July 2009 in Tanzania through the eyes of an Englishman

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Visit Tanzania?

If you are planning to visit Tanzania, and come to Arusha, please feel free to contact us. We can tell you about hotels, facilities, prices of basics, etc. Arusha is a great base for trips to the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Kilimanjaro, and of course our own pet volcano, Mount Meru. Soon you'll be able to stay with us too.
The BEV Retrospective - 1942/2002.

There was life before britseyeview.com. Find out what it was like in the second half of the 20th century viewed through the Brits Eye. Read the BEV E-book, currently featuring the year 1970.

The first room's pot plant.

Rough wood to curtain rod.
30/7/2009 - Small progress.

I made another curtain rod today. Since I bought the wood, it's something I can do without spending any more of the budget this month. I'm not saying they're perfect yet, but I'm quite happy with them. However, I'm still not decided on what will go on the ends.

I had this weird idea of putting a Masai spear head on one end, and nothing on the other. I may do it, at least to see what this looks like.

Anyway, I'm confident now that I don't have to go and buy expensive curtain rods and fittings. I think the ones I've made will do the job very well. I'll sort out something for the ends. Then I shall use plain brown plastic rings. I think the wooden ones are too fragile, and I don't feel that metal ones would fit in with the nature of the room. I've already seen some curtain material that will look good.

We finally found a pot, so I've now had an opportunity to see how the plant we chose looks in the room. I like it. Once the budget allows us to get the picture that we have hopefully reserved I'll get an even better impression of the feel of the room.

To squeeze the budget as tight as possible, I now have a spreadsheet that allows me to enter our daily expenditure, and calculates how much per day we can spend until next pay-day, and, of course, retains the history. Ok, ok, it's a trivial spreadsheet, but it beats doing the calculation every day on the your mobile phone. It will also focus my attention on our spending patterns.

I have to report, sadly, that Tondi's pub appears to be near to death. I suspect his doctor has told him to stop drinking, or face the consequences - he's diabetic. When he doesn't turn up at the bar, it seems that his regular customers, other than me, don't either. I like peace and quiet, but even so, it's nice to have someone to talk to at the pub occasionally. For the last few days I've just been sitting there by myself. I may have to desert, and go to the Amani Bar, the next nearest place, along with some previous deserters. If I do though, that will probably take my nightly bar bill up from $2.30 to $3.90. It doesn't sound like a big deal, but on a monthly basis, that's $48, and in wood and other bits, that's a bed!

The naked corn.

The corn cobs.
29/7/2009 - Harvesting Continued.

A couple of days ago, Joe, as requested, picked most of the corn cobs. These must now be dried in the sun before we strip the kernels off and get them ground into corn meal that will be used to make ugali (approximately polenta).

In the case of the corn, I have absolutely no idea of the quality of this yield. I've no idea what we sowed, and I've no idea what weight of kernels this heap will yield. It does look though that it could keep us in ugali for some time.

Joe's corn picking was not particularly thorough, and I suspect that his days here are numbered. His principle preoccupations are eating food and hitting on Mwajuma, who he has apparently propositioned in no uncertain terms. Adia is not impressed with his performance, and that does not bode well for his future here. Today, she and I did another pass over the corn to bring in the cobs Joe had missed or chose to ignore. There was a good sack full of them, and though they are small and of poor quality, there's a useful quantity of kernels there, and the question I'd ask of him would be "if you were hungry, would you have gathered them and eaten them?" I'm fairly confident that I know the answer.

Today, I have been attempting to make a curtain pole. We had looked at them in town, and were not happy about either the price or the quality. I got a piece of reject eucalyptus wood - it's a habit of mine to make the maximum possible use of reject stuff, it's cheap, and it's satisfying to make something useful out of something that was regarded as being pretty useless. Eucalyptus is a hardwood, and usually quite straight grained, so I'm hoping it will settle down to being reasonably straight.

I attacked it in the most obvious way. I got the local wood cutting place to cut it into equal pieces approximately 30mm square in cross section. Then I took one of the pieces - not the best - and planed it by successive approximations to something approaching circular in cross section. First I planed off the corners to make it octagonal, and then I planed off the new corners to make it roughly 16 sided in cross section. From there, some 100 grit sandpaper was enough to do the rest of the job.

It looks pretty decent, and I'll get a picture of it along the way. First I have to think of something creative to put on the ends, and to support it.
27/7/2009 - Caveat Emptor.

There's a Shoprite in Arusha. I don't know if there's any relationship between it and shops of the same name elsewhere - I believe it is an extension of South African shops of the same name.

Anyway, it's in a compound that's quite large along with a variety of other shops and businesses. One area of this is noticeably a tourist trap, with restaurants catering to tourist tastes, and with tourist prices. In the same area, probably quite by accident, there's a kind of Vet pharmacy - I'm sure that wasn't put there for the benefit of the tourists. I was sitting outside this place this afternoon while Adia went in to get some de-worming pills for the dogs. Next door, there is a foreign exchange shop.

As we pulled into the area I'd noticed a tourist bus parked nearby, and as I sat waiting I noticed a couple - clearly tourists - standing outside the exchange shop and talking. At the same time, almost as a reflex, I checked the exchange rates offered by the shop on it's blackboard outside. The rates were appalling. There's another exchange shop that has a number of branches up and down Uhuru Road that I have come to regard as pretty definitive, based on its rates, the Bank of Tanzania rates, and the Dollar/Pound rate as published by the BBC. Today they were offering TS 2140 for a pound sterling. The exchange shop by Shoprite was offering TS 1800. A rip-off, or what.

Look before you leap.
The couple moved toward the exchange shop door, so I coughed loudly to get their attention, and then suggested they should look elsewhere. They were obviously distressed by the situation, having been told by their tour company that they should bring their spending money in USD, and then discovering there was no advantage in this, and then being told by this mzungu that they were shopping in a bad place, and were therefore about to lose money twice! However, they - as a party - had been dumped there by the bus, which was to leave shortly, so I would not be surprised if they actually changed money there because they did not have the knowledge or the time to find a better place.

I would also not be surprised if when the bus pulled out, another exchange rate blackboard appeared that displayed a set of more realistic rates. At the same time, the bus driver would probably pull away a little better off than when he pulled in. If that wasn't the case, I'd expect the tour company to have an equivalent benefit.
The moral of this story is that tourists should check the exchange rate for their currency before they take their flight. The place to look is the Bank of Tanzania web page. On their home page you'll see a summary of the exchange rates for some major currencies, as per the picture. Unless when you set off, the pound or dollar is in a state of free fall, then when you get here, the exchange rate you should expect to get for your pound or dollar should be roughly that in the 'buying' column. If it isn't, make your bus driver take you to another exchange shop. If he says he can't, first tell him you'll you'll report him to the company for bad service, or failing that, call the tour company and complain there.

Home-made business card.
26/7/2009 - A Blast from the Past.

Yesterday I discovered a shop in town here that sells micro perforated sheets of card for making business cards. For some time now I've had no need for these, since they are very much a face to face thing, and my communication channel is via the web. However, recently I had been thinking about business cards in the context of our micro-hotel project. It could do no harm to have someone standing on the street near the clock tower in Arusha handing them to visiting mzungus. It would cost very little and might just get some interest.

So anyway, I bought some card sheets and installed my old 'Publicity' program that I wrote back in 1993 or so. It seems to have stood up to the test of time to some extent. It installed fine on my current laptop with XP Professional, though I'm dubious that it would work on Vista. Once I'd remembered what I was doing I also still found the user interface to be pretty good for its specialized tasks.

If you need to make business cards, brochures, conference badges, labels and such, give it a whirl. You can download it from BEV.

Publicity was in a tortuous way the beginning of the path that led me here. I wrote it originally for Windows 3.1 - yes, ancient history - and then again as a 32 bit version. At the time it was way ahead of anything else that specialized in labels and business cards, so I tried to market it. That led to several years when my ex wife Lynn and I spent our lives doing the US North East weekend computer show circuit. In the process I learned a great deal about the geography of the USA from Boston to Pittsburgh to Virginia Beach, and the location of just about every National Guard armory in that region. We also got to the point of being just about bankrupt.

I could sell it, but I had to sell it one at a time one-on-one with the customer, and you don't make money like that. You don't even cover your expenses. So eventually I had to resort to getting a job, and that led me by another tortuous path to working with R2K, the software services company that sent me to India. And of course it was in India that I met Adia and decided to retire to Tanzania.

35 Kg of beans.
25/7/2009 - Endless Finishing.

I'm still struggling to get the first guest room finished at least to the point where I can take some pictures for promotional purposes. The hot water system won't be there until the end of August, but we want to start advertising the 'Brits Eye Micro Hotel' before then

Yesterday I had a bad day. It took me most of the day to get the shower fitting installed. Either it was a badly made fitting, or the sockets the plumber had put into the wall were misaligned. Either way there was a great deal of swearing and cursing. There was even more late in the afternoon when I put a masonry drill through one of the water pipes while fitting the toilet roll holder. That was such a careless mistake I should be banned from further work! I'll now have to remove the toilet, which fortunately is not a big deal in this case, and then hack a tile off the wall so we can mend the hole in the plastic pipe.

The day before we had finally got all the beans out of their pods. Taking into account what we've eaten since they were picked, and some that Adia gave away, we harvested about 35Kg of them. That should keep us in beans for quite a while.

17/7/2009 - Doodling Along.

Adia with a large lettuce.

Not much to report. We've run out of project funds again for this financial month, so I'm trying to find things to do that are on the critical path but don't require the spending of any money.

Scrap wood projects.

Meru above the clouds.
This happens every month, so its a regular routine. This time I've made a night stand and a small jardiniere to go in the bedroom we're preparing. But now I have run out of scrap wood, so that avenue is closed. The original picture was a bit rough - the light was failing in the room, and they'd just been varnished so I wasn't for moving them. I've now replaced it. The bathroom doors are ready, but they'll have to stay with the carpenter until payday

The weather is getting warmer again now. For the last two or three days it has been sunny or only partly cloudy in the mornings. As a result, the plants are thriving. The tomatoes are growing fast, the broccoli is forming heads, and we picked the first of our batch of lettuces today. The simple life and all that if you please.
11/7/2009 - I Wonder.

I am beginning to get the feeling that we could be dealing with one of the great Presidents of the USA. Of course by this time of the evening, I've had three litres of Eagle, at 5.8%, so you can stop reading now if you like.

Who those Presidents would be historically is probably still a matter of a debate that I'm not qualified to get into. In my lifetime I'd be thinking of Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Clinton, but then I'm somewhat left wing in my leanings (commie bastard), and not a citizen.

But I'm impressed by the way things seem to be happening in difficult times - signs of life in the economy, GM bankruptcy dealt with expeditiously, lots of diplomacy, no new wars... But most of all, I'm impressed by the lack of boasting about what's been accomplished. The focus always seems to be on what should be done next, and that seems to get done without a great deal of controversy or trumpet blowing.

I think a CEO who has started like this could get a lot done in 8 years. OK, it's way, way, too soon to even think about it, but sooner or later it will happen. You'll have a situation where there's a President at the top of his form - popular and effective - who gets castrated by the two term rule. Of course, there's also the alternative - autocratic and ruthless - but then (s)he'd probably get more than the two terms by any means.

I think that Obama's African visit choice was probably about right. In some ways South Africa might have seemed obvious, but it is not really a typical sub-Saharan African country, but a place with a rather unique colonial and subsequent history. I would have been pleased if it had been Tanzania, but while my new country has been notably peaceful, it has not been an outstanding economic success. I think the Nigerians really know why it was not them (I am charged with a large sum of money in a disused bank account, and so on.)

Best of luck BHO - brilliant or not, you'll need it!

Bathroom facilities in the first guest room.
10/7/2009 - Continuing Progress.

I'm making steady progress on the first guest room. Today I was working on shelving in the recess next to the bathroom. I think it will look pretty good when the room is complete. I'm also happy with the way the bathroom is looking. This is all Chinese stuff, none of it with even a makers name, but it has not caused me any particular problems, and I think it looks pretty good.

Another helper has arrived from Kagera, this time a younger man called Johannes - let's say Joe. He is to be head gardener and a general helper. I'm living in hope that this will turn out better than the previous Kagera import. Adia met him and his family when she was there recently, and thinks he is much more promising. I'll get a picture as soon as he's had chance to settle in a little.

Yesterday, on his first day here, he helped me to hang a door on the bathroom of the bedroom that I am currently using as a workshop, which is where he'll have to sleep until we get some further building completed. Then we made a bed for him to sleep on. Just to put this in context, this will be the first time in his life he has had a room of his own to sleep in, even if it is something of a lash-up.

7/7/2009 - The Jackson Memorial.

A very well done for-profit event - the story of Michael Jackson's life? Yes, he was a fantastic composer and performer, but I also see him as a traitor to his own people. The skin bleaching and facial surgery said that to be black was not cool, and probably because I am white, I can not understand why a black man would send that sort of message to his own people.

But I see the event, it's happening, and lot's of people are locked into it, including Adia. Does this then mean that I am deluding myself, and that I still have some sort of subliminal racial prejudice. If it does, then I apologize - but I just can't see it. My wife is black, my friends these days are black, and I live in Africa.

I still maintain that if there had to be a memorial, then it should have been held sometime around 1988.

Stevie Wonder is singing as I speak, obviously moved, and obviously still a black man. I'll accept his emotion and his authority, and shut my face. MJ, rest in peace - a commodity that was probably rare in your life.

The fundamentals of agriculture.

Two sacks of pods.
3/7/2009 - Bean Harvest.

Yesterday or neighbouring smallholder, Mika, called Adia to tell us that our beans were ready to be harvested. In fact he went further, and said that if we did not harvest them immediately, the pods would split open, and most of the beans would be lost to cracks in the soil, birds, and other small creatures.

So yesterday I started to pick them. This is definitely a task that puts you back in contact with nature. Along with the beans in the field, there are thistles, and nettles, and grass with sharp edges. The bean plants are by now quite dried up and hard on the hands, but I find the best way to harvest them is to pull the plant out, and hands be damned. That way you can strip the bean pods from the plant over the basket or whatever you're using to collect them. In that way, when brittle pods break open, you still get the beans without having to grovel for them individually in the dirt.

Seeing all those plants sitting there with beans waiting to be harvested makes you think. Your average bean plant has four pods, and each pod has maybe 6 beans - this isn't an exact science. When they were planted, there were two beans in most holes, and three in some, and one in others. The cluster in the picture was three plants that had maybe a dozen pods, so maybe 72 beans - I'm being conservative and saying 60. The beans were planted in mid April, so that's a return of 2000% over two and a half months at the extra cost of a couple of days of weeding. A few hundred thousand years ago, it was this realization that put early hunter/gatherer man on the road to civilization, or whatever you like to call it.

So far I have a heap amounting to two large sackfuls of pods heaped on one of the newly tiled bedroom floors with suitable puppy defences across the door. When they're fully dry, and they're not far off that now, the pods will split open, and the beans will escape. There's probably some sort of bean threshing/winnowing machine we can take them to, but we'll cross that bridge when we've picked them all. I'm thinking that there'll be five to six sacks of pods in all. How many kilos of beans that equates to I don't know yet. We will see.

Cali back on station.
1/7/2009 - July.

No picture of the house again - nothing different to see outside. Our tenant in the small house seems to be a very agreeable fellow. We know what he does, and where his business is, and although we didn't get quite what we were wanting in terms of rent, we are happy with our decision.

Today's principal happening was that after two weeks of disappearance, Cali resurfaced. Our friend Sudi phoned Adia to say she was in his yard. I went straight round there, and she came when I called her with no problem. She also allowed me to carry her home without resistance. The only point at which she was restless was as we approached the gate. Once we got inside, and she could see that the dogs were not around, she relaxed again. She was certainly happy to get her regular food again, and to tuck into the creamy milk that Mwajuma gave her.

She has not lost any weight as far as I can see, so she must have found an alternate owner who has been feeding her. For the moment, she is grounded. I have fixed up a litter tray for her.

I will work on the dogs' behaviour and try to discourage them from being a pain in the arse for her.
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What is BEV?

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.

We expect to have the first room of the Brits Eye Micro Hotel available for occupancy by Sept 1 this year. So if you plan to visit Arusha, and don't mind being a guinea pig, give us a shout. You can stay in a rather nice room close to both the city, and to rural Africa, at a ridiculous introductory price!

If you think I was being hard on MJ, try:

Twinkle twinkle, little star.
How I wonder what you are,
up above the world so high,
like a diamond in the sky!

"What's a diamond mummy?"

RFC - How About New alternate stuff in a right column?

Now that many people are likely using higher resolution screens than they did in 2003 when this blog was started, I'm considering adjusting the format to take up a little more real estate.

Please get on the newsgroup and let me know what you think.

For example, odd interesting quotes or things I've seen, or links to interesting sites. For example:

Political Correctness is a doctrine, fostered by a delusional, illogical minority, and rabidly promoted by an unscrupulous mainstream media, which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a turd by the clean end.

Or the content at:


Stronger pound - rises above $1.60