. You have brought your children up in a way that will lead them to be even more immoral than you were. You have offended god. You are worse than pigs."

So let's consider the reaction to this. For a start, I would have credited my parents with the ability to deal with this themselves - why would they need my assistance? In some western parent households, the reaction might have been a slightly confused silence. In others it might have been a heated discussion about the propriety of stoning women to death for committing adultery - but not men. In others, it might have been a boot in the arse out of the door! In most of them however, the discussion the next day would likely have been along the lines of "That visitor we had last night was a bit strange, I hope he gets his problems sorted out."

Let me be clear. I have no great problems with the attitudes of 95% of the Muslim people that I meet and am associated with - I am married to one, and we manage to coexist quite well. It's the ones who claim to represent the views of the religion as a whole who seem to be a problem. In particular, I think, it is the acceptance of Mohammed's short-sighted requirement that society must freeze itself in the morals and ways of the 6th century. If you accept that rule, then the citizens of Islamic countries, especially the women, are doomed to be deprived of the rights and privileges of their fellow humans. And of course, their fellow humans are doomed to suffer the outrages constantly perpetrated by misguided followers of Mohammed in their attempts to impose 6th century values on others.

As for the jihadis, consider this. You may, if you are right, which is extremely improbable, go to paradise. And you may get your ration of seven virgins. Since heaven, or for that matter hell, is forever, that's infinity, that's more than 1,000,000,000,000,000 years. You'd better make them virgins last, When you've finished, the rest of infinity is going to be extremely tedious. You'd probably do better just leading a normal caring life on Earth. Also, isn't it so 6th century to really care whether a woman you want to have sex with is a virgin or not. If it's important to you in 'paradise', you're probably just continuing with the sort of human rights abuses that got you to 'paradise' in the first place.

OK, so now I'm probably on your hit list, but I'm an old man. Death is inevitable, and in my view just a switching off, no martyrdom, no further consciousness. So what's to lose - a few years of arthritis, impotence, and incontinence, but the right to free speech needs to be exercised.



The barbican.
7/12/2008 - A Question for Economists.

Since every commentator you read or hear says that the banks and other institutions have more or less stopped lending money, how is it that the central banks continue to reduce their interest rates. Presumably the expectation now is that if you get a loan, the interest rate will be less, but, catch 22, you can't get a loan!

So then the primary effect of reducing the central bank interest rates, as in the case of the Bank of England, is to drive down the value of the pound. I have a particular problem with this, and the Brits who live in Britain will eventually notice it in the prices of all the things that have to be imported. Today it's at $1.46, a devaluation of 27% since May of this year. A slight positive for me is that the Tanzanian currency has also weakened against the dollar, but even so my income has been devalued by 23% over this period. That's pretty scary.

So who is gaining from these rate reductions?

Switching subjects, I like our new Masai, Moses. He's a self-starter, and a helper. Some of the Masai we've had would just stand and watch while you struggled to do something, but Moses is looking for work.
This morning I, or rather we, installed some wire mesh mosquito netting on the door of the barbican. I cut some 25mm square laths of wood to screw to the steel door frame into holes drilled in the steel, then we clamped a piece of the netting to the frame with the laths, and added a wood door handle on the inside. So now hopefully it is both mosquito proof, and waterproof.

Then Moses and his brother/friend Paulo - Rehama's Masai - spent some time moving the junk that had accumulated in there into the store room next to the small house. I'm sure he'll have it snug in no time.



The Aluminium/glass partition.


Moses assisting in Adia's departure.

6/12/2008 - An Expedition.

It has been decided that Adia will go to DSM with Sudi today for a dual-purpose visit. First objective, Potter's gearbox needs to get fixed. The absence of the low gears is worrying in difficult weather conditions. Often you just want to put him in 2nd gear and four wheel drive and then just accelerate gently and let the torque of the diesel engine pull you out of trouble.

Second, we need to buy tiles, and these should be much cheaper in DSM. We know what we want, an Sudi knows where to get them - he got the tiles for his house there. So Adia will pick out the correct ones - with a bit of luck - and do the haggling, she's pretty good at that. There are other things such as light fittings that she'll also look for. I'll be left here to mind the shop with Kiki, so I hope the rain moderates some.

However, to complicate matters, Adia went to an ATM yesterday to get some money, and keyed in the wrong PIN number several times until we got locked out of the account that she'll use for the tiles. Fortunately the system relented by this morning, but checking it put their trip back so now they won't get there until late in the evening.

I'm not sure I noted the departure of our helper Amos. He had been broadcasting to the neighbours that he was leaving on the 3rd of December, but the horse blew first, and Adia packed him off back home the week before.

Anyway, Rehema's Masai turned up on Monday and said he had a brother - that can be almost any distant relative - who was looking for a job, and was hard working, and had worked for a mzungu, and had experience of caring for dogs. The CV seemed good, so Adia saw him, and he - Moses - is now installed. I have to put some mosquito net on the steel-grill door of the barbican this weekend, but this means I can go out during the day or in the evening without leaving all the responsibility on the puppies. Now we just need to find someone to do the washing.

Moses says they are very good at detecting anything that's going on outside the compound at night, and we are now much more relaxed about the possibility of him going to sleep at night like all the other Masai. The puppies will give early warning and wake him up.

As an omen for the trip, Adia reversed straight into Kiki while manoeuvring toward the gate. I do hope that is the single incident for their trip.
4/12/2008 - Heavy Weather.

Since it rained last Friday it has been at it quite frequently and quite heavily, day and night. The roads are getting pretty awful, and it's a constant battle to keep the mud off the deck outside the small house - the puppies like to paint it on there with their paws, and out of the house. Kiki is grounded - too dangerous in the mud, and Potter is constantly mud spattered.

My tomato and zucchini seedlings have come up nicely this time. I've managed to prevent them from being destroyed by the rain, and I have some potted out into plastic cups to grow to the point where I can plant them out and expose them to the weather.


My zucchini and tomato seedlings.


Rough tourmaline crystals.
Since the weather was wet I also took the chance to move the baby avocado tree that has been growing from a nut against the north wall of the compound. It can't grow there, it would break the wall, so I dug it up as best I could and put it in the centre of the current kitchen garden where it is a good distance from anything and will be able to grow to a large tree. When it's grown, after I'm gone, it will provide some shade for the big house in the mornings. Although I damaged its root system when I dug it up, it looks like it might survive. The spinach seedlings next to it also seem to be surviving the weather.

The rain washed the soil and mud off some gravel on the ground in front of the small house, and looking at it the other day I noticed that it had quite a crop of black tourmaline crystals with characteristic trigonal prismatic shapes. They aren't large, and are rough and dirty, but if they're around in these quantities there must be some good big ones around somewhere in the region. I must get a decent camera again some day.

Some fundis came this week to finish off the aluminium/glass partition in the main room of the big house. So now we need to get tiles for the big room. Adia plans to leave me here to look after the ranch and go to DSM with Sudi to get Potter's gearbox problem fixed and buy tiles and some other items that she should be able to get significantly cheaper there.


Neighbors pick-up stuck in the mud.


The house at first December.
1/12/2008 - Unblocked.

So what's new and different now it's December. Well, the house is still much the same except for the electricity connection that you can barely see, and some internal electrical modifications. But, we are now unblocked, and can make some progress.

You'll see I have moved the woodpile. This was done to make a space for the kitchen garden which is now sprouting its first spinach seedlings.
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What is BEV?

Brits Eye View is an Englishman's five-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.