July 2008 in Tanzania through the eyes of an Englishman

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The table top.


Another largish insect.

31/7/2008 - Putting July to Bed.

Earlier this week, the puppies were barking persistently in the night. Now this is not that unusual, because Cali was out for the night also. However it's usually just Gretel that barks at Cali these days, and that night both of them were at it. I could not see anything untoward, but we decided to press the button anyway - we've never really tested the security service at dead of night.

The response was disappointing. It was about 15 minutes until they showed up. Judging by the fact that the control room and the lads who showed up were telling different stories, this was because of some sort of cock-up. They apologized profusely and said that they would normally expect to be there in four to five minutes. I imagine Adia will check that out quite soon - she was not part pleased! However, the puppies were stars. When they arrived and the first guy climbed over our gate, both Hansel and Gretel barked like crazy and were giving him a hard time until he scared them with his tazer and made them back off. Even then they still barked at him. So they at least gave us satisfaction. If it had been an intruder we'd have had plenty of warning, and when they are bigger, an intruder might have quite a hard time.

The table top got its last strip on Tuesday, and came out of the gluing jig yesterday. I attacked it first with the jack plane to get it roughly down to level, and then with my smoothing plane. The top surface is now about ready for filling and sanding. I also managed to fit in roughly rounding the ends by making tangential straight cuts with the power saw the same day. It was a tough days work - that's a lot of area to work with hand tools. By supper time I was knackered.

It is very heavy, and now I can see it horizontal I'm guessing it will seat ten or twelve. Today I will devise some way of supporting it standing on edge so I can work on further rounding of the ends and edges. After that I will probably get an orbital sander, but I could decide to tough it out and hand sand it.

I was watching BBC World the other day when they had a feature about the Queen of Jordan's Youtube channel. I noted there to my surprise that people were basically using Youtube to send video e-mails. This struck me as a profligate misuse of Internet bandwidth, but I guess I am just conditioned by living in Africa, where bandwidth is very expensive. However, if you think my old fashioned blog consisting of text and low-resolution pictures is dated, you should bear this in mind. If I was blogging on Youtube the day would not be long enough to do the data transfers.

Speaking of low-resolution pictures, I apologize for the poor quality picture of the beetle. The light level was just too low for my mobile phone, but I could not resist the addition to my large insects portfolio.


Starting to look like a house.


Meru in her shower cap.

27/7/2008 - A Quiet Sunday.

Took it slowly today. Spemba and his lads were here finishing off cornices around the outside of the house. I put the next strip on the table top, and then fitted the kitchen sink into the work tops. In the late afternoon it was my Sunday for a hair cut. Adia had gone out about 11:30 to get paraffin and petrol, and had then stopped by to see Latifa. There, time ceases to have any meaning, and she arrived back at 15:30.

The table top is now within two strips of its target width. Unfortunately I only have one piece of wood left, and in the absence of Potter, I will have to get Adia to drop me at one of the wood yards, buy a piece, carry it to the place in Nane Nane where I can get it thicknessed, and then carry it home. It doesn't make any sense to pay somebody to bring one piece of wood up on a handcart. It will make entertainment for the villagers - the muzungu carrying a piece of wood home like an African.

The main house is starting to look like something that might soon be habitable. The finish plasterers will be done soon, and then we can get a tiler into the big room, and once he's done, we can get the aluminium windows and the partition between the veranda and the living space done.

I had thought about making a point about saying you were going out to do something that should take about twenty minutes, then coming back three hours later. After the barber I went to Joyce's bar, but the contents of my wallet precluded making the point, and I didn't really want to do it anyway.

One day, when I have got a decent camera, I want to do a 'Moods of Meru' coffee table book. Today she had a cloud cap that reminded me of a plastic shower cap. I'd guess there would be some rain under it, and it's that sort of thing that gets our reservoirs topped up, and makes Arusha a reasonable place to live.


Allergic reaction or gout.


Our new helper.


Can't you see we're busy.

23/7/2008 - In the Wars.

Periodically in my life I get strange allergic reactions to I don't know what. The most common forms are swelling around my left eye, and red blotches appearing on my hands. It happens every few years. This time I got the swelling round my left eye - looks like somebody has popped you one, and swelling in my left foot. Adia missed the photo opportunity on the eye, but I've recorded the foot for posterity. I knew you were just dieing to see a swollen foot. Of course, any swelling in your foot tends to cause pain because you're standing on it. The swelling has now progressed from the left side of my left foot to the big toe joint, where it is indistinguishable from gout. It may in fact be gout, but that usually starts in the big toe joint. Anyway I got some indomethacin capsules yesterday. They usually sort that kind of thing out. Naturally, stomping about town looking for a pharmacy that had it made the swelling worse, so I'm pretty useless today. I put my strip on the table top, but that will probably be about it for the day.

Demi is not coming back from Kagera, so a new helper has been sent - a boy this time. His name is Aristidi - Stidi for short - and he is seventeen. He seems a pleasant lad, and quick to learn. The puppies appear to like him too, since they don't attempt to intimidate him.

Since Masai vanished, the puppies have been elevated to night guard duty, despite their tender age. They seem to have taken to this quite well. If it's dry they sit on the deck outside the door leading to our bedroom. If it rains they have the common sense to go and lie in their kennels. Occasionally they patrol the compound, and unlike some of the Masai we've had, they do not appear to sleep. They do that in the morning after breakfast. At first they tended to bark every time some other dog in the neighbourhood barked, but now they seem to have decided this isn't necessary. They also bark at Cali the cat if we fail to persuade her to come into the house before we go to bed, but they are improving in that respect too. I need to test them sometime soon to see if they bark when someone climbs over the fence. I think we may get the security company to do that.

The insects - big grasshoppers of some kind - were another of Adia's observations. The one that is presumably the female was maybe 12cm long, once again a large beast. We don't know what they were, Adia had never seen one before. I wonder if she ate him afterwards. I wonder if you can eat them! She would have been equivalent to a decent sized prawn.


Creeping gypsum plaster.


The table top in its gluing jig.


The skeleton of the kitchen area worktops.


Familiar faces.

19/7/2008 - More White Than Gray.

The finish plasterer we had written off finally came up with a price that was around that of the other bids. Since we had seen his work, we went ahead with him. Now the interior of the house may just be more white than cement coloured. It's not easy to take pictures of that inside - they just get saturated. However quite a few rooms are now done, including half of the ceiling of the large room.

My table top is progressing at its daily snail pace. I shall be over half way when I have added today's strip. It is beginning to give me a suitable impression of size and solidity. Samuel - our steel worker - and his helper, have put in a skeleton for the kitchen area work tops. In the tradition of building here I have used concrete and steel for this. The actual work tops will be porcelain tiles edged with mninga (a pleasant coloured hardwood), so the tops need to be well supported and very stiff. Also, the glass blocks have been fitted into the two illumination windows at the back of the large room. They look quite spiffy, but again I have not succeeded in getting a usable photo with my mobile phone. They just come out as white rectangles. With these things appearing I am starting to feel a little more confident about my amateur architectural efforts.

Potter is still in intensive care. I went to see what was going on yesterday with a view to taking him for treatment elsewhere if he was anywhere near in one piece. He wasn't. The man that runs the shop was not there, and the engine was hanging on a hoist in front of the car with both its head and sump off. God knows what they are doing now, but taking the vehicle elsewhere is clearly impracticable at this point. According to the talk among the mechanics there gleaned by Adia the day before, he was in a state where he would start, but as soon as you engaged drive and tried to move him the engine would stall. I'm wondering if the pistons are asymmetric and they put then in wrong way round or something of that sort. Adia is a combination of depressed and angry about the whole thing, and I think that she and Hemal will probably come to blows within the next few days.

The familiar faces are HHDL (more formally, His Holiness the Dalai Lama), and my ex-wife Lynn - a familiar face to me. Lynn has been a practitioner of Tai-Chi and a student of eastern philosophy/religion for many years. In the course of this she has met many interesting people. She has spent months organizing for a visit of HHDL to New Jersey, which is now in progress. I am constantly impressed by her strength of direction and persistence, and her steady humour. I hope the visit is a great success.


Requiem flower.


Volcano vomit.

13/7/2008 - Creeping Progress, Good and Bad.

The man who did the bedroom plastering test turned out to be unable to settle on a reasonable price, so we've seen a couple more since and got different prices, but so far only the bedroom is finish plastered. Meantime, Spemba and crew have been putting up cornices (coving) in the simplest design I could find, and are more or less finished with that.

Although it is well away from the critical path, I have started work on a dining table. Given the size of the living/dining area in the main house, we are unlikely to get a dining table that's a proportionate size off the peg. So I am going to exercise my creativity and try to come up with something a little different. It will be about 3.2m long and 0.95m wide, with rounded ends so it is oval in shape. The top will be a solid self-supporting slab about 68mm thick formed by gluing together pieces of planed 70mm by 50mm Cyprus wood. This will then be smoothed, and initially painted with red oxide lacquer, then smoothed again and lacquered with black lacquer. The process of aging and distress will thus show the red lacquer through the black, like worn Japanese lacquer work (some time after I am dead). The supporting structure will be in steel, exact form TBD, which I will polish and clear lacquer. The feet will be bound with goatskin leather to be kind to a tiled floor.

I have a design for dining chairs in leather and steel in my head also, but we'll get to those later.

Now sticking the pieces together to form the table top would be reasonably straightforward and quick if I had about six large and powerful woodworking cramps. But those would cost a fortune, and I'd probably never use them again. Consequently, building the top will be a slow process. I'll add a strip of wood consisting of one or two pieces each day. Each strip will be clamped against the growing slab by eight lag bolts (that's like big wood screws with a hexagonal head), tightened up vigorously with my little socket wrench. Only the holes on the last strip will be exposed, and they'll get wooden plugs before the smoothing process starts. Each strip needs to stand overnight for the glue to set. Currently I have fifteen days to go.

We seem to be surrounded by family tragedies. Last week our village chairman's brother died, quite young. He lived in the rural village area behind and to the north of our compound. I saw the flower as we were walking back from a visit to his wake. Demi's sister Yolanda is ill and her baby boy was admitted to hospital with malaria, and died. Demi will go back to Kagera for a few days in sympathy. Masai's mother is ill, so he'll be off back to his village as well.

Surprise, surprise, the road improvement contractors never filled in the ditch at the end of our drive. So today, Masai and I did a job on it, he with the larger pieces of rubble from our building site, and me with chunks of volcanic moram collected from the corresponding ditch along the other side of the road. The stones should allow the water that runs down the ditch when it rains to pass through without much resistance - time will tell!


The small bedroom test.


Our spiffy upgraded road.

7/7/2008 - Another Monday.

July 7th or seven seven, or saba saba, is Farmers Day, and is a public holiday. Nevertheless we got a reasonable turnout of workers. Spemba and his boys are here, applying the mineral fibre board sheeting to the section of the roof under the eaves to keep out bats, birds, and insects. The finish plasterer that Spemba recommended is also here doing a small bedroom to see if we like his work. This job is fairly critical, since apart from a coat of paint, this is how the room will look. From what we've seen so far, his work is OK, so he'll probably be here for a while. A couple of the plasterers were here, but they needed covers for the drain inspection chambers, and the relevant shop would be shut, so they went away again.

There was no work on our spiffy upgraded road, and for all I know they have finished. I hope not though because there is now a drop of about 40cm where our drive meets the road. The engineer in charge had said they would put stones there to level it and at the same time let through water draining along the side of the road. If they don't do that we'll have it to do.

In the picture, the road turning right (east) goes to Njiro, that is our normal access route. The road that goes straight on goes north through Lemara, and will eventually get you to the Njiro road closer to town by the brewery. The driveway to our house goes left (west) just out of shot at the bottom left of the picture.

Yesterday there was a village meeting for the residents of Kikokwaro 'B'. The area manager from the electricity supply company - Tanesco - was there, explaining that work would start soon on our electricity supply. Those who already had their houses wired would be connected as soon as the new transformer was installed and they'd applied and paid the necessary fees. He would not commit to a date but did say that all of the work should be completed by the end of September. This is still bit vague, but it's better than anything we've heard in the past. So with a bit of luck we should have electricity at about the same time as we have made at least part of the main house habitable.



Puppies video - click picture to start, right click to control.

7/7/2008 - Flash Video Capability Restored.

Finally today I got Flash videos working again in a way that suits me. I have several short videos of the puppies. Usually they are moving too fast for the phone to make an even half decent job. In this case they decided they'd barely move at all. Adia's legs give you a size reference - otherwise I apologize to her for her limited role in the movie.

Hansel has had a growth spurt, and is now bigger than Gretel again. I suspect this will remain the case from now on.

So far they have slept together in one of the kennels at night, but Saturday night there was a lot of fighting. Masai said they were at it most of the night. So yesterday I made a second pallet to put in the unused kennel and they had separate rooms. There were no complaints - now I can hear them fighting in their pen.


Our water and drainage pipes running over their original water pipe.


Hauling the new pipe into place.
5/7/2008 - Water Supply Revisited.

If your an established BEV reader you'll recall the trench across our plot that I filled in when we started the building work. It seemed then that it was defunct, but lately it's got resuscitated. Adia had originally told them they'd have to run it around our plot, and they'd gone away to chew on it. But since then we acquired the patch of land it would have gone across if it had gone round, so that put the mockers on that deal. Last week, or whenever, our village chairman and the village chairman of the village that want the supply came back to try and talk us into it again.

Now there's already a pipe that carries water to the same village that runs under our plot. We punctured it twice during the building work and had to repair it ( the performance with a three inch main is somewhat different). So it dawned on me at some point that if the new pipe was put down right by the old pipe, the situation would not be made vastly worse. There would only be one line of pipe you'd have to mark to avoid similar puncturings in the future. Adia bought that, and when faced with 'put it in the same trench as the old one, or go around the long way' the village chairmen bought it too.

The men of the village came to do it today. They'd made a start during the week, but they were digging in the wrong places in a disorganized fashion so we sent them away and told them to come back with one person in charge.

This time they slowly took some noticed of me and dug by the compound walls at the places I'd marked, to find the old water pipe. Then they dug the trench from each end keeping the old pipe just visible in the wall of the new trench. Some of the diggers got a bit carried away at times and wandered in the direction of the old pipe, and I had to pull them out and replace them with others who understood what we were trying to achieve.

By about 3pm the trench was completed with the old pipe visible on one side - miraculously intact, and tunnels had been cut under the outer wall foundations. The new pipe - a four inch one this time, and a continuous length rather than joined sections - was then pulled into place. By that time everyone was tired and ready to head for home, and fill in the trench next Wednesday, but Adia wasn't having that. She told the village chairman it had to be filled in today, and it was - in double quick time.


Juma in the mud.


Another supply cut off.
3/7/2008 - Fix It or Lose It.

I discovered an interesting fact today. In England I was accustomed to a system where the water supply to your house was controlled by a stop valve, often on the pavement between the road and your house. Your side of the stop valve if something went wrong, you fixed it, and the other side, the water company or the municipality fixed it. Here it's not the same.

I was going out on Kiki this morning when I noticed that a man was working at a point on our drive where there has been a water leak for some time. This was upstream of the water meter it fed, so I assumed the water supply people were fixing the leak. However when I got back, Adia, who had spoken to the man doing the 'repairs' told me that they don't repair the leak, they just cut you off to force you to mend it. Now here there's no stop valve between the meter and the supply, so they cut you off by the simple technique of digging up the pipe upstream of the leak, bending it sharply to put a kink or fold in it, and then roughly burying it again to hold the bend in place. This is pretty effective. It either turns the supply of completely, or reduces the leakage to not much more than a drip. To get your water supply back, you have to get a fundi bomba (plumber - more literally a skilled worker of pipes) to come and reconnect you and mend the original leak in the process.

The woman who I saw being disconnected is very poor, and I'm not sure how she'll afford a fundi. Maybe I'll do the good-neighbourly thing.

It was to be our turn soon enough. Overnight, or the previous day, someone had cut the pipe that was either ours or the next door neighbour's, and that had duly been folded and buried. I suspect this is the water supply people's way of telling you that your supply pipe is too close to the surface - this despite the fact that it is where they put it when they installed the supply. The pipe was, of course, ours. So we had to get Juma the plumber and his mate to come and fix it.

This is a messy business. The whole area was saturated with the water that spurted out when the pipe was cut, so first you have to dig a muddy ditch to find the folded end. Then you have to prepare a length of pipe long enough to do the job, and attach a coupling to one end. Then you cut off the folded bit in the ditch, at which point you get drenched with the water escaping at full mains pressure. Then you have to stick your prepared coupling over the end of the pipe that's gushing water - at which point you get even wetter - and then tighten it up. Then you can bend and put a kink in your prepared length of pipe, thus shutting the water off again. Then you put another coupling on the cut off end of the supply pipe to your house, and you stick the prepared pipe into that while holding the kink in place, and tighten it up. Then you release the kink, and if you're lucky everything holds together under mains pressure. Then in this case the trench had to be dug deeper so the road plane would not come back and dig it up again. Quite a performance. By this time Juma and his mate were both drenched and covered in mud, but they seemed quite sanguine about it.

Walking along the road I found that I was not the only one with my pipe severed in this way. The water welling up from the road marked with the sprig of hedgerow flowers is from a buried kink that is not doing such a good job of shutting off the flow. I dare say if I'd walked further I'd have found more. I'd heard that a lot of pipes had been exposed by the work.


The house as at July 1 2008.


The road works continue.
1/7/2008 - Another Clean Slate.

So, what's up. Another month slipped by. The road works at the end of our drive continue, and so far the water pipe - ours or theirs - is still intact. Actually the road machines disappeared later in the day, so I presume we are now waiting for suitable quantities of moram to be delivered.

We went to visit Potter again. His cylinder head has been removed and sent to the main Isuzu dealer in Dar. My presumption is that the local firm screwed up the engine rebuild when they installed the new piston rings, and they don't have the equipment to correct the damage. I am fed up with this whole process, and Adia more so, but you can hardly take your car to be fixed somewhere else when the cylinder head is 400km away.

It was another day with not much to do. I rescued my bicycle from the new store room only to discover that someone had succeeded in wrapping the chain around the pedal bearing. I had to split the chain to get it out, and now I've got it back together it is still changing down spontaneously if it is in the lowest gear on the back wheel. This has been a perennial problem with it. I shall have to take it to the bike experts in town - and there are plenty of those at least - to see if they can adjust it. Hopefully they won't require a whole month.

Adia bought something that purported to be red snapper fillets in town after we'd visited Potter. We ate it tonight, and I can honestly say that it was the first time in my life that I have tasted tough fish - raw or cooked. It was mostly gristle, and quite revolting. Needless to say, that particular shop won't be getting our business again. It will be interesting to see if the puppies eat what we left.

Bet you can tell I have nothing much to do!
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