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January 2012 in Tanzania through the eyes of an Englishman

Two Doors Hung.

31/1/2012 - Parting Shot.

So here goes January already.

I am still woodworking, though despite those activities we are now back in our bedroom, since Adia has a house full of guests again. They're a bunch we've had before, ESAMI MA students here for exams followed by two weeks of lectures. I call them the bad boys club, since I'm convinced that the whole MA thing is just a complicated ruse to get away from their wives for a couple of weeks every three months. But then I'm just an old cynic.

Actually this first week they're being good boys for the most part, since they have the exams at the weekend, and are swatting. But after that, it will be 'Arusha - lock up your daughters!'

I'm still woodworking, and will probably be doing so for at least another month - maybe two. The doors in the picture took me about two days each to make, and I'm not through with them yet. The one on the right needs to have a panel replaced to make the join pattern of the two more synchronized. It turns out that with the technology I have, it's virtually impossible to make them identical, or even close. The way each piece settles down over its predecessor is quite dependant on its thickness, and even the minor planing and sanding done to get the surface reasonably smooth. The thickness of the boards vary both between and within boards because of the way they were cut out of a larger piece.

I've found a bigger and hopefully more accurate saw I can go to now, so I'm hoping the boards will get more consistent. But it's not a foregone conclusion - we'll see.

The right door also needs some adjustment of the frame. It is touching the upright that it is hinged to slightly when it is almost fully closed, and that gives it an irritating 'spring' in its last half inch of travel. The left one is as close to perfectly hung as I'll probably ever get.

Adia likes them, and that is the primary criterion. Anyway, you'll see the tortuous progress during February.

Dovyalis Caffra.

26/1/2012 - Free Fruit.

Right opposite our compound gate there's a thorn hedge, and at this time of year some of the plants are fruiting. I've noticed this in previous years and thought how much like apricots they looked. But it seemed strange that I never saw the kids or the birds eating them. Also many people I asked said you could not eat them. Based on their texture and appearance though I was fairly convinced that they were evolved for animals to eat and thus spread the seeds.

Today I ate one, and it was an agreeable experience. What's more, I am still alive. So I did some homework. One of the older local guys looked at the fruit and said it was 'mchongoma'. That in itself was not particularly helpful, since it turns out that mchongoma is simply the Swahili for 'thorn'. However a Google search on the term eventually guided me to a description of the species Dovyalis Caffra. This is also known as the 'Kei Apple', but whoever called it that was a bit off-mark. Yes, they do look like little golden apples typically about

35mm across, but the flesh is soft and very juicy, unlike the firm flesh of an apple, and the colour is definitely apricot. So as far as I am concerned it will be the 'Thorn Apricot'.

The taste is interesting. First there's a sweet and luscious sensation, but later the acidity hits you - an African Cranberry alternative perhaps. To eat it raw you need to get a very ripe one. In fact I'd say that the preferred method of harvesting would be to clear the ground under the bush and collect the fruit as it falls. This approach would avoid the vicious thorns. However, it should be a superb jam fruit, and a spectacular ingredient for otherwise bland fruit juices. I'm thinking Thorn Apricot and overripe bananas or mangoes.

Me, Tuma, Shadia, and Zuhura picked the ripe ones today. These will get made into an experimental fruit juice, initially sweetened up with honey. It has a load of vitamin C - more than oranges - that partially accounts for its acidity. It is also drought tolerant and will grow on most soils. So look for fruit juice blends on your supermarket shelf in 6 years when my cuttings have matured and I have 10000 hectares of the things ;=)


25/1/2012 - Less News.

I'm still doing woodwork, and Adia is preparing for a slew of guests, including moving us back into our usual bedroom, finished or not. We've got the new bed, and bedside shelves, but although part of the wardrobe is usable, our clothes are still in the next room.

When I have finished off the end panel of the hanging section today, most of the remaining work on the wardrobe can be done in my workshop. Lots of doors have to be made, and I should first make a jig of some sort to facilitate assembling them. The end panels have functioned as a prototype, so there isn't really any experimentation to do. The only difference is that you will see six doors side by side. In the end panels, the individual pieces were of random width, determined by the available wood. If there was a shake, or a bad knot in the piece of wood, I would cut it narrower. When you are just looking at one panel, this looks fine - suitably rustic as intended. But when there are six side by side that effect may look strange.

I will probably go ahead and make them in the same way, ensuring that there is a removable end member. Then if it does look weird, I can slide all the panels out again, and cut some and make others so they are a reasonable match. The end members will have to be removable anyway, since the individual pieces will inevitably shrink over time, and at some point I'll need to add a narrow extra one as packing.

It's still very hot here. Doing woodwork all day is quite tiring, though you don't really notice how much so until after you stop. At that point I become relatively immobilized. But it's having a good effect on the old beer-belly. That has diminished quite noticeably. If I were to find the energy to do a few sit-ups as well, I could probably soon look quite presentable.

Free Food.

19/1/2012 - Light News, Here and Elsewhere.

If it had not been for the cruise ship sinking, I think this might have been a record light news week.

I'm still doing woodwork, and Adia is still varnishing, which doesn't make for an interesting post. The results look good, the wardrobe got its last coat of varnish today, and the bed is finished. Today I also fitted the first of the bedside shelf units, and the glue is setting on the other as I type. Both will have to be taken off again once fitted to the wall, so they can be finish sanded and varnished.

I missed another great bird picture opportunity. The cat Two had caught a small bird, but Adia rescued it before it was seriously damaged. It was cool, with really bright colours reminiscent of a Kingfisher, but smaller than a sparrow. We were concerned about injuries and shock, and I only thought 'picture!' after we'd released it somewhere safe and it had flown away. I could have kicked myself - it would have been a great photo.

The bird in the actual picture was one of two that had been eating berries on a climbing plant that lives in the conservatory and coils itself around the security grill. Of course, as soon as I headed for the camera, one of them flew away. The remaining one was not in particularly good light, or in a particularly good position, and I was snapping it at maximum telephoto through a tinted glass window. It was a male of its kind, and they have a bright yellow arse which is not visible in the picture.

Somehow I managed to miss the Wiki blackout. This was quite clever of me since it's unusual for 24 hours to pass without me using Wikipedia to look up something. I do hope the US politicians don't screw up the Internet and spread a veil of paranoia over what people feel they can write. That would be an enormous tragedy. The spread of knowledge should have the primary priority. If that is interfering with companies business models, it's the models that should be changed, not the Internet!

Adia has taken the dogs out for a walk with two of our helpers in lieu of her usual Esami hill walking exercise, and I've already watched the news. So when I've finished writing this and had a shower, I shall become instantly bored. May have to visit the pub.

Fitted bedroom furniture.

11/1/2012 - Full Time Woodwork.

As I think I said before, Adia finally badgered me into doing something about the furniture in our bedroom. The result is a lot of work.

However, I'm quite pleased with the way it's going, even though I am pushing the envelope of my woodworking expertise. There's some pressure to get things right, since I'm doing it in Mninga (aka Bloodwood), a good looking and stable hardwood that is - needless to say - expensive. So getting something wrong hits you right in the pocket. After a couple of years it darkens to a colour somewhere between mahogany and dark oak. It weighs in at about $20 a piece, where a 'piece' is about 2.2m of 200x25mm or 150x50mm. In practice you pay a little more when you include back-handers to the wood-yard staff to facilitate a rapid path to the better quality stuff hidden somewhere round the back. Then of course you have to pay to get it machine cut and planed, even though it's heartbreaking to see those heaps of expensive planer chips and sawdust.

I've rebuilt our bed, using as much as possible of the existing material - basically the plywood deck. Now I'm working on the wardrobe, with reuse of the existing plywood shelf material. The doors will be of similar design to the end panel you can see in the picture, 'Tanzanian Tudor' if you like. I have eight of those to make, and another end panel. Hopefully I will get it finished before I die. Then (in the afterlife?) there is a dressing table and bedside tables, a mirror frame, a bathroom door, and shelving in the bathroom to be made, and I suppose when I've finished in the bedroom I could go on and make the 15 doors to make the space under the kitchen worktops look decent.

The physical exertion is however having a beneficial reducing effect on my beer gut. By the time I've finished I might be able to get into more of my collection of pants.


6/1/2012 - Eden Or What?

After breakfast - some rather tangy Irish cheddar on toast, with a cup of strong black Tanzanian coffee - I attacked a pile of ripe pomegranates that Shadia had brought in.

You don't get ripe pomegranates in the shops in England or the US, they would be frowned upon as a health hazard. When they are ripe, the outer skin or shell cracks open exposing the pink fleshy seeds. In that state they are better to deal with. You can easily break them into pieces. First though it's good to break of the remains of the flower at the tip of the fruit, otherwise you get the seeds mixed up with a lot of little black bits from that part. Once you've broken the thing into about four pieces, it's easy to pick the seeds out into a bowl. Most of them more or less fall out.

The bush in our yard produces fruit with quite a pungent flavour. Adia likes them sweeter, so she doesn't eat many of them in their basic state. But it makes them ideal as an ingredient for fruit juice. I just like to take a handful of them and squeeze them in my mouth. The shock of the taste is amazing.

This is the peak fruit season. Any time now there will be a glut of the basic small green mangoes, the pineapples are at their best, our papayas are ripening, there are plums from up in the mountains, and there are always oranges (green oranges), and a variety of bananas.

We've just been out for our Friday night chicken and chips, which was a good one today, and the supermarket had dark chocolate marzipan bars in stock - something they have not had for ages. So I'm eating part of one as I type. This is a good place to be with a modest pension. It would take a lot to coax me away.

The JKT bar.

4/1/2012 - Hot.

This year has been hot so far, with the added benefit of rather high humidity. Temperatures have been in the mid 30s Centigrade (say 95F). I've been doing carpentry, but you don't do anything too quickly in weather like this.

I quit at five thirty, exhausted, and went for an evening beer at JKT. The initials stand for Jeshi Kujenga Taifa, which translates pretty directly as 'Army to Build the Nation'. It's an idea of Tanzania's founding president - a kind of youth organization run by the army.

JKT has a bar and mess at Nane Nane, the Tanzania Agricultural Association show ground. It's a two storey wooden structure. If you put two big paddles on the side it woud look a bit like a Mississipi steamer. Upstairs is used occasionally for weddings etc, and downstairs is the general bar and mess area. The bar is run by JKT people, young men and women who do cyclic spells of duty there, while the cooking facilities are I think just staffed by local people who do it as a job. Like most such establishments in Tanzania, it is open to the public.

At that time of day, everyone was watching a Chinese soap opera dubbed into Swahili which seems to be very popular, to the extent that it was almost difficult to get a drink. I just sat and drifted.

It had tried to rain earlier, but where I was, only managed a few drops, though there were still clouds around. As I arrived back at our gate there was a cloud to the west against the setting sun that was quite a profound purple colour. Against it, the giraffe tree above the gate seemed gray rather than its usual rather vibrant green, and the yellow birds that weave their nests there were silent.

The black cat Two was sitting in the middle of the patio as if waiting, but turned away when I called her. I awoke from my reverie and went to my computer to check my email and web page visitors. I shan't be doing much else today.

Via Via - New Year 2012.

1/1/2012 - Another Year

The damn things fly by at an alarming speed! Then of course on Jan 1 you find yourself sitting there in a new one, and when you get to my age you wonder how many more times you'll find yourself in that position.

We went to Via Via, a bar and restaurant that specializes in the mzungus who come here to do voluntary work. The latter attract young Tanzanian men hunting the mzungu girls, and Tanzanian ho's or would-be emigrant girls hunting the men. So you get a bit of a mixture in there. Last night It reminded me somehow of Milliways, the Restaurant at the End of the Universe.

There was supposed to be a 'live band', but that turned out to be one of those tourist attraction drums and dance groups, and not a very special one at that. But once the DJ got going and the customers started to dance, the atmosphere improved. There was also a barbeque, but it was expensive for what they were providing, and the meat was burned on the outside and raw in the middle, so Adia was left with only a small fish that she could stomach. The beef was not bad, and suited me OK in that condition.

So this morning I have a somewhat fragile head, and am considering having a glass of champagne or a beer shortly, to ease the transition.

The wooden frame that Spemba made has shrunk or something and worked loose since we fitted it, and is now not stiff enough to hang the door. Adia has gone hunting for a piece of steel angle that I can screw to the floor and the frame. The top is quite well secured, so that ought to do the trick, though it's not the sort of job I want to be doing today. Other than that, today I'm busy doing nothing.

For various reasons, I'll repeat here something I said last month. I've 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.

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Check out the BEV retrospective
currently covering 1942 - 1975.

1976 is yet to be started.

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

If there's something particular you'd like to go back to, just click it here

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.

This work is currently on hold, since I am making furniture for our bedroom and there's only one of me.

Moods of Meru.

Mt Meru


Random BEV Poem.


If you are a Linux user, you might want to try this piece of graphical design software I worked on last year. You can use it to design business cards, labels, logos for your web site, and things of that sort.

You can download it from the BEV COMPO page, where you'll also find the documentation.

BEV Partners.

Please check out our partners page.

BEV extends thanks to:

Contact BEV.

If you want to get in touch outside the built-in comment system, email Steve Teale.