February 2009 in Tanzania through the eyes of an Englishman

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The new plants.
28/2/2009 - Moved.

Well, after a good deal of frenzied last-minute activity, we will actually sleep in the new house tonight, almost a year to the day since we moved into the small house. Last year was of course a leap year, and we moved on the 29th of February. The place is a shambles, but the bed has been moved, so at this point we have no choice.

The water supply and toilet are working well, and the electricity system is complete with appropriate energy-saver lamps installed. All but one small area of the kitchen work tops are now tiled and have their mninga edging strips, and there are enough shelves installed underneath to serve for the present. The satellite dish has been moved, and the TV is recommissioned.

We're both exhausted, and there's a good deal more to do tomorrow to get a working kitchen set up.



The flowers on the little shrubs.


An edible fig.
24/2/2009 - More Rain and More Plant Shopping.

Yesterday there had been heavy rain overnight, and then in the afternoon there was quite a violent thunderstorm accompanied by another deluge. During last night there was more rain, though not so heavy. Fortunately, the lawn and the new plants all seemed to have survived pretty well. However, there were strong winds, and many corn plans were down yesterday, along with a post in the fence around the vegetable plot, and a structure we refer to as "Spemba's Grave". The roofer had grossly overestimated the quantity of steel sheets needed for the roof, and had built a platform to hold them off the dirt wrapped up in a blue plastic tarpaulin. Spemba is in hiding these days, as he owes us money, and his structure gave up yesterday presumably because the posts had rotted and could not stand the wind. Adia is talking about setting the police on Spemba, he really has behaved pretty badly.

Yesterday, after a slow morning at the market buying vegetables and other basics, we returned to the plant shops and spent about three hours searching for the ones I wanted, and haggling about prices, One of the plot keepers was very helpful, taking us round other plots that he knew had certain things.

One of the things I found that I had been thinking about was a place that sells fig trees. I would like to have a fig tree in the yard, since I am very fond of fresh figs. The helpful man also took us to another plot where they have a pretty mature fig tree of the same type, where I got the fig. I ate it with my breakfast this morning, and it was wonderful. All the figs I have eaten before in my life must have been ancient, though there were a couple I picked from a tree in Portugal that may have been as good

The disposition of the plants we bought is going to be a difficult business, since Adia and I seem to have diametrically opposed views about what a garden should look like. I'll return to that topic later.

Further disagreements on the plant arrangements were suspended when the plumber Juma actually turned up. He fixed the air lock problem quite quickly by removing the internals of the gate valve that controls the supply to the bathroom, at which point the water flooded out of the valve body with most encouraging pressure. Juma thinks there must have been some sort of obstruction in there, since once the valve mechanism was replaced, the air was blown out of the remainder of the pipework in the bathroom with no problem. So now that is another trick that I know.
Once he'd done that, we set about making a temporary shower in the master bathroom using galvanised pipe and pipe fittings - the cheapest way to go. We got most of the pieces at Kitonga, the local hardware shop in Nane Nane. However it turned out that the whole assembly was too close to the wall to allow the gate valve body on that to turn in order to tighten up the pipe joints. As a result we had to trail into town to get one small piece. But it's done now, and the shower pressure is fine. We will move in this coming weekend come hell or high water.





The incipient lawn and some border plants.


At the plant shops.
23/2/2009 - Nearly There.

A frog is heading for a pond. Each jump he takes toward it is half the length of the previous jump. How long will it take him to get to the pond. I think we all know the answer to this one. Getting the house habitable is a similar exercise.

It's Monday again, and we're a bit closer. I got the fluorescent lights up in the kitchen area last Thursday and Friday. I have added the little details in the master bathroom: the thingie to spray your arse with, soap holders, a mirror, and towel rails. I also had the idea that I would connect both hot and cold sides of the mixer tap in the kitchen to the 3/4" cold water supply pipe. I figure this should give a slightly better flow with two flexible hoses instead of just one. This has been a problem. I attached a 'T' to the supply, and there's one side of it I just can't get to seal after about ten attempts with increasing quantities of thread sealing tape. Today I'll just go and spend the 40 cents on another one.

So we are very close to being able to move in, and we'll do so even if it is a bit like camping, later this week. The outstanding things are being held up by the tiler, and, guess who, Juma the plumber. It's the same the whole world over.

The incipient lawn is getting watered every day, and we had a downpour last night to augment that. On Saturday we went to the garden plots on the road that goes north from the Njiro Road to Nairobi Road. I'd guess it is about a kilometre, and the whole road is lined with little plots that sell plants and trees and pots and such. There's a fantastic variety, and if I could squeeze the money out of our budget, I could easily put together an instant garden, like they do when they build hotels here. That day we settled for some little shrubby plants to go along the edge of the patio, but I got many other ideas.

Adia took the day off yesterday and spent it at the salon getting a pedicure, a manicure, and a massage. I can't begrudge it - I go to Tondi's pub every night. Today we must do some shopping. The cupboard is bare.



A neccessary digression.


Adia's new hairdresser's shop.
18/2/2009 - Continuing Saga.

When I did get myself started on Monday, I succeeded in fixing the leak in the toilet cistern. I took it off, and stood it on the vice of my workbench where I could see all the connections at the bottom, then just put in the retaining bolts and their washers finger tight. I poured in a bucket of water, and, lo and behold, no leaks. I had noticed when I removed it that the rubber washers underneath the lavatory pan pulled through the holes that the retaining bolts pass through when I lifted the cistern off. I figured therefore that what was happening was that when I put the cistern in place and tightened the bolts, the rubber washers were probably partly entering the holes at one side, and thus tilting the bolts so they were not pulling straight down on the domed washers inside the cistern, and this misalignment was causing the leakage. The domed washers were clearly OK, as with the cistern standing on the vice, I could remove the bottom washers, and get the thing leak-tight by just pressing gently with my finger on the bolts from the top. So I made some larger washers out of roofing felt, which is a bit rough in texture, and would grip better, and put those on before the rubber washers, which seems to have achieved the desired effect.

In the meantime, Adia had arranged with the gardener to dig a trench across the newly leveled lawn area, as we'd realized that we'd painted ourselves into a corner with respect to gutters on the front of the house. There was no sensible way to drain the rain water away, so it was a necessary digression. When the trench had been dug, I hacked a hole through the bottom of the retaining wall to reach it, and we put in a four inch drain pipe. This was something of a race against time, since the soil in this area is pretty dry and uncompacted, and the trench was falling in almost as fast as you could dig it out, and also the weather was threatening rain. We got the pipe in place by a hair's breadth before a deluge of rain.

In the afternoon I did more work on the work top edging strips.

Yesterday I stuck the remaining whole tiles on to the work tops. I'll have to wait for Ali to come and cut the remaining pieces. Then I started fitting the edges for those.

In the morning, Adia got grass plants and the gardener and his helpers started planting them. That's the way the he recommends, rather than use seed. He says that in this weather they will grow and spread very quickly. It's not a lawn as you'd understand in England. Actually more of a small field. The primary purpose is for the root system to provide a rain-resistant surface. I'm considering a goat to do the grass cutting.
In the afternoon, Adia went to the new salon at Bonzo's new strip mall up by the Njiro Road. This visit was part of the endless cycle that afflicts African women. First their hair gets to be a mess and they become dissatisfied with it. So then for a change they go to the hairdresser and get some lines plaited into it in the favourite pattern of the day. But then after a few days the lines get to be an irritation because of different rates of hair growth causing stresses in the lines that pull on the scalp. This can be temporarily alleviated by getting the hairdresser to apply some special cream to relax the tensions. But after a while the lines deteriorate and start to look old, so then you have to go to the hairdresser or to a friend to get the lines taken out. Then your hair is all frizzy from the lines, so you have to wear a head scarf for a couple of days before you get round to going to the hairdresser to get the hair straightened and styled. The hair looks good for a couple of days, but then it gets to be a mess and they become dissatisfied with it, and so on. I tell you, it's a major industry here!



Gratuitous advertising.
16/2/2009 - Slow Starter.

I must have done more than I thought yesterday, as I'm distinctly stiff and slow to get going this morning, and sitting here doing this.

I was doing a number of different small things. First, fitting the toilet seat in the master bathroom. I didn't find the installation instructions before I'd got it wrong, and dropped one of the securing nuts into the interior of the toilet body while working left-handed in an awkward position. So I had to go scrounging round the few shops that were open on Sunday to find a replacement nut. I then proceeded to drop that and its associated screw into the same inaccessible place. Eventually I fixed it on with a self-tapping screw going through into a piece of plastic. The point of the screw was easier to find by touch, and I could afford to drop as many bits of plastic as necessary.

The instructions - a piece of paper about 1cm wide and 15cm long finally fell out of the cardboard box as I was removing it from the room.

Then I started fixing the Mninga strips along the edges of work tops, and laying out the remaining tiles.
The Mninga strips are looking good, and I was pleased when Adia liked them. The carpenter who is making the doors got the strips cut and planed, but failed to come up with the two long lengths to cover the longest sides of the work top. Hopefully they will materialize today.

Sadly I seem to be a tile short for the total surface unless I use two pieces to cover the small area at the left end of the kitchen sink. I will try to get the shop to sell me an odd piece rather than buying another box. Alternatively I could make that section of work top into a chopping block, an idea I quite like, but it is not really in the ideal place for that.

The Quaker Muesli is one of the few cereals we've tried recently that we really like, and I recommend it if you haven't tried it. We augment it a little with some further raisins and cashew nuts, and add bananas when we have them, which is usually. A dish full of that in the morning definitely makes you feel like you've had your breakfast, and I dare say it is quite healthy.

Today I have to try and finally nail the remaining small leak from the toilet cistern, and to get rid of air locks in the water supply to the big house that are adversely affecting water pressure there. Then I'll stick on most of the remaining work top tiles, and then... It is never-ending.



The tank switch in progress.


The area in front of the house leveled for grass.
13/2/2009 - A Frenzied Day.

It was changeover day for the water supply system yesterday. Juma the plumber's lads came to get it started with Juma to come later in the day to, as it were, bless the work.

I had to install the float switch in the small tank first, so I was up at about 7:30 to check out the switch's characteristics and get it in there. The float switch is one of those that hangs down on a waterproof cable into the tank, with the floating bit on the end of the cable. As the water level falls, the float goes from floating on the surface with its bottom up - the turned off state - to hanging down onto the surface of the water with its bottom down. As it approaches bottom down, a magnet slides down inside it, and operates a reed switch that turns the pump on.

The water level then rises, and the float rises with it. As it approaches bottom up, the slider falls the other way, and turns the pump off. I checked the action in a dustbin full of water we have as our reserve supply outside the bathroom. The action seemed very consistent and predictable, so I installed it in the tank accordingly, and if I've got it right, it will turn off the pump when the water is about 150mm from the top of the tank, and turn it on when the level has dropped by about 500mm. That way the pump won't constantly be turning on and off, but will move a substantial quantity of water and then rest for some time. We will see.

The most exciting bit was getting the steel tower extension up onto the existing concrete tower. Fortunately we had a couple of gardeners on the plot today, so what with me and Moses there were six of us to manhandle the thing. We could walk it along the side of the house, but we could not lift it straight up next to the tower because the roof overhang was in the way. So we had to heave it up onto the top of the outer wall, balance it there, and then wiggle it along the top of the wall until it was next to the tower. Moses's great height and considerable strength were a great advantage in that process. Then once it was alongside, we could tilt it against the slab on top of the tower and heave it up onto the slab, We escaped with only one cut finger between us.

The empty 1000L tank was easier to handle. Two of us could lift it easily, but still it was a long way up, and pairs of hands had to be situated at various points up the tower to do a continuous lift.

The rest of it was reasonably straightforward, though my prize for courage for the day went to Juma's younger lad whose job it was to shin up onto the tower extension, and then climb up the slippery polypropylene tank while it was empty and light and not very stable, and to get inside it to tighten up the tank connections.

I could not even get onto the tower extension. I'm not bad with heights, but I need a safety harness or some security, and in this case there was no higher point that security could be attached to. So someone else had to make the final electrical connection with blow by blow instructions from me.
Maybe I'll get the steel workers to make a little ladder with handrails extending above the deck of the extension and weld it on. Then I'll have something to hold on to, and I'll be OK for maintenance work.

We got water overnight, and the ground level tank is now full. Unfortunately it has a leak where the pipe to the pump comes out of the side at the bottom, so it might have to be drained again - a considerable waste of water. Given water, I connected the pump, and it duly started delivering water into the top tank, only to reveal another worse leak where the 40mm pipe supplying water to the main house comes out of it. I've turned the pump off for now so it will be easy to drain the top tank and fix it when Juma and his lads reappear. That of course is problematic - getting the attendance of a plumber. But I can pump water up a little at a time so we can have water in the small house.

The gardeners have almost finished leveling the area in front of the house, where they will then plant grass. Hopefully that will develop a healthy root system before the heavy rains in May that will bind the soil and stop it from washing away. I will need to install gutters on the house though. Never a dull moment.



Sign of the times.


Random weather.

11/2/2009 - Changing Times.

It has been the custom to display foreign exchange rates here in the order USD, GBP, EUR, and so on. A FOREX shop that has just opened - bravely I think, since it is right opposite two others and rarely offers better rates - has broken this tradition. The British Pound is now subordinate to the mighty Euro. I have to agree that this reflects realism, and I would not be surprised if the others followed suit when their outdoor signs get faded. The pound had been creeping up over the last few days and had looked like it could make $1.50 again. But no, the pundits have now had time to scrutinize Obama's economic stimulus plan, and general pessimism seems to have set in again, with the pound down to $1.45 today. However, the Bank of Tanzania web page still shows it hovering close to 1900 TS.

Incidentally, I should take back some of the bad things I've said about the BOT web page. They have just done a makeover on it, and I think it is a considerable improvement. You can now see the main exchange rates on the front page, and it looks generally more organized. However, at 09:40 today it is still showing yesterdays data, so there are still lessons to be learned.

The other thing that is changing here is the weather. The conventional pattern is that there should be two rainy periods. The Short Rains occurring between October and December with a somewhat unpredictable start, and lasting maybe a month and half. The Long Rains are supposed to start in May and continue until maybe the end of July. The rest of the year the sun is supposed to be cracking the flags.

This year we didn't really get a Short Rains, but now in February it is raining almost every day. This may be of a little benefit to the water supply situation, but it's no real help to the farmers, since they don't have crops in place to take advantage of it. What they need are rains that are predictable.

The common assumption is that this change is an artefact of global warming. It's companion effect here is that when it is dry it gets much hotter than people remember in the past. That's not good for the farmers either as it dries up the vegetation and means less for the cows, goats, and sheep to eat.



8/2/2009 - Endless Finishing.

I have put some tiles on a couple of the kitchen work tops, enough to get us by to move in. Before that, as a result of a disagreement with the tiler on what constituted 'level', I had to adjust the position of the structure that supports them - very tedious. It involved taking a whole section to pieces and then rebuilding it.

Then on Thursday I set about installing the drains for the kitchen sink. Initially I forgot my plumbing 101, and got and installed two separate traps, since there was a steel support member right between the two plug holes. I the middle of the night it dawned on me that this would almost certainly result in one trap going "glug, glug, glug" when the other one drained any quantity of water. So in the morning I bit the bullet, and went into town to get a double sink trap, and some flexible 40mm tubes to work around the steelwork.

That in itself was easy enough, and the two original traps won't get wasted. One can go in the scullery, and the other on the sink in the small house when that gets refurbished - the existing trap there is a bit of a lash-up. But fitting the double sink trap was a nightmare. Basically I had been sold a pup again. The pipes weren't round, the threads would not screw up correctly, and the gaskets supplied were of very low quality. Once again it claimed to be English, but the manufacturing standard and quality control were non-existent. I struggled with it for a while, including trying to botch it with silicone sealant, but whatever I did, it leaked like a sieve.

So on Saturday I went to the local hardware shop at Nane Nane, and bought a replacement, this time purporting to be made in Germany. I assembled it in about ten minutes, and it was leakproof. So it wasn't the singer, it was the song. I really hate it when people sell me crap like that, but there's no consumer protection legislation to speak of here, so if a shop has a notice saying "all sales are final", you're screwed. You just don't go there again.

Today I added a spur the the electrical system to power the pump that will move water from the large ground-level tank to the smaller, higher header tank. This was not a high tech enterprise, but it did involve me in going up into the roof space twice, once to measure the required length of cable, and then later to connect it. This is not a pleasant experience. The temperature up there must have been 50° Centigrade or higher, and the spot where the extension was required was as far from the nearest access hole as it could be. I had visions of me croaking up there, and Adia wondering where I'd disappeared to. Fortunately, the job went smoothly, and I got out before any damage was done, but 20 minutes up there was like an hours hard work in the sun. I just hope I'm not deluding myself about having got it right.

So now we have to get the plumber's attention for long enough to find out what bits he needs, and get him to come do do the changeover at a time when we have fortuitously emptied the existing header tank, and the water is turned on to test and fill up the new system. This in itself will be no mean feat.



A pomegranate and zucchini.
4/2/2009 - Gardening With Mixed Results.

My attempts at gardening have not been strikingly successful. The Swiss Chard has done quite well, and we can eat that pretty much any time we like. Another wild plant, also cooked and eaten like spinach grew spontaneously on the vegetable patch, and Adia preserved an are of that, so we have a choice of two greens.

The Zucchini have been problematic. The plants look very healthy, and produce lots of flowers and putative fruit, but most of them proceed to turning yellow at the end and go rotten. They've possibly been a bit better over the last couple of weeks as represented by the little cluster in the picture. The big one will go in the corned beef casserole tonight.

The Pomegranate bush is a marvel, with no attention from anyone. I've never seen such a small bush with so many large fruit. The first fruit split this week, which is the sign of ripeness, like a fig. We just ate it.

I wonder if figs would grow here? Must check that out, I would like to have a fig tree or two in the yard.



A fine Mninga door.
4/2/2009 - On a More Positive Note.

Adia had found a man who lives down on the Dodoma Road out of Arusha - not one of the city's more salubrious areas - who had persuaded her he could make doors for us.

I had asked him to make doors based on the toilet door at Tinas Pub - one of my occasional haunts. I had always rather liked the door, particularly in contrast to the toilets, which aren't particularly welcoming. It - the door that is - was clearly hand made, and of a simple, rather austere design that appealed to the traditionalist in me. They have four equally spaced and sized cross members between the upper and lower jambs, and five beveled panels to fill in the spaces - no frills, no mouldings, just pure wood and good joints

As far as I can see, the carpenter has done a great job, and has exactly captured the spirit of what I saw in the door in the first place. He has made them from Mninga, one of the more expensive hardwoods here, and they should look really good when they are polished up.

I just hope the wood is well seasoned as promised, so the doors will stay true, but as they are now, I love them. He seems to be making a good job of hanging them too.



'High Quality Product'.
4/2/2009 - Disposable Strip Lights.

I bought some fluorescent light units to install in the kitchen over the work tops. The pack bore the caption 'High Quality Product'. I think this should more correctly have read 'Manufactured by the lowest bidder'. I have used this design before with no notable problems, but in this case the things virtually self destructed as soon as you installed them.

In order to do this you have to remove the diffuser cover, and the end caps. As soon as I did this, the plastic end pieces became detached from the almost vanishingly thin metal body. As a result, once you had screwed them to the ceiling it was pretty well impossible to assemble them again. Also, in one case, when I removed the protective blue plastic film covering the reflector, the reflective film came off with it, and one of the diffusers broke as I applied the small amount of force required to clip it back in the metal body.

I took them off the ceiling, and will go and dump them back on the counter of the shop that supplied them.

Tronics - shame on you! Lets have some quality control please. There is a practical limit to cost reductions on every product. If you'd just put a picture of a strip light in the box and some tape to stick it to the ceiling it would have been just as useful as the product supplied.



The house at 1st February.


Kitchen wall tiles and electrical outlets.
3/2/2009 - Hopelessly Behind.

I've been very busy - I don't even have the picture of the house at Feb 1, and I can't go out and take it now because it is dark.

The finishing stages on a house are probably the biggest opportunity to spend money on fittings, material, and manpower. It is scary, but I still think we are on course to get a part of it into a habitable state within the next two weeks or so.

The biggest outstanding thing now is the water supply. It was my intention to put a steel extension on the water tower, and move the existing storage tank onto that to get a decent water pressure in the big house. With a steel extension, the tank could be drained and taken down, then the extension could be hauled up and secured, and the tank put back on top of it all in a day. However at least once last month, the water pressure was not sufficient to fill the storage tank when water was available, so I had already concluded that we should probably install a pump.

Given that consideration, it became clear to me that a better solution would be to put the existing large tank on the ground, and make a less strong and therefore hopefully cheaper extension to hold a smaller header tank, which we already have. Then a dual-purpose pump could be installed to fill the smaller header tank from the main tank at ground level, and to pump water from the mains into the ground level tank on occasions when the mains pressure was low.

So that is now in progress. I have been doing further plumbing installation work in the guest bathroom, and installing lighting equipment in the parts of the house that we will, or may need to use immediately.

The tiler came today to put in the last remaining piece, and the two doors that we need immediately were delivered. They look great to me. [I will take pictures of the changes in the morning and add them to this] - done.

Please accept my apologies for the delay, but there is only one of me, and each evening I have been too tired to do anything but pile into bed.
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Brits Eye View is an Englishman's six-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.