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January 2013 in Tanzania through the eyes of an Englishman

Tecno N3: Possibly the world's cheapest smart phone.

Tecno N3.

30/1/2013 - Mr Cheap.

I have been thinking for some time that I really should investigate the world of smart phones. I have long been left behind by my children in this respect. I would have had difficulty buying an iPhone, since I regard Apple with the sort of suspicion I used to reserve for Microsoft - technically good maybe, but bent on world domination. But even given the Android choices, I have been loath to spend the money. First because I don't know that I would use its capabilities, second because I regularly lose or break phones, and third because of the flaky Internet connectivity here.

For the last few weeks, since I lost my last phone (it was actually snatched/stolen), I have been managing perfectly well with a very cheap Tecno phone, cost about $13. It does the job - phone calls and SMSs. However I recently discovered that the same company has ventured into the smartphone market, in collaboration with Qualcomm, who make the chips used in many phones. Tecno's offering - the N3 - uses Android 2.3, and has a 3.5" touch screen. This phone is not yet available in Tanzania, but has been launched in Kenya, which is just over the border from Arusha. It is priced there at the equivalent of $94, cheaper than the Samsung phone that was stolen, so I thought 'what the hell', and got the Riverside Shuttle people to fetch me one from Nairobi.

I took the SIM out of a cellular modem I already had, stuck it in the N3, and bingo! Everything more or less worked. Having got over the initial touch-screen shock, and opened an account with Google Play to download a few apps (Swiftkey 3, Silent Boot ...), I am quite impressed. It seems to do everything I need to do, and I think its Internet speed connected to Airtel is better than I get from my current Internet provider on my desktop.

The next essential is to get a pouch for it that I can attach to my belt so it won't fall out of my pocket when I am riding Kiki (the motor scooter) or my bike. I might keep the little Tecno for environments like cyclocross and the building site.

Dead card: This expired 31/10/2012.

Dead card.

22/1/2013 - A Saga.

It is now 84 days since I have had a functioning debit card for my US bank account. This is the account I used to get paid into when I was working in New York. It's sole purpose now is to give me access to my US Social Security Benefit payments.

There are maybe three principal reasons why getting a replacement card has taken so long:

  • The bank insists that the address associated with an account must be a 'physical address'.
  • The department that handles card replacement is staffed by 'agents' who won't, or are not allowed to communicate with each other, or with the customer service department.
  • Mobile phone companies here in Africa don't appear to have any mechanism for collect (reverse charges) international calls.
Now in Tanzania, and probably elsewhere in Africa, the concept of a 'physical address' is somewhat alien. Out in the bush there are probably many mud-hut dwellings that are not even in a village, let alone in a village with a commonly recognized name. The street where we live does not have a name, and neither does the larger road that it branches from. Our house does not have a number. If you want, or expect to receive mail here you have a Post Office box. This is not just a number for which the Post Office holds an actual address for delivery, it is a physical steel box where your mail is deposited. There is no mail delivery. But the bank won't accept a PO box.

Some time back I eventually persuaded the bank to accept the plot and block number information shown on the municipality documentation for our house with the proviso on my part that it should also include the PO box number. They were offered the latitude and longitude as per Google maps, which is about as physical as you can get, but they declined that.

So probably half way through October, they mailed a disabled card to my address of record, but I'm guessing that because of their aversion to box numbers, that part of the address was omitted - the 'physical address' was used. So when it got to Arusha with no PO box number it was either trashed, or returned as undeliverable. My UK bank has no PO box aversion. Same expiration date, and a new card arrived in my PO box in a plain envelope suitably before the expiration date. I activated it online in minutes.

The bank has a BankMail system that you can use securely when you are logged into your account on line. So at the beginning of November I got on there, and asked why no replacement card. I received a reply saying that I should contact a specific individual at a US phone number to arrange for delivery of a replacement. I was told I could call collect (reverse the charges in Brit-speak). But as per reason 3, I can't do that, so I stuffed what I thought might be enough pre-paid vouchers into my phone, and then in US working hours, attempted to phone the specified guy. He wasn't there, but the agent who answered said he could help. First though I had to go through a lengthy security verification process (SVP) because I live in some dodgy African country. That completed we arranged that the card would be sent by courier, Fedex to be precise. I told him I did not know if there was a Fedex office in Arusha, and that DHL (which the bank used to use) would be better. After putting me on hold for some time he came back and said that would be fine. I stressed that the address information must include my telephone number, and that I needed to get the tracking number as soon as the package was collected by the courier because things have a way of going adrift here.

A long time passed. No tracking number, no card. I pestered DHL, but they hd seen nothing. I got on BankMail, and asked why. The response said I needed to phone the card security department - call collect. Which I did numerous times, but not of course collect. Each time you get a different agent, who knows nothing about the case, and you have to do the full SVP before describing your problem starting from the beginning. Often enough, after you've done all that, the call is dropped because of the vagaries of the mobile phone system or the international call system. Alternatively, you get put on hold while the agent makes enquiries about your case, and the money on your pre-paid runs out. The result was eventually always the same. No tracking number was available, or I should call again tomorrow. The card security department doe not have access to the BankMail system, so this more rational method of communication, where I am already authenticated, was ruled out.

Eventually, some agent finally mentioned that the package had been shipped via Fedex. So I found the Fedex agent in Arusha and asked if they had received a package with my name on it. They had, but told me that since the package had not been provided with a telephone number, they had no idea what to do with it, and had sent it back.

Variations on this rococo theme have continued since, with enforced breaks imposed by the increased number of bank non-working days generated by Christmas and the New Year. I have also continued to hit on the customer services people via BankMail moaning about the lack of progress, and accusing the bank of having a broken system.

There was a slight development last week when I was actually phoned by a customer service agent who has apparently found some way of communicating with the card security department. That in itself was somewhat confusing, since the number that appeared on my phone was a Tanzanian number I did not know, rather than a US number, so at the time of day when it came the first time, I rejected the call. I guess this must be something to do with the cross-over system between the international network and the mobile network. Anyway, this guy promised to get yet another card sent via Fedex, and promised to send me the tracking number when it had been picked up either yesterday or today. It didn't happen, so I've just sent a relatively polite reminder by the BankMail system.

The gate from the inside: This has actually been hung twice - I hope this time permanently.

The gate from the inside.

14/1/2013 - Some building Progress.

With Christmas and the New Year behind us, and some rent money from the two cottages available, we have been able to make some modest progress.

First I got our live-in fundis to work with me on the construction of inspection chambers and trenching, and the installation of 100mm PVC pipes to connect drains from the unit 1 and 2 houses and the guard hut to the septic tank that they constructed in November.

While they were doing that, our steel worker Samwel (not a Hobbit) was constructing a gate for the new compound. The gate posts were cast with pieces of 10mm plate attached to substantial angle section bars embedded into them so that the plates protruded from and were parallel to the inside surface. Then when the gate is completed, the hinge pins are welded to the plates. This decouples the task of casting the gate posts from that of hanging the gates. It also allows repositioning of the hinge pins - as in cut them off and then weld them back on again - if there is settlement of the gate posts and the gates move

Samwel hung the gates last Friday, but one of the hinges fractured the next day as the gate was opened. On inspection I determined that the hinge pins on that gate were misaligned. Such misalignment would cause severe stress on one or both hinges. He returned today, took the gate off again and realigned the hinge pins using the big hammer technique - scary, I could feel the post oscillating. Then he welded the hinges back on. We'll see how that goes.

Today the masons finished off the bottom lintel of the gate with steel tubes for the descending gate bolts. By tomorrow it should be secure. When I left them they were setting the squatter toilet in the guard hut over the newly installed drain. They will do the floor screed and some primitive tiling in the bathroom area there tomorrow. Then I will build some bunk beds in the living part so they can move out of unit 1 into the guard hut.

A lemon from our tree: It's cool to be able to just wander out into the garden and get one.

A lemon from our tree.

6/1/2013 - January 2013.

Another year - it makes you think...

The weather is somewhat strange. Traditionally the 'short rains' fall in the period October to December, but this year they didn't really get started until late in December, and seem set to last well into January. This is good for the farmers as long as they are in a position to plant now, and it seems to be good for our lemon tree. The lemons are very juicy.

The tree flowered in several distinct phases, and in consequence has fruit at various stages of development and ripeness. We should be able to wander out in to the garden and pick a lemon any time we want one for a couple of months. You will notice from the picture that the lemons are green, not lemon coloured. They might actually be limes, but my sense of smell is non-existent so I can't make a judgement. The Africans don't appear to differentiate between the two, and my guess is that there is a continuous spectrum of varieties between them.

We should be making some further progress on the new development soon. Our steel worker is currently building the gate. Then the ceilings and floor tiles are next in the first house, and I have to work on the drains.

Pakistan appear to be thrashing India again in the last match of the current three match ODI series as I type. A whitewash is well on the cards

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Squash This List

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 70 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 - 2012, choose a year/month from the tool bar, or go to the archive page. For 1942 - 1975, choose a year or go to the retrospective page.

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.

There are a several new articles on the Software page:

Moods of Meru.

Mt Meru

The clouds give a good impression of how high it is.

Random BEV Poem.

COMPO.

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.

About You.

A bit of nonsense. If you've ever wondered what a web site can discover about you when you visit one of their pages with little or no effort, then now you know.

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Contact BEV.

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