February 2008 in Tanzania through the eyes of an Englishman

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The mzungu in his temporary workshop.
29/2/2008 - Dunia Nzuri.

Well, almost literally at the eleventh hour, we moved our stuff out of the rented house at Sun Park into the service block on our own compound. I was super exhausted for most of the ten days before, and even more so on the day of the move. Aside from supervision, tidying the site up, and general ongoing tasks, I have made two beds, a large set of shelves for the bedroom, and kitchen units for our temporary living kitchen. All of these I have to say are in a somewhat rustic style and utilize a lot of reject timber that I've cut to the sizes I needed and then just roughly planed to a moderately smooth surface.

We decided that since we had liked the apartment block where we lived in India, We would name our new place after it, so the Teale compund is Dunia Nzuri - The Good Earth.

Once we have reorganized the debris from the move, the place should be quite habitable. The bathroom is pretty complete - there's just one small leak to be fixed, then it will be quite nice. The inline water heater works alongside the fridge and a few lights, and produces a better warm shower than the similar one at Sun Park. It still needs a couple of shelves and a towel rail, but that will get done in the next few days.

There are four of us here at the moment. Mama Azizi has come from Bukoba, like a valkurie, to recover Lydia. When it was reported that she had found herself a boyfriend at church, the powers-that-be back in Kagera decided she must be recalled. Sad really.

A study in blues.

The generators in their cage - TBD.
17/2/2008 - Almost a Sunday.

A quiet day today, there were just the painters, the tiler relaying the shower tray, and the guy from the shop that made the interior doors, who'd come to refit them since they made them of unseasoned wood, and they had warped, shrunk, etc.

I spent much of the morning checking round the site for things Adam had done that probably required re-doing. The potential new supervising engineer is coming to see us Monday morning, and if we like the look of him I'll take him on a tour and get his opinion. Adia had two labourers, who had started on leveling work yesterday, and today she had them doing general cleanup and more leveling.

Later I noticed that I probably had most of the materials I needed to start putting a roof on the generator cage. The generators are called Pig and Piglet respectively. Pig is a 4.6KW air cooled diesel, and Piglet a 900W petrol. Pig will be used to power the service block when we move in, and later as the standby power source when we get mains electricity. and Piglet is used to drive small power tools, principally the electric drill and the tool for heating plastic pipes to join them. Adia went and got another sheet of corrugated iron, and a piece of three by two from somewhere. So the family now have a roof.

Then we had some lunch. Our working lunch is chips kuku - chicken and chips - with a vegetable, usually spinach or some approximation to it. By special arrangement we also get a salad of tomato, cucumber sliced onion and lemon juice. I ate too much, and had a beer, so I was consequently almost disabled when we returned. I got my act together and put the light fitting on the bathroom ceiling, the tiler having finished relaying the shower tray, which now has a reasonable slope. Then I tested the lighting circuits and went home early. I was showered and dressed to kill by 18:00 - almost a day off!

Tonight I rather fancy eating out, so I shall try to persuade the girls to eat pub food.

Reclining Masai.
16/2/2008 - Parting of the Ways.

Today we fired Adam. It was pretty much a foregone conclusion, but when he again disregarded our list of priorities, it was a certainty. He says he is the builder, so he knows what is to be done in what order. I say I am the customer, and I am paying for the work, so if I fuck up, be it upon my own head. I have taken his advice many times, but I want to have the last word.

When I arrived at some point, our Masai - Lesika - was taking a nap by my workbench under the new awning. I could not resist the picture. I have to say that otherwise it was generally not a good day. I do not like sacking people, but in addition to this there was a list of woes. Adams lot took the shuttering of some corner posts, and in the process punctured the two newly installed water pipes. That in itself was not that bad, but they simply closed the water valve from the storage tank, and didn't mention it. I can't do with that. Then we could not find my two pound hammer. One of the guys on site admitted to using it earlier in the day, and I told him through Adia to find it or pay for it - more than his days pay. It turned our later that the plumbers mate had taken it thinking it belonged to the plumber, so I apologized, and I think it was accepted. The tiling man had to come and break out $30 worth of tiles he had laid in the shower tray since the original job had no slope and would not drain. Of course this meant we had to buy another box of the floor tiles. After that, Adam did another of his classic ignore what you say days, as noted, so I was generally pissed.

Stiffening the defences.
14/2/2008 - So What to Do.

The rain experience yesterday was not good, but at least I got an opportunity to see what happened during really heavy rain. My inclination was to dig a trench obliquely across the bottom of the compound, culminating is a small culvert by the gate. The snag with this was that it was almost certain to get filled in during the building work. Adam suggested an alternative - build a wall instead of a trench. I went for this, I figured that water from the other side of the wall could be dealt with later by judiciously placed trenches leading to pipes under the wall. So today this wall was started. I also got the guy who is building the drainage inspection chambers to finish them off with waterproof linings, and block up the as-yet incomplete entrances. That should stop the septic tank from getting filled up with rain water. Then I got an earth bund placed around my tarpaulin protected area, a couple of extra posts installed at each end to improve the tarps drainage, and a layer of moram on the temporary workshop floor - a busy day

My adopted assistant Abu started to punch the holes through the back wall of the bedroom block of the main house for the shower drains as per my measurements. I will put in a separate drain for these, so they are separated from the toilet drains. That just works out better in terms of construction ease and the availability of couplings and reducing T-joints here. We'll cut the holes for the toilet drains when I see the actual floor levels.

Taking it easy in the afternoon, I installed most of the remaining electrics. At the same time, the plumber installed the bathroom fittings and water supply. When this was complete it became clear that the guy who tiled the room had not applied an appropriate slope to the shower floor, so we will have to buy more tiles and get him to hack out the current ones and replace them. I'm assuming he will do that within whatever he has already been paid, since the slope was definitely his job.

Rain Damage.
14/2/2008 - Water Water Everywhere.

This afternoon at about 15:30 there was a deluge of rain from a passing thunderstorm. I had just put up a blue plastic tarpaulin to act as a temporary workshop cover, and my immediate concern was that it did not have enough slope and was collecting puddles of water, so I was standing under it encouraging the water to run off.

Adia phoned me and told me that from where she was in the service block it was clear that a lot of water was running into the soak pit. I could not immediately see what to do about it, and the intensity of the rain and the amount of water running across the ground were somewhat intimidating. However after a time I realized that there was a small pile of concrete blocks nearby, and that if I placed some of them strategically I might be able to divert the worst of the water flow to the soak pit. So I emerged from my somewhat useless cover - the rain was coming in sideways anyway in the squally wind - grabbed a block, and placed it where I thought it might do some good, then went back for more.

Adam and his workers had been inside watching, but my activity got a response, and they emerged, grabbed picks and shovels, and worked to divert the flow. Adia paid them for their help, but that will not mean that Adam gets a reprieve. He has exhausted his nine lives.

The soak pit is now three quarters full of muddy water, and the septic tank more than half full, since water got into the incomplete drainage system and ran down through the drain pipes. The septic can be drained and cleaned out, but the soak pit could be a problem if the clay bearing mud seals it. We will just have to wait and see how quickly the water soaks away and keep our fingers crossed.

Adia took the picture on her mobile when the worst of the rain had passed. As you can see, the blue tarp miraculously survived. Oh, and it was valentines day, and of course I forgot, having thought it was valentines day the day before - I tell you, with this seven day a week building schedule, it gets difficult to keep track. As it turned out, Adia had almost forgotten too, and only reminded me later in the day. I don't know what we would have done different if we had both realized earlier in the day.

A threat of more rain.

Picture postcard.
13/2/2008 - Early Rains Continue.

As I drove home last night the sky looked somewhat ominous, and indeed during the night it rained for quite some time. It was not heavy, but steady, and once again this morning the switch to mud had occurred. The rain fell as hail or snow on the mountain, and if I'd had a suitable camera and a tripod, and the required expertise, I could have got a picture postcard shot of it. Fortunately the work that was going on was not much effected, much of that currently being indoors.

Today, as yesterday, we spent the morning in town buying various bits and pieces required to finish off the service block. These days I've got so that going into town to do that sort of thing is a really stressful ordeal, but it has to be done. Adia could go with a list, but if she looked at the things she was given she would not have a clue as to whether they were the right thing or not. In the afternoon, I continued to make the beds we will need when we move in. I have made Lydia's bed, apart from sanding and varnishing, and am now working on a bed for me and Adia. I have recruited a young lad called Abu, who was one of Adam's occasional workers - he gave up on Adam because what he was getting paid was really not worth the time and effort. Today I was teaching him how to use the electric drill. Soon he will be my assistant to make the roof trusses, and then he'll need to be competent at that. He does not speak much English, but I have a feeling that he'll soon get the basics of what I'm talking about, and trying to explain myself should be good for my Swahili.

The tiling in the bathroom is completed, and there is now glass in two of the windows. I'll get pictures as soon as I catch either with enough light. The plumber was working today on the water supply connections, and tomorrow, hopefully, he will start to install the toilet and wash basin tomorrow. It is starting to look like a place where you could live.

A house fire in our compound.
11/2/2008 - Local Excitement

Late this afternoon Adia got a phone call from someone reporting a fire at our compound. She phoned Lydia, but there was no answer, so then she phoned Fatima but she wasn't there, then she phoned Kasim, the compound manager, and he told her it was not our house.

We could see the plume of smoke from the building site, and when we got home it was still burning. The fire engines here don't have much water carrying capability, and there are no fire hydrants, so they'll come and pump what they've got and then go somewhere for more if you have a fire on a good day.

This all provided a great spectacle for the compound habitants and the population of the area in general. The area is at the south end of the Tanzania Agricultural Association show ground. This ground is called Nane Nane - literally eight eight - because that is the date on which the annual agricultural show for the Arusha region begins. The show ground consists mostly of empty buildings that are used to promote the activities of various companies once a year. Strangely there are also some regular businesses in there and some houses. Possibly they were there before the first 8/8. The ground has a fence that consists of residential and business premises that are backed by its wall, but don't have any access to it. They open on to the outside. It's the stretch of these along the Njiro road - mostly businesses - where we do most of our shopping for building supplies. My current local pub is located in this surrounding wall just a short distance from our compound. It is actually called "Tina Bar", but since it does not have a sign I have usually referred to it as the "Dust Bar", since it is right next to the particularly dusty dirt road that provides access to our current home.

Two or three kilos of mud on my boots.

Meru with an ice cap.

The living/kitchen wing.

The bedroom wing.
11/2/2008 - Dust or Mud

It seems that we may be in for an early start of the long rainy season. There are supposed to be two. The short rains in November and December, and then the long rains between March and July. We didn't really have short rains last year, but it looks as if the long rains may be starting early. This could be a setback to the building work, since it will cause a switch in the ground conditions. There are two ground states around here - rock hard and dusty, and muddy. The change is almost instantaneous when the sun comes out or when it rains. Last week we had a burst of thunderstorms, with overnight rain. The roads to the site were bad, and when you got there it was like the Somme, you only had to get out of the car and take three steps to get two or three kilos of sticky mud attached to the soles of your boots. So apart from what could be done internally in the service block, work almost came to a halt - we could not get a truck onto the site to deliver blocks or other materials.

After one of the storms, Meru had a quite noticeable ice cap. This was probably be accumulated hail. It vanished as quickly as it had appeared when the sun came out, and the ground was back to rock hard and dusty in no time. Today we had some more gentle rain that is apparently characteristic of the long rains. However in a little time it can accomplish the same ground transition.

I think we have reached a stage where we will part with Adam. His behaviour becomes stranger and stranger, and it has become increasingly difficult to get him to do the things we need done in the required order. So now we have taken to employing suitably killed workers directly to do specific tasks. Adam will continue to work on the main house until the blocks are laid up to lintel level, which we have already paid for, and then I think it will be goodbye. We will take the hit of a pause while we find a supervising building engineer who we can pay a daily rate, and Adia will take over the task of finding appropriate workers, and will pay them directly. That way, everyone should know on which side their bread is buttered, and we may get some real supervision of the work. Most of the block laying is in fact complete, though there are bits of it that will have to be knocked down and redone because of lack of supervision. I would be working on the electrics in the service block, then I'd come out and find that Adam was not around - we think he is working two jobs - and that a wall had been built in the wrong place, or that there was no window where there should have been one.

We have already started this process. I hired a guy to make the sewage inspection chambers, and a small team to finish off the service block ceilings that Adam had started then gone on to do something else. Yesterday another worker plastered the bathroom and laid what will temporarily be our bedroom's floor. I'm busy making beds, and will then have to make some rudimentary kitchen furniture, so this week we have got a plumber to come in and complete the water supply and put in the bathroom fittings.

We will be living in the workshop soon, so today I have to put up a plastic tarpaulin awning next to the wall by the gate where the ground is level. I have made a workbench which will have to temporarily go outdoors under that, and I will have to make some concrete block platforms there to support the components of the roof trusses once I have got the service block temporary furniture made. There is a lot to do. We will slow down the progress on the main house until we are moved into the service block. Then there should be flurry of activity under the new supervising engineer to get the structural columns at the front of the house and the top lintel done, and the roof in place. After that it will slow down again and we will nibble of a room at a time to do the finishing. Well, at least, that's the plan.

Cali the cat seems to be recovering well after her recent hysterectomy. The plastic lampshade collar round her neck is driving her crazy, and she's tried everything to get it off. She will go to get the stitches out in a couple of days, and then it can come off. Adia has established a technique for giving her the post-operative antibiotic tablets she needs. There's a critical size for a piece of goat meat that the cat will simply swallow without bothering to chew it. So you cut a little slit in the meat, put the pill inside, out of sight, and then offer the meat on your palm as a titbit, and bingo down it goes in one gulp.

I have become quite attached to Kiki, Adia's - or dare I say our - motor scooter. She is a blessing when it comes to going into town, since you can easily pick your way through the traffic, and riding is refreshing when it is hot since you get a stiff breeze. She has also cut down our fuel bills substantially since she now gets used for all trips where we don't actually have to carry anything substantial or carry more than the two of us. I've never driven a two-wheeler before, but with the scooter and its automatic transmission there's nothing to it. If you can ride a bicycle you're there in one.
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