July 2010 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. We now have very pleasant bed and breakfast rooms available at $20 to $25 per night - see Adia's Place. The South House will become available for longer term visitors some time in early August.
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. This is really getting rather stale - it's been stuck there for ages now, but being retired is so busy. I am theoretically working on 1971.

A new TV stand - the old one was too low if a sofa was put in the room.
31/7/2010 - A Thin Month.

Thin, that is, in the sense of BEV postings. This was largely due the Internet connection problems, but also I was quite busy.

You've already seen the sofa that I did this month. When I'd finished that, I felt I was sufficiently on top of sofa construction that I could do one for our large living room. Before that though it was clear that I needed to make a new stand for our TV. The current one, which I lashed up initially for the Old Cottage when we were living there was quite low, and if a sofa was put between it and the dining table, or for that matter the kitchen, it would be partially obscured. So before starting the sofa, I made a new one. I need to do a little further work so there are facilities for concealing all the wires.

What else? Well for one thing, the GB Pound has been on a roll lately. It seems like just yesterday it was flirting with $1.5, but now it is on a quite noticeable upward trend. The Bank of Tanzania seems to be still in a state of denial about the fall in value of the TShilling. They report the value of the currency at around 1370 per dollar, while the international agencies have it pushing 1500!

That's it, I shall start on August.
30/7/2010 - Bye Bye Software.

It occurred to me sometime during the last couple of months that I am no longer interested in software development. So I have given up that activity - I have plenty of other things to do to keep my brain working.

The BEV software pages will stay as they are, frozen in time until I finally decide they have no relevance to anyone, when they will get expunged.

The right column of the BEV main page has changed accordingly. It now has a rather cool little widget from Oanda, that allows conversion of the major tourist currencies to and from each other and the Tanzanian Shilling.

Another sofa 1.

Another sofa 2.

Another sofa 3.
29/7/2010 - Back On Line.

So I manage to revert to the previous Internet provider, and persuaded the girl there to connect me two days early, so I'm back in business. But now I really see how horrendously slow it is.

The connection from TTCL just turned out to be far too expensive. The problem primarily is that to use it you have to be connected by a mobile phone call, and the cost of that just puts far too much overhead on the Internet connection. I have had a couple of conversations with the regional manager, and he has said he will look at the feasibility of getting us a copper phone line. If that works out, I can get a nominal 512kb full time connection for about the same as I'm paying now, which would get me back to about the same service as I had in Bangalore. However, I'm not holding my breath.

During the silence I have been working on sofa number two - for the South House. A sofa is a long job, especially when it is a new design. What I was trying to achieve in this case was a complete separation of the components - the seat, the arms, the back, the trim, and the sub-structure or frame. Any one of these should be capable of being removed an restored or changed without significant effect on the other parts.

The current attempt has a steel frame, like the dining chairs. The other bits bolt on to it. The concept has worked out quite well. However, this time I decided to use a heavier grade of canvas, on the grounds that it should be more durable. This has not been without its problems. The stuff is very stiff, and it is difficult to stretch, and to get it to lie in tidy pleats. Whatever, the result is a done deal. Like everything else I have made, it is far from perfect, but I believe it will do its job.

The wood for the trim was a real find. It is very difficult to determine what a piece of Mringaringa might be like at the time you buy it. On the outside, the planks all look pretty much the same. You have to look at it, feel its weight, and finally wet your finger and hold it in the wind. This time I lucked out. The plank I chose has a great grain pattern and colour. It is however still very wet, and the sofa will have to stand about for a week or two until it dries and I can finish it. However, it can stand about in the South House, where I think it will add to the visual impression.

It is my intention to press on with sofas, and my next attempt will be a large one - a four to five seater - for our living room. I shall use a similar modular design, but because of the size, that will not have a curved back.

Our new man Wrega was a considerable help. He seems to have a good intuitive understanding of structures and structural relationships, and can help without necessarily being asked or instructed. I hope he stays.

It seems that our guests in the South House have had their funding pulled. They will be leaving in about a week, and then we will have to find new tenants. This will be an interesting test of my policy of providing comprehensive and hopefully interesting furnishings at a reasonable price.

Some friends of theirs have been visiting and staying in the recently completed larger room. They seemed to find that quite acceptable, and were in turn exemplary guests - no trouble at all.
23/7/2010 - Silence.

I apologize to readers for the break in continuity.

I am having problems with the new Internet connection, and can't revert to the previous one until August 1st. Hopefully normal service will be resumed then one way or another.

Underground cable termination.

First green bananas cut.
16/7/2010 - Posh Gatehouse.

Yesterday and today, Wrega and I have been extending the electricity supply to the barbican, or gatehouse. My original intention was to take a cable over the new gate arch, but I had been worried that this would be an eyesore. So then, I thought of getting some armoured cable and putting it underground to cross inside the gate. But the armoured cable is horrendously expensive. I was talking about this to my friend and electrical materials supplier Mr Burhani. He said that in his yard he had just done underground cable down across his gate using strong plastic conduit and ordinary flat wiring cable. Since there's a contact breaker and an earth leakage breaker at the source end, there's not much damage you could do by putting a spade or pickaxe through it. Something would trip. Then if you had done such damage - unlikely given the location of the cable - it would only require a 6m trench to replace it. I did not take much convincing.

Wrega dug a minimal trench, as narrow as he could make it - about the width of a gardening trowel - and about 40cm deep. Then we put a piece of 20mm PVC water pipe in the trench, and fed a length of 2.5mm cable through it. Right behind the gate I just don't see anybody poking it, and in a trench of that width it is going to be immune to vehicle pressure damage. After that it was just routine, so now there is a light and a power socket in the barbican. Wrega knows something about wiring, so I let him do some of the work, and will try to bring him up to decent international standards. I think he may turn out to be a bit of a renaissance man - definitely a keeper.

This morning, Wrega had also phoned Adia at some early morning hour to tell her that in his opinion, the first trees crop of green bananas were ready. By the time we ventured down there, they had been harvested, and the trunk that grew them removed. Once a banana 'tree' has produced a crop, it is useless, and will die.

What else? Well our first month on the digital TV system was up. Adia bought a voucher, and fed it into the system by phone. But it did not take. Most likely there was a data entry mistake in the computer system, and we put the payment on somebody else's account. So now we have just one channel - TBC1, the national TV broadcast. I'm confident the situation will get sorted, but I'm not holding my breath.

Today was another of those idyllic spring days. Sunshine, a few fluffy clouds and a breeze. It's nearly time for the annual Nane Nane (8/8/2010 in this case) show, so the weather needs to improve. The date is not chosen at random, and it usually manages to be about right.

Men or women, motive unknown.
13/7/2010 - French Legislation.

While I am generally a strong supporter of women's rights in all countries, I do have some sympathy for the legislation in France that was voted on today.

It think that allowing the veil in public is just asking for trouble. If it is legal, then people dressed like those in the picture will have a legal right to enter banks, government buildings etc, and nobody will have the right to search them or insist on a gender check or anything. Sooner or later, it is going to be a bunch of gangsters, or some militant with an Uzi 9mm tucked under the burqa, and some innocent security guard or employee is going to get shot in a place where they should have some protection.

It should be noted that the French legislation does not discriminate against the Islamic veil specifically, but rather forbids face covering in public. I suspect that a similar de-facto ban is already in force in most countries. If you don't believe that, I suggest you try wearing the kind of balaclava head covering that just has holes for your eyes, and then wandering about your town centre at a busy time of day. I suspect you'd be pulled to one side by the police in short order, and might have some explaining to do.

A path across the lawn.

The new lad Wrega.

"Dining chairs for the South House.
11/7/2010 - Spring Here?

It is difficult to say when spring ought really to be here, but by my vote, what we've been having lately has definitely been winter. Today was by UK standards a beautiful summer day - sunshine, a couple of little clouds, and a pleasant breeze. When it's like that, and I have had a good breakfast (tomatoes fried in olive oil with frankfurter sausages and toast), some nookie, and a couple of Eagles at the Silver Springs, this place is as close to paradise as I care to get.

On Friday some fundis came and laid the concrete slabs we had bought as paths across the lawn. There are two of us crossing the lawn regularly now. Zai to go round the back of the house to do washing, and me to and from the workshop. But there's more to it. I also have designs to build another small house on the plot to the west in a small walled courtyard. Whoever occupies it will use the existing car park, and the path is the beginning of their access. This approach means I can get another unit up and running without fully fencing the west plot.

The new lad Wrega is doing well. He seems to know all about plants and gardening, and to be a self-starter. As you can see from the blue tee shirt and wellies, he also has some sense of style. In the picture he is replacing grass around the slabs (actually retuning his radio).

The losers versus losers match last night was actually quite exciting. If Germany had played like that in the semi, they could have been playing again tonight instead - but that's soccer for you, 75% skill, and 75% luck. Speaking of Germans, we have some more guests arriving tonight. We will put them in the newly finished room. I have tried to take pictures of the latter, but without a very wide angle lens it just doesn't work. So you'll have to take my word for it that it looks fabulous. We went to the craft market this afternoon and after some searching around and haggling bought some carved wooden bowls. I cut a couple of sprigs of lavender and rosemary, bruised them with my hammer and left them in the room in one of the bowls - a poor man's pot-pourri. Adia says it smells good.

This afternoon, before we went shopping, I finished two dining chairs for the South House. They are a slightly different design this time, with the capability of easy replacement of the leather if for some reason that should be necessary. The leather on the left was still somewhat damp when the picture was taken - thick cow hide is difficult to work with when it is dry, so sometimes I wet it to make it flexible. Hopefully it will settle down to the original colour as the first one did.

It's chips mayai and salad tonight, washed down with a beer or two, and then the World Cup final. Y'all have a nice day too ;=)

9/7/2010 - Spinning Our Wheels?

The woman in the picture has been condemned to death by stoning because she had relationships with men after her husband was dead!. Apparently the Irani authorities have relented to some extent, saying "she will not be executed by stoning punishment". It's still not clear that she will not be executed.

This sort of think makes me feel sick. It reminds me of Europe's centuries of vicious civil war, repression, burning of heretics and witches, persecution of religious minorities and homosexuals, jingoistic nationalism and the resulting wars, and the sort of religious brainwashing children were subjected to, and in many cases still are.

Sadly I fear that as soon as US, UK, and other allied troops leave Afghanistan and Iraq, the taliban will be back in Afghanistan, and some similar organization will quickly overwhelm the weak and corrupt 'democratically elected' government in Iraq. Then we will be back to the same sort of thing there.

Don't ask. I have no idea what to do about it, though sometimes I would cheerfully cut off all border crossings, air flights, shipping, Internet, telecommunications, and so on, to any country with a religiously denominated government. We can't of course, since that would deprive us of our most needed substance - oil, tempt far too many to relax such rules for profit, and also because it would play directly into the hands of those authoritarian demons who rule there in the name of religion.

I suppose we just have to shrug our shoulders and wait for another 500 years in the pathetic hope that things might improve. Like the Eagles lyric says - "things in life change very slowly if they ever change at all".

A BEV picture frame.

Adia's Kagera bananas.
5/7/2010 - Exorbitant Plot.

The way things have turned out, the plot of land that we (well technically Adia) own has an intrusion. When we bought the original plot it comprised three pieces. There was a plot that had already been sold corresponding roughly to the part of our plot starting at the east end, and going as far as the west end of the South House. We got in touch with the people who owned it, and they agreed to sell it with a decent profit on their transaction.

To the east of that, there was a problem. The plot that was on offer had a piece bitten out of the corner - a ten metre square that the landowner, our neighbour Mica - had injudiciously sold. The owner of the square was not willing to sell outright, but agreed to be moved if Mica would give them and equivalent area elsewhere. So a deal was done, and we got our contiguous area about 80m long - east to west - and 26m wide. The 10m square was moved so it was directly to our west.

This became a problem again when Mica decided to sell more land to the west, and we wanted to buy it. This left us back in the original situation where the square was bitten into the area of land that we would own. This time, we postponed negotiations about moving it, or buying it out, since after buying the extension we were skint. Unfortunately this left us over a barrel. The 10m square plot was worth nothing much to anyone else, but we really wanted it so we would have a regularly shaped plot overall.

We have enquired about its price several times since, and each time it has got more expensive, as land does in our area. I have said to myself on each occasion, "'damn it', I'll just build a wall around it and forget it". If I did that, my guess is that its price would fall dramatically. But all our friends tell us we should buy it, and at the last ask, today, it is TS2,500,000. This is about twice the going price for land around here. I have the build the wall feeling again. BEV readers comments would be most welcome on this topic.

What else? Well I took a (not very good) picture of one of the picture frames as promised. I also checked out the state of our bananas. We have three bunches growing. The ones in the picture are the most mature. All of them are the Kagera green banana variety, used for cooking much as I would use potatoes. Adia thinks they are doing OK

This afternoon I went to get more wood to make some of the remaining items for the South House. Typically, I found after I had bought it that the power had gone off, so I could not get it machined. I guess that will now happen tomorrow.

Previous wireless modem.

The new equivalent.
3/7/2010 - July Already.

And I'm late again. Excuses? Well, there's been the football of course, but also I have been in the throes of switching my Internet service provider.

The trigger was the introduction of a new 'plan' by TTCL. I had already bought the little USB CDMA modem from them, but it had been too expensive to use as a regular thing - TS160 (about 11 cents) per megabyte. Now if you buy a chunk of bandwidth up front you can get 2GB for TS50 per megabyte. I'm guessing that 2GB should get us and the guests who use the wireless network through a month.

The previous ISP charged $60 a month for unlimited use of the bandwidth you could get over their proprietary wireless network using the little modem you see in the first picture. However, the bandwidth was appalling - generally you'd get about 5kB/sec. Now since the TShilling has fallen considerably against the dollar, that translates to about TS87,000, so If my guess is good, I'll be paying TS13,000 a month more for a service that is at least ten times faster. Also, I expect the TTCL price to fall as further undersea cable connections come into East Africa. I shall rant on about this at some length below - optional for non-tech BEV readers, but it might be useful for people trying to do the same thing.

Other than that, I have now more or less got the hang of making picture frames and installing canvases in them. They are quite tedious and time consuming. I put another picture in the big guest room, and one in the South House - a picture later.

Another helper has come and gone. Jawadu, who was not with us for long, injudiciously told Zai that it was his intention to leave as soon as he had been paid and bought a phone. Zai told Adia, and Jawadu was put back on the bus. A replacement arrived from Kagera a couple of days later called Wrega. We have no idea what he's like yet, but he seems a pleasant lad and more able to deal with the gate than Jawadu was, which is a good start.

We had some drama in the World Cup round of 16 yesterday. Everyone was shocked and awed when the Netherlands beat Brazil. But when Ghana got knocked out by Uruguay after the penalty shoot-out I think the whole of Africa went into mourning.

There's probably other stuff, but if it occurs to me I'll catch up on it tomorrow.
In the meantime, back to the Internet connection saga. Our problem is that we live at a distance from the city centre where there are no copper telephone cables. If we were close in I could get ADSL at 128kB/sec for the same money, with a tiny ADSL modem that presents a Cat5 Ethernet socket. That would then connect to the Internet socket on my Linksys wireless router, and the changeover could have been done in five minutes. But we're well beyond the copper, so until the fibre optic system gets commissioned out to Njiro, and maybe longer, the only sensible TTCL connection is the CDMA/EVDO modem.

This is likely to be the case for many users in East Africa where there are now improving connections to the Internet backbone, but severe last-few-kilometre problems.

The snag is that the modem is a USB device, so making it talk to the wireless router is a much more complicated kettle of fish. I have to have a computer set up to do Internet connection sharing, and feed the router - using it just as a switch - from that. In theory, I could do that on an Ubuntu box, and after a day or two fiddling about I did get that working. I did it by installing the Firestarter Linux firewall software that provides a direct option to share the Internet connection. You set the machine up with a fixed IP address, like for instance (imaginative eh?) with no gateway. Then I had to change the default IP address of the router to, and then I connected the firewall box to the router with a cable from a regular NIC. So the CDMA modem provides the Internet connection, and the firewall makes it available through the NIC , and the router, with nothing connected to its Internet socket, just acts as a switch and makes the Internet available by wireless or by plugging in other machines with a cable.

The firewall will also act as a DHCP server, but unfortunately I could not benefit from that, since there is no way to tell the router acting just as a switch what its gateway should be. So the machines that are to connect have to use fixed IP addresses as well, and you gave them the firewall box's IP address as a gateway.

So that's the theory. Ubuntu 10.04 theoretically should be able to connect automatically to the USB modem, so you would be able to turn the electricity off, as Tanesco like to do quite often, and when it came back on, the modem and firewall would just start up unattended. I did have this set-up working, but unfortunately the modem handling in 10.04 does not seem to be fully baked, and in practice it seemed sometimes that the only way to get the modem to start and connect was to pull out the USB connector, then plug it in again. This saddened me, as it seems to me it is a vital missing piece for use of Ubuntu in the developing countries. Huawei, who make the modem, should also get their act together and provide some supporting software for the Linux environment.

So I have pressed and old banger computer I have with Windows XP on it into service. It seems that Internet connection sharing has been baked there for some years, and Huawei do provide drivers and a GUI interface for windows. I disconnected everything inside that wasn't essential, and removed all the fluff that ran at startup, and all the software. Then on XP, it is easy. You plug in the modem, and it installs itself. Then you go to network settings and in its properties - advanced, select Internet connection sharing, and the option to connect the modem when machines sharing it want to connect to the web.

Those selections automatically set the machine's IP to, so everything else I had set up did not have to be changed. I had to tweak the default Windows Firewall settings to allow me to ping the box from other machines for test purposes, and I set it up to log on automatically (start - run - control userpasswords2). Fortunately the box was a self starter if the power was turned off externally and then restored, and the option to start the modem at system startup works fine on XP, so this somewhat cumbersome arrangement now behaves much the same as the small wireless modem did after power failure. It would be good if manufacturers like Huawei could make a stand-alone modem that would basically just be a CDMA mobile phone with mains power and a Cat5 connector - cut out the USB crap.

If anyone is trying to do something similar, feel free to ask.
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What is BEV?

Brits Eye View is an Englishman's seven-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.

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We have rooms available at Adia's Place. So if you plan to visit Arusha, give us a shout. You can stay in a rather nice room close to both the city, and to rural Africa, at a very competitive price. Some time early in August, the South House will also be available for longer term visitors.