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December 2011 in Tanzania through the eyes of an Englishman

24/12/2011 - Christmas 2011.

After the annual ordeal of getting the camera balanced on something, everyone in place, and the dogs organized, this is the best I could come up with. There's an alternate version with the cats and the tortoises - I'll post that later.

As soon as the dog leashes appear, they think they are going for a walk or a ride in the car, and become excited and unmanageable. The tortoises were almost as bad, attempting to flee the scene - shyness forgotten.

I'm assuming we will go to the Mount Meru hotel for their Christmas lunch. It was pretty good last year - report later.

Hot, hearty, soup.

21/12/2011 - A Soup for January.

Having failed to keep my promise about snack dishes for the holiday season, I shall attempt to make amends by offering a soup for January. The scenario is 'spent too much at Christmas, and now confronted with cold January weather.' So how does a hot, hearty soup made from next-to-nothing sound?

You will need:

  • 3 or 4 medium sized potatoes,
  • 3 small red onions, or a large yellow onion,
  • As much garlic as you like,
  • Three or four frankfurter sausages, or a chunk of salami,
  • Salt and common-or-garden curry powder,
  • Squeeze of lemon juice or a dessert spoon of vinegar.
Finely chop the onions and fry them with a desert spoon of curry powder until soft, and even a little browned, in a generous splash of olive oil.

Peel and dice the potatoes into 10mm (3/8") cubes - not an exact science. Chop the garlic - not too fine. Boil the potatoes, adding the garlic when you think the potatoes are about half cooked. When the potato cubes are more or less soft, attack them and the garlic in the boiling water with a potato masher. This should not be too vigorous - the end result should be somewhat granular, but enough of the potatoes should be mashed to act as thickening. If the consistency is too thick, add more water and bring back to the boil

Now stir in the fried onion/curry mix, and continue to simmer. Chop the frankfurters into little rounds, or dice the salami so that everyone gets quite a few pieces, and dump this in as well. Simmer for a further ten minutes, or until serving time, adding the lemon juice close to the end.

I, being a potato addict, had this last night with chips, using the thick soup as a dip. Scoffed the rest for lunch today, even though the temperature was in the 30s centigrade - midsummer or somewhere close here.

A culprit.

17/12/2011 - What Does the Back Arrow Mean?

In my simple minded view, when I click the 'Back' arrow, button, or whatever, a web browser should display to me once more exactly what it was showing me before I went somewhere else.

It has all the information it needs cached on my machine, so all that should happen is that the browser renders that data. This should be a relatively fast operation on a reasonably powerful machine. But no, as often as not, I have to wait until the browser has consulted the web site corresponding to 'Back' to see if that wants me to see the same thing or something different.

BBC News - a web site I visit quite frequently appears to be a bad offender in this respect. I open bbc.com/news/ in Firefox, and with the Internet connection that we get here, that takes some time to load. I read the main news headings, and then often chose some item that involves displaying a sub-page. That works at the same speed - nothing unexpected.

But then when I have read the sub-page, I press the back button. The status bar tells me 'Reading static.bbc.co.uk', and this state of affairs then seems to persist indefinitely - it has been saying that while I typed the text you see so far. So it's quite likely that BBC news has a bug, but I should not need to know that. I clicked 'Back'. That should mean that I get to see just what I was looking at before. If I feel that the content may be stale, there's a refresh button I can press to get the latest and greatest. So in fact both the BBC and Firefox have bugs. The former because it is using some sneaky Javascript to defeat my intentions, and the latter because it feels it is appropriate to run it!

Will someone out there with a slow connection please check this observation and let me know if I am simply living in some parallel universe (I often suspect this). I just looked again - BBC News is still reading static.bbc.co.uk. To see the original page I will have to click the stop button and start from scratch. And of course when I do that, there's no guarantee that I'll get the same page as I was originally looking at.

Ubuntu 11.10 Unity Interface.

15/12/2011 - Wrong Direction?

Last weekend I finally got around to trying out the latest version of Ubuntu - 11.10. When I had installed 11.04 back in March, I had become aware of the new Unity user interface, but it did not really affect me, since the install determined that my hardware was not up to it, and it reverted to the previous Gnome desktop, which suited me fine. I probably told my laptop to use Gnome interface also.

But with 11.10 you have no such option. Gnome is gone, and if I were to put it on my desktop machine I don't know what would happen. Fortunately I did the experiment on the laptop.

Unity just did not work for me. I was spending more time looking for the utilities I am accustomed to than I was using them, and Unity had a way of hiding things I wanted to remain visible. I am sure that with time I could have adjusted settings and got used to it. What I do not see is how I would benefit from that effort.

I gather that the idea is to create an interface that will be equally at home on smart phones, pads, tablets, laptops, and desktops. But that notion seems to me to throw away the very real advantages that a 20 inch high-res screen has over a 3x2 phone display. Maybe someone will convince me in time, but for the moment as far as I'm concerned, it is a kings-new-clothes thing.

So then I tried Linux Mint - an Ubuntu derivative that has apparently gained considerable support following the Ubuntu switch to Unity. Mint has declined to follow in the Unity direction and has designed its own desktop based on Gnome 3 I think. So my laptop currently has that. Unfortunately, while better than Ubuntu with Unity, it's still not as convenient to use as the Ubuntu 11.04 I have on my main machine. So I'm thinking I will skip 11.10, and see how things are shaping up next March when 12.04 comes out. At the same time I'll spend some time with Mint and see if that grows on me.

10/12/2011 - Out of the Blue.

A byte of the past.

Occasionally things happen out of the blue that make you sit up and think - Wow!

I got an email on Friday from someone who I guess must be at least a one-time BEV reader. He had been cleaning out an old lever-arch file in the office, and found the letter in the illustration. It seems that on seeing it, he realized that he had never replied, so almost a quarter of a century later, he did.

"24 years?" - you're going to say. Well yes I believe so, the date on the letter must have been a typo on my part, because by 1998, Zortech was long gone, sold to Symantec in the early 90's. The phone number places me in my little office in Harrogate in the UK, from which I used to do Zortech's technical support back in those days. Also, the question is about the Zortech C compiler, which in 1988 was about to be eclipsed by Zortech's release of the first C++ compiler for DOS/Windows - after that, enquiries about the C compiler ceased almost instantly. In any case, by 1998 I was working for a software company across the Atlantic in Manhattan.

I was very touched to receive the thank-you note, it was the sort of thing that from time to time restores your faith in human nature.

The Zortech C and C++ compilers were written by my then colleague, and I hope still friend, Walter Bright. You can get them to this day in their later forms at Digital Mars. Zortech was the brain child of an entrepreneurial Englishman called John Haggins, and I think owed much to his right-hand man Paul Leathers. It was fun while it lasted. John, Paul, where are you now?

Tanzania's Flag.

9/12/2011 - Independence Day.

Today is Tanzania's 4th of July, Bastille day, or what have you. It's a public holiday, and nominally a cause for celebration. But many people went to work as on any other day. Our roofer/carpenter turned up for work. Adia asked him why? "Why not" he said, close as I can judge - "what's to celebrate, we'd have been better off if the British had stayed."

Sadly, his view or some similarly cynical one is widely echoed. Many people are very disenchanted with the government. The country's English language dailies restricted themselves to mention of Mwalimu's (Julius Nyerere - the country's first president) achievement in creating a peaceful nation out of chaos, barely mentioning any of the subsequent leaders.

My personal view is very basic. It is that a country that has been governed for 50 years by the same party and clique, with the choice of the president largely determined by those bodies, and with power invested almost entirely

in the presidency, can hardly be described as a democracy. Without actual changes in government and presidential affiliation, any nominal democracy must be regarded as not proven.

And the progress of the early years has not been maintained. The nationalized industries created by the then communist, or close to communist government, have failed. We still depend here on roads and bridges and other infrastructure features that were built by the British, and have often been allowed to decay. My favourite example is the grid of streets in central Arusha, where you'll see odd patches of tarmac and iron drain covers a foot above the general level of the street. The rest has eroded away. That's not to mention the defunct railways.

But it's a beautiful country with loads of potential, and the ordinary people are overwhelmingly good natured and tolerant - almost to a fault, as is often remarked by their Kenyan and Ugandan neighbours. I live in hope of the election in 2015. Perhaps then we'll have a 'Tanzanian spring'.

A partition taking shape.

6/12/2011 - A Hectic Day.

It was all happening here yesterday. Adia has the painter in at the moment painting a couple of rooms that were never completely finished, including our bedroom. At the same time Spemba the roofer/carpenter is making a partition to turn the first room along the guest wing into a self-contained unit. The area was originally intended to be an office, and a general purpose bathroom, but both have got subsumed into the guest wing. As it is now though the occupant(s) of the room must use the separate bathroom. Fortunately there's a kind of foyer area that gives access to both, and the intention now is to put a door and some obscured glass glazing there to make the two rooms into a unit. Then I have to perform some magic in the bathroom to make something that is quite small look welcoming and useful. I think is is possible, but I will have to do some floor hacking to move the toilet slightly.

However I can't do that until the painter is finished in our bedroom, since we are using that room and bathroom while he does it. He in turn was on hold

until the window in there had been changed. We had decided, while we were at it, to replace its steel framed window with an aluminium one with a proper insect screen. That got done yesterday after a good deal of rather vicious hacking by a steelwork fundi with an angle grinder and me with a cold chisel and hammer to remove the steel framed window, while leaving its grill in place.

Adia is now campaigning vigorously to have some decent furniture made for our bedroom as well, so I guess I will be doing woodwork for a couple of months. She's doing pretty well with the grasshoppers this year, and thinks she will be able to fund that.

What else? Well, I got a proper domain name for Adia's Place - it's now adias-place.com (adiasplace.com was taken, but I think the hyphen is ok except that you have to remember it is there.) I've also added a BEV partners page as I think that after nine years BEV may be about to get its first partner - Access is via the right sidebar.

An afternoon snack.

5/12/2011 - December Already!

It's a while since I have done a recipe, so while I was eating my afternoon snack yesterday I thought I'd describe how I make Hummus.

Hummus is a middle eastern dish that is older than some hills. It's typically used in the west as a snack or starter. I shall try to describe a few things in that category over the next couple of weeks. They might find some application during the coming holiday season.

OK, so you will need:

  • 500ml (about a pint) of cooked chick peas,
  • Juice of a lemon,
  • Three or four good-sized cloves of garlic,
  • Large tablespoon of tahini (crushed sesame seeds),
  • Splash of olive oil,
  • Teaspoon of salt.
All of these ingredients are according to your taste, so you might have to make if two or three times go get it in a Goldilocks state for you and yours. However, the above should not be a bad starting point.

The chick peas will probably be canned ones - boiling them yourself is a pain and takes ages. Got everything? Good, let's proceed.

Extract the juice from the lemon, and crush the garlic to a smooth paste.

The chick peas should have been left to go cold if you boiled them. Drain them, leaving them in a fairly wet state - retain some of the soupy water they were canned/cooked in. Then crush them. This is one of the matter-of-taste points. I like my hummus to be not too smooth, similar in appearance to oat porridge, and crushing them with a potato masher will get the effect I want. Others will prefer a more creamy consistency, so do them in the blender if you like.

When you've got a consistency that looks good to you, thoroughly stir in the lemon juice, garlic and salt.

Check the state of the tahini. If it has been around for a while it will probably have a layer of oil on top, and stirring this in to homogenize the stuff can be the hardest part of the whole job, but you should do it. Then dump your tablespoon of it into the other mixture and kind of whisk it in with a wooden spoon or spatula. I suggest that you don't do this part in the blender as that will change the consistency that you carefully achieved.

Then you can taste it, and add more lemon juice, salt, or tahini as you please - just stirring them in. If it seems too thick, use a little of the water from the can, or the boiling, to thin it.

Tahini has quite a strong taste that does not suit everyone. If that's your case, you can try substituting peanut butter, or a mixture of the two. It's not really hummus without tahini, but it's still a pleasant dip/spread.

Serve the hummus flattened out in a shallow dish decorated with an artistic swirl of olive oil on the top, and a sprig of parsley or some other greenery. Mine was just plonked in a bowl - I was about to eat it, not put it on display.

It is traditionally eaten as a dip with pita bread - as-is or toasted. I usually eat it with either fingers of toasted wholewheat bread, or cracker biscuits. It's an excellent addition to your repertoire of cocktail party snacks, and it will survive for some time in the fridge in a screw-top jar.

The wine in the picture is a Tanzanian one, from the Dodoma vine-growing region. I'm quite impressed - it reminds me of a white Rioja. At TS8,500, about $5, a bottle, it is pretty good value, especially here where imported wines tend to be expensive.

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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?

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

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Top 20 BEV Pages.

Exchange Rates.

BEV Software Blog.

I've been working recently on D programming language interfaces to SQL database systems. This is very much work-in-progress, but you can read more about it on the software page. Source code is available at github.

Moods of Meru.

Mt Meru

Pristine.

Random BEV Poem.

BEV Partners.

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