June 2008 in Tanzania through the eyes of an Englishman

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Widest road in Njiro.

Work of a sort.

30/6/2008 - Signing Off for June.

Another month has crept, or maybe flown, by. There's no further news on Potter, and the plasterers are still here, though only one of them. Spemba and his boys are moving quite rapidly from room to room with the ceilings.

The road at the end of our drive, which I have moaned about in the past, is being improved. Today a road plane came and gouged out a profile that would probably make the road at the end of our drive the widest one in Njiro. In the process it exposed a water pipe that could be ours, or could be our next door neighbour's. I'm betting on it being theirs, so I'll let nature take its course.

While we were musing over the pipe, Adia found a man who was prepared to try and dig it out and move it a little further below the surface. Since we decided to back off, the opportunity of some work was denied, so the man offered to cut up the tree stump that has been lying in our yard for some time. This gives you some indication of the scarcely of jobs in Africa. The man was prepared to hack at the stump with a blunt axe for an hour, and happy to take a dollar home. It makes me feel bad, but I can not alter the situation single handed. Adia knows how it is and must make these calls - my role is transitory.

I have got as far as I can with my electrical work until the ceilings are done and the walls are finish plasterered, so I am twiddling my thumbs. Today I connected a couple of junctions in the roof space that I had missed, and put back the chalk lines on the kitchen area floor where the Masai had over-zealously swept away dust and rubble. I need these lines to be replaced by worktop-height block walls ASAP then I can get on with the kitchen construction. That of course is after the ceiling is complete and the walls are finish plastered - aaargh!

My thanks to Amy in Washington DC, and Alok - currently working in London, but formerly of Bangalore, for some indication that someone actually reads my blog. Other feedback would be welcome and hopefully encouraging. Feel free to click the 'Contact' button at the top of the page ;=)

28/6/2008 - The Growing Puppies.

Hansel left, Gretel right.

With Adia and Demi as size comparisons.

The puppies are very difficult to snap with a mobile phone. They are never stationary, and the delay between pressing the button and actually taking the picture completely screws you up. These are the best of a more or less random bunch.

Creepy crawly.
28/6/2008 - Same Again.

This morning I rode Kiki into town to find out what was happening with Potter. It turned out that the engine cut out while he was being test driven and he had to be brought back on a recovery vehicle. Hemal determined that this was because no power was getting to the onboard computer, so it now seems to be down to a connector or wiring problem. He had done no more today as he obviously had an almost terminal hangover - perhaps he'll get it fixed on Monday.

In the rest of the today I accomplished almost nothing. The software that I had for video conversions was either on my desktop machine, which isn't here, or had expired. I wasted a couple of hours trying to download new stuff but it just wasn't a good day for it. I kept getting ZIP files that were shorter than specified and therefore corrupt, so no Flash video. I'll just have to try to get a decent still picture of the puppies this evening when they are out of their pen.

Adia noticed the millipede as we were driving down the road toward our house on Friday evening just before sunset - as you can see from the length of its shadow. The beast was about 20cm (8") long, and certainly not something you'd want to find in your lettuce. It was crossing the road at a bad time of day with everyone returning from work, so I escorted it across to see that it didn't get squashed - typical eccentric Brit.

Road damage from water leakage.

The big ceiling.

The Teale penetentiary.
27/6/2008 - Groundhog Days.

June has been rather like the days from the film 'Groundhog Day'. The plasterers have been here all month, the weather has been the same almost every day, Potter is still in the garage, and because of that I never get out in the evenings. It's been possible to get out on Kiki - our Honda Dio - most days, but a water pipe leak on the road up to the main road is gradually destroying our normal access road

However over the last couple of days there have been signs of change. That's not to say the plasterers haven't accomplished anything - the house is a far cry now from the rough concrete block walls it was, but the progress has been gradual so you don't notice it every day. But Spemba and his boys are back now putting in the ceiling in the big room, and the steel grills separating the veranda and connected areas from the outside have been put in. There was a rumour going round that what we are building is a secondary school, but now I joke with Adia that it is in fact a prison. I am assured by everyone here though that unless you make your house secure you are likely to get unwanted visitors. I don't find that the steel grill looks particularly oppressive, but I do hope we don't have a fire.

Also today when I went to pay my periodic visit to Potter on his sickbed, I found he was no longer there, and Hemal - the guy who runs the shop that's trying to mend him - told me he was out on a test drive! I haven't heard anything since though. Perhaps he broke down on test, but being in a state where he can be driven is real progress if it's true. If it isn't Adia will do her ends. She's been wanting Potter taken away from where he is for some time, but he's always been in pieces so I've judged that to be somewhat impracticable.

The puppies appear to be thriving. Gretel is now bigger than Hansel, since she eats everything in sight, while Hansel's appetite is more moderate. I bathed them at the weekend, and freshly washed they look gorgeous. I am in the process of constructing a small Flash video to show how big they are now.

The upcoming jobs on the house are tiling (which doesn't get done until the ceiling is complete), and the fitting of the aluminum framed windows and the partition between the veranda and the living room (which doesn't get done until the tiling is complete). When the ceiling is done I can get on with fixing sockets and switches to the electrical wiring which is otherwise pretty complete. Then I have a kitchen to build. We will have a piece of it that is habitable one day.

Potato and peanut butter soup.
9/6/2008 - Cooler Still.

There was a very heavy overcast this morning, with some rain, and it was pretty dismal. Adia went into town early since she'd had a call from a man at the bus station to say there was a package for her on the bus from Bukoba - fried grasshoppers her mother had sent. Adia loves grasshoppers, so recovering them safely was a matter of urgency. She said that by the time she got into town her hands were so cold she could barely use the accelerator. The grasshoppers were duly recovered, and are now in an airtight plastic container in the kitchen, being nibbled by all.

It was chilly too, so I decided to make some soup for lunch. Looking around the kitchen though I could not find anything very promising. Here's what I came up with, which was actually rather good.

  • Two medium/large potatoes,
  • A medium sized onion,
  • Garlic - I used four large cloves
  • Two medium Roma tomatoes
  • Dessert spoon of general-purpose curry powder
  • Half teaspoon of chili powder,
  • Tablespoon of peanut butter.
Peel and dice the potatoes so they'll cook quickly, and put them in a pot with a couple of cups of water to boil. Finely chop the onion and garlic, and fry in the oil of your choice until tender and a little browned, adding the spices along the way. Chop up the tomatoes quite small, then add to the onions and garlic and continue frying until the tomatoes are very soft. Finally add the peanut butter and stir fry to amalgamate the mixture.

Hopefully by now the potatoes are cooked. Add the fried mixture and stir together, then mash the mixture coarsely in the remaining water. Add extra water as required to make a fairly thick soup (it will thicken more as you go on), and salt to taste. Although I didn't use it, I suspect a squeeze of lemon juice would work well at this point also.

Simmer for another five minutes, then serve with some chunks of bread of your choice. 'Twas yummy and quite economical.

8/6/2008 - Musing on Diesel.

It's getting difficult to see where things are going with the prices of oil and food going the way they are. Diesel fuel is the current killer, there is a world shortage of it relative to petrol/gasoline, and the price seems to go up every day. I'm thinking that given current trends, we are going see $200/barrel oil by about the end of August. So looking at the price of diesel in dollars per litre now and extrapolting to then we see:
US UK Tanzania
Now 1.14 2.58 1.65
Then 1.75 3.96 2.53
Pretty scary when you consider the upset diesel prices are causing now!


Outdoor cooking.

A vegetable garden?
7/6/2008 - Doldrums.

The plastering work continues, eating cement, maybe 75 bags so far. It seems never-ending, though to be fair there are some endgame signs - door frames and casement windows are being installed. Plastering here spans quite a lot of activities. Not only do they cement render the whole building, inside and out, but they also fit things like door frames and windows. Then they do the floor screed. At some point, I presume, they'll be putting a finish coat of plaster of some sort on the inside walls. I don't know when that happens - must ask. I could be doing electrical work at the same time, but I always seem to get in the way, so except for things I need to get done before they do the finish coat, I'll wait until they are through. Then I can get in the tiler's way, and in the way of Spemba and his lads when they come back to do the ceilings.

On Thursday night I was cooking corned beef casserole - one of my favourite meals - when the cooking gas ran out, so we had to do a quick switch to more traditional heat sources. Fortunately the Masai had a fire going, so we were able to steal some of his embers and thus get a charcoal stove burning fairly quickly. The Masai was dispatched to the local shop to get a coke bottle of paraffin, and this fired up a small paraffin (kerosene) stove. The potatoes (the principal ingredient of the casserole) were transferred to a large pot on the charcoal stove, and I used the paraffin stove to fry the onions, garlic, tomatoes and spices, which were then dumped in with the potatoes. It was a success. Adia said I'd made far too much, but apart from a small amount that I'll have for my lunch today, it all got eaten between Adia and me, Demi, and the Masai. It is my intention at some point to build an outside cooking area, where I will put a mixture of different cooking appliances. Candidates are a charcoal barbecue, charcoal and paraffin stoves, a wood-fired brick oven for bread making, and a simple wood stove - fuel diversity. I have no idea when this will get done, or where it will get put.

Speaking of where things get put, we have acquired another small piece of land adjacent to the compound on the west side. This we think will be used as a vegetable garden until our area becomes somewhat more yuppie when it will hopefully become more valuable as building land. Of course this may never happen. With petrol and diesel prices going up by the day, a lot of people are starting to regret being as far out of town as Njiro. On the other hand, it's difficult to see where else new development can take place that isn't just as far away. With the price of food going up, the vegetable garden does not seem like a bad idea anyway. I can build a greenhouse. This may sound like a stupid idea in the tropics, but it actually has many advantages. It can minimize water loss, and exclude predatory insects and other vegetable-loving critters and fungi. Apparently they use greenhouses quite successfully for growing tomatoes year round in the Kenyan highlands.

Potter is still languishing at the repair shop. The new piston rings and gaskets that were supposed to arrive on Wednesday just got here from DSM today. So now I guess we're not going to get him back until Wednesday. The weather has continued to be kind to us, and on the odd occasion when we have needed transport heavier than Kiki we have been able to borrow Bonzo's (Latifa's husband) Peugeot 505. When he does return, his use will be minimized. Diesel is 1875 TS a litre now, and it's widely expected to be up to 2100 in the near future. Maybe I'll get myself a bank loan and buy a dirt bike and some suitable protective clothing, then I can be inexpensively mobile in muddy weather.

Wintry weather.

The first 'flowers'.
3/6/2008 - Midwinter.

Well, it will soon be the shortest day here, so the months of June and July qualify as the middle of winter. It is actually quite chilly at times, as there is persistent cloud cover even though it has not rained much, and we are 1380m above sea level. To put that in context, it's like being at the top of Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the UK. Just a few days ago, when I was in the throes of the flu, or whatever, there was a day when I would cheerfully have turned the central heating on if their was any central heating, or heating of any kind for that matter. Maybe before next year I'll get a simple wood-burning stove made and put it in the living room of the big house. The weather seems to have suited the corn that Demi planted though, the first flowers have appeared, so soon we should have some fresh corn on the cob. Needless to say, when the cloud clears and the sun gets out, it's instantly scorching hot again.

As you might be able to see from the rather gloomy picture, they have done quite a lot of the rendering of the outside of the house, both gable ends, and much of the west side. Inside they've rendered all but one and a half bedrooms. They will have to patch some of what they've done, since it appears that I can't get pull switches here, and consequently I'll have to cut some more channels for the bathroom light switches, and install wall boxes for two way light switches near to the bed positions.

Potter is still in intensive care, with his engine completely removed. They failed to remove the pistons with the engine in-situ. Some slightly good news was that in the course of stripping it down they did not find anything else that needed to be done. With luck the new rings and gaskets should arrive Wednesday, and he might be running again by Saturday, hopefully with better compression that will allow him to start properly when cold. I have a feeling though that something will go wrong to mess up that schedule. In the meantime the weather has remained mostly dry, so we've been able to get around on Kiki. This is not good news for the farmers, and for future water supplies though.

Adia appears to have caught whatever it was that I had now. She has a snotty nose and is feeling exhausted like I did, but fortunately so far she has escaped the coughing.
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