June 2009 in Tanzania through the eyes of an Englishman

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My improvised egg cup.
28/6/2009 - Progress On Various Fronts.

Sometimes I develop a breakfast craving for a couple of soft-boiled eggs to be eaten with toast soldiers, but I don't have an egg cup, and never remember to buy one when I'm in town. Some time last week, this happened again, and this time, a bunch of things having been moved from the store room next to the small house into my workshop, I found something that would serve. It's part of a compression connector for polyethylene water pipe that I had bought ages ago in the wrong size. However, it's just about the right size to hold a boiled egg. Adia was suitably amused and took the picture.

Ali the tiler has almost finished the two smaller guest bedrooms, and I'm now started on the installation of sanitary ware in the first bathroom. The toilet is in and nominally working. I just need to take my morning crap in there to determine if the flush is working as one would wish. Yes, there is QA in the process! It's a Chinese one-piece toilet, which I bought two of with some trepidation. They don't have a makers name, or any installation accessories, or instructions, but actually it all went quite smoothly, subject of course to the test.

Now I'm working on the wash basin, which is probably also Chinese, but I have no way of knowing. However, I used the same model previously, so I know how to handle it. I mortared in the pipe through the wall for its drain this morning, so
tomorrow I should be able to complete the installation. This afternoon I did the ceiling light fittings. I think the room will look cool when it is finished - you will see in due course.

The reported sightings of Cali were confessed to be false, so I am now sure that we must accept that she has perished somehow, and that we'll never know how. Alas poor Cali, our much travelled cat, took one journey too many.
26/6/2009 - Jackson Dead.

In the 80's I was, like most other people, an avid Michael Jackson fan. I believe I bought 'Thriller' twice on vinyl, as my previous copy got lost in some marital disagreement. It's possible that I bought it again later as a CD. At that time, for me, he could do no wrong, and I still pause and listen with pleasure if I hear any of his tracks from those days. But then, sometime either just before, or just after the Bad album, which I did not buy - after Thriller I found it very weak - he lost it.

For me, Jackson was a very talented young black man. His blackness was not an issue, and I'm sure also for the vast majority of people, until he decided to try to correct it by gradually making himself paler and paler. At that point I felt that he spat in the face of the millions of young black people who regarded him as a hero. I lost all my respect for him. I do not believe all the shit about a skin disease - he looked healthy enough when he was honestly black. He was vastly successful when he was honestly black.

Racial prejudice is a disgusting and intolerable thing, but never more so than when you practice it against your own people. So for me, he died many years ago, and todays confirmation comes neither as a surprise nor as a disappointment. My grief and disillusionment are already well back in the past.
25/6/2009 - Freedom For Iran.

If I say anything about the situation in Iran, it seems like pissing in the wind. But it's important to remember that the Sha's forces (the current government and its cronies) are monitoring what's going on, and to do this they will be doing basic things like Googling for articles with titles like this over an Internet connection that is not restricted. So if you support freedom for the people of Iran, then fuck them up! Write an article with some similar title. It does not need to say anything fantastic - just tell the voters of Iran that you support their aspirations, and tell the current government that they are the new repressive Sha!

The people of Iran who are trying to get a message across about what's going on there will quickly adapt and find a way to mark their messages as outgoing, even if they don't have providers in Iran.

This battle could be won or lost on the Internet, so don't let us make things simple for the despots. Flood them with misinformation, volume, crap, or whatever. It doesn't matter - just make things difficult for them. It you have more sophisticated facilities, then a denial of service attack against any of the Sha's web sites would be appropriate. All you spammers out there, do something useful for once - if reason prevails you'll have a whole new market for your crap.

If you have misgivings about Muslims in general, then forget them for now. You're average Muslim is just an ordinary person like your neighbour. I should know. I'm an atheist, and my wife is Muslim - we coexist! All that is necessary is to get rid of the extremists, show them that their cover is blown, and that the things they say are just power seeking, and I hope panicked, shit.

The veranda dining table - again.
24/6/2009 - Reports of Cali Sightings.

I am still skeptical - people tell you what you want to hear. But today a couple of people have told us they have seen her, but she dodged away when they attempted to approach. A gang of the village lads have been searching all day for some beer money. If she won't come home for food, the dogs must have really pissed her off. We will see, but I am still pessimistic.

The table is essentially finished now. There's just one spot I noticed where the red oxide primer is still showing through on the steel frame. I was late on my target, but tomorrow I can eat my breakfast from it. As you'll see, it looks rather bare, as now we need some chairs. I think it will be plastic ones to start with as I have not yet come up with a convincing low-cost design that will match the feel of our place.

It will seat eight with loads of room each, and probably ten without too much crowding. However, I don't know who the ten will be - perhaps I have to organize a dinner party as a test.

Two guest bedrooms are getting tiled this week, and I have the toilet for one of them, so soon there will be plenty of work for me finishing the bathrooms, building the walk-in wardrobes, and so on. Computer programming is on hold at the moment - its potential for generating income is remote.

23/6/2009 - Alas Poor Cali.

Maybe it's a bit soon to be jumping to conclusions, but Cali the cat has not been seen at home since the day before yesterday. It's not like her to be away for so long, so I fear the worst.

Possibly she has found a better place. The dogs have been giving her a hard time lately, and she may have got fed up, but I can't see her getting fed like she did here in an African household. There, cats are expected to fend for themselves.

The neighbours say they saw her yesterday, heading up outside the back wall of the compound, but that could easily have been the day before. People are not very good about remembering exactly when something that is not important to them happened.

Sad and unpleasant as the thought might be, I think that the most likely culprits are street dogs. Traffic is less likely - there's not a lot of it in Kikokwaro B.

The veranda dining table.
21/6/2009 - Nearly There With the Big Table.

The table top I made last year has suffered too much differential shrinkage and warping to make the piece of furniture I had initially envisaged, so it will be relegated to the semi-outdoors and become a large dining table for the veranda.

I have painted it, as promised, with red oxide primer, followed by a couple of coats of alkyd varnish. The metal frame got made today. I had waited about two weeks for our usual metalworker fundi, and been getting bullshit excuses. So on Saturday I went to see another fundi who we know slightly. He told be to go and get the steel then he would make it the next day, and by 13;00hrs today it was done. I think that will get painted black. The feet, which will be hardwood balls, should be ready on Tuesday, and they will be finished like the top unless the wood turns out to be particularly attractive.

When I first put it on the temporary wood blocks I thought it was too high and that the steel fundi had made some mistake with my frame dimensions, but no. When I measured it it was 28.5" high. just the same as the moulded plastic table we're eating off now.

It is my target to eat breakfast from it by Tuesday.
20/6/2009 - Fingers Crossed for Iran.

It would be a great thing if the anti election result protesters in Iran were to prevail. Think what a profound change it would be in that difficult area of the world if Iran were to become a truly democratic country with normal commerce and normal international relations like for example the gulf states.

This could bolster the aspirations of the great majority of Pakistanis who just want to get on with building economic success in their country, and would make life generally more difficult for the Taliban.

I hope the Iranian people have the nerve to push until they get what they want. The dictatorial regime will crumble if steady and increasing moral pressure is applied. And it is they who are todays equivalent of the Sha. They repress the economic development of the people, they are the ones with the secret police forces. They are the ones who make the democracy there a farce by excluding candidates who they don't like.

Another bed.
17/6/2009 - Back To Woodwork.

I had started another bed on Saturday before we went to Dar, so yesterday I finished it - a 42" one this time. It's the same general design as the queen size one I made for the small house, just scaled down some. I had made it because the best prospect we had for letting the small house was probably a pair of US/Canadian/UK students sharing.

However, on Monday while we were on the Dar trip, a man had been to see the house, and he came back yesterday to haggle. This was a somewhat drawn out process, and we didn't get what we'd been wanting, but pretty close, and he paid for four months up-front. So Adia got her first income from Providence House, and soon when two students turn up with dollars to spend, she'll learn one of her first business lessons. But the bird in the hand means we can get on with a couple of the guest rooms, and maybe when the students come, they'll share one of those. You never know.

Then today I modified one of our old rental agreements to suit the present circumstances, put up an outside light to illuminate the area in front of the main house, and returned to the big table.

Unfortunately as it dried out last year some of the 2x3 strips its constructed from took a bad set, and a couple of the joints split - one at each end. Structurally it still seems pretty strong, and I'll screw some steel plates on the back to stabilize it.
It's going to be painted anyway, so quite likely nobody but me will notice. I have filled the cracks today with a mixture of sawdust and wood glue. I'll see in the morning how well that has set. If it's OK, I need to plane the top again, and resand it. Then I'm thinking I'll give it a coat of red oxide primer - that's a good rustic colour, red ochre - followed by a coat of varnish. Our welder/steelworker guy is supposed to be giving me a quote for a simple tubular steel frame to mount the heavy top on. Soon I hope to see our solitary guest eating his breakfast from it on the veranda.

Arusha to Dar es Salaam.

The Ubungo bus station at Dar es Salaam.
16/6/2009 - Horrendous Journey.

Well, I say that, though there's nothing I can pin down that was really horrendous except possibly the sheer duration.

I had to go to the US Embassy in Dar es Salaam (that, incidentally means 'Safe Harbour') to do some brief business, and Adia came to be companion and translator. We set off at six on Sunday morning, when Rehemma, bless her, took us into town to catch a seven o'clock bus. For the first 100km it stopped everywhere, dropping some people off, and getting new passengers. There are several small townships between Arusha and Moshi - the other sizeable place in this part of the country. Then after that, as you can see from the map, there's really nothing else but small villages the rest of the way.

After the ride east to Moshi and a bit more, you turn south. If you went straight ahead you'd soon be in Kenya and heading for the port of Mombassa.

The road south skirts along the base of a broken ridge of quite steep and high hills to the east, that seem to go on interminably. The country at their feet is almost desert. The prevailing wind blows in from the Indian Ocean, but the land here is in the rain shadow of the hills. There are odd patches where it seems like some water comes down from the hills. Other than for those - which are few and far between - the only farming activity you see is the growing of sisal plants. Sisal fibre is used for making rough string and ropes, and I imagine it's a pretty low value crop. However it will grow on land that isn't fit for anything else.

As you go further south, the situation improves gradually as you get closer to the sea. I guess there more rain gets through. Eventually, about half way through the journey, the hills fall away behind, and the country becomes more arable. You even see rice in some places that were obviously lake bottoms in some past era. When we'd left the hills we made a pit stop at a way station where you could get a decent variety of freshly cooked food, and there were a couple of bars and shops and things. I was quite impressed, but I don't generally eat much at lunchtimes, so I just had three samosas and a bottle of Kili. The place must be a gold mine - all the buses stop there, and it isn't cheap by Tanzanian standards. They were doing business hand over fist when we were there.

After that you go through a long stretch of country that has mixed subsistence agriculture combined with oranges as a cash crop. The bus has to stop occasionally at police checkpoints, and there large numbers of young men appear thrusting packs of oranges at you through the bus windows. They are cheap enough, but I dare say they make much better money selling them that way than they do shipping them off on trucks to a juice factory somewhere.

Eventually you meet the country's main east/west road to the east of Morogoro, and turn east toward Dar. The country there is mostly small trees and bush, but it gradually improves as you come down from the plateau toward the coast. Eventually you're in the suburbs of Dar, and finally at the bus station.

Rehemma had also contacted her brother, who lives in Dar, and he met us at the bus station. He deals in cashew nuts, and when they are not in season, as now, he does whatever else he can find, so he was able to give us his full attention while we were
there, and we paid him a decent daily rate and for the petrol to ferry us about. He found us a hotel that was reasonably priced, secure, and quite close to the embassy. Then he showed us where the new US Embassy is. The old embassy was the subject of a simultaneous Al Kaida bomb attack on the embassies in Nairobi and Dar back in the 80s. After that he found us somewhere to eat, and then we fell into bed exhausted.

My business at the embassy was brief. It would have been even briefer had it not been for the fact that a photocopier they needed to use was being serviced. I got there at about 08:45, and they asked me to come back in an hour. Then I was out in no time. It is a very friendly US Embassy by the standards of others I have visited in my life. Congratulations Dar Embassy staff - you win the prize for the gentler face of the US.

So I was out by 10:30, and that meant we were in a position to high-tail it back to the bus station and get one of the late buses back to Arusha. The last one leaves at about 13:00. We rejected the first one we were offered as the seats were tiny and the bus was obviously going to be grossly overloaded. After a little wait we settled for the "SaiBaba Express" where the seating density was slightly less. It was to leave at 12:00, so we bought some samosas and had a pee, then waited about half an hour until it left.

Well you know the journey now, so there's not much to add. The SaiBaba Express was faster than the bus we came on - often alarmingly so. It was also an older bus and everything rattled loudly all the way. Comfort is not the strong point of the smaller bus companies. They go for speed. The bus may be a rattletrap, but it will have an oversized turbo diesel engine, and modified suspension, so it's like a rally bus.

Of course, leaving at noon meant that we did part of the journey in the dark, which slowed our driver down, so overall the journey took the same time as the more conservatively driven bus we came on. Those long last 300km in the dark really did give you a profound impression of just how far out Arusha is. At that point I realized the US Embassy in Nairobi would probably have been cheaper and quicker to go to even though to do that I'd have had to pay for a Kenyan tourist visa.

We got back just after 22:00, just in time to get one of the last barbecued fish at Nicks Pub in Nane Nane on our way home. 20 hours spent on buses in just two days - I don't want to do that too often.

A failed composition.
11/6/2009 - Punctuation.

This started because I was sitting at Tondi's this evening, getting a few beers, and before it got really dark, there was this small star in the sky, right in front of me. It was the only one to be seen. The twinkle, twinkle thing came into my head unbidden, which I suppose was perfectly valid, but then I started worrying about the punctuation.

It works OK until "..., how I wonder what you are". Then I feel inclined to put in a full stop/period. But (bad grammar - don't start a sentence with a preposition) then it goes on to say "up (or Up) above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky." So I am left with a sentence without a verb. I guess in these days you can get away with that, but should I say "above the world so high: like a diamond", or maybe it's "high; like a diamond"?

When you ask yourself questions like this, you realize you are doing too much computer programming! The whole thing is a nightmare, and if I got the paragraphs above right, then it's a miracle! I was at Tondi's after all.

The picture looked really good in real life. The sheet is bright pink, and the banana tree 'seedling' looked very green in the evening sunlight. But the sunlight was too bright, and it washed out the sheet. The banana tree looks more or less right though.

Gordon's wobble perhaps.
9/6/2009 - A Wobble.

The pound had been creeping up against the dollar for several weeks, reaching the dizzying height of $1.65 at one point. But then there was all the Labour Party leadership furore, and it looks as if the currency dealers didn't like the prospect of a change of leadership, or indeed of government, in the UK.

The curve immediately turned down for several days, but now the BBC front page this morning seems to be devoid of news of the spat, and the pound is, at least for now, moving back in the right direction as far as I'm concerned. Time will tell.
8/6/2009 - Long Gap.

And I have nothing to blame other than my current programming obsession. It's just one of those things I find overwhelmingly compelling once I get into something serious. What I'm working on is database access stuff, and it's not that easy. One can do it in a straightforward and obvious way, but the challenge is to do it in a way that really uses the capability of the D programming language, and produces a result that's easy to use and intuitive. That's almost a moving target as my understanding of the language improves.

So what's been going on? Well, Adia had a marathon day today. She retaxed and reinsured Potter, bought some more electricity units, got me a new nose spray, and did shopping. I take my hat off! I could not have got through all that in a day even if I did speak decent Swahili.

Paulo finally returned from his self-appointed break. He has undermined our confidence, and I think that Adia is now looking around again. But he still seems to be a pretty effective night guard, and that is the primary thing as far as I'm concerned. The question is of course whether he's still on our side, or working with the bad guys. If he was doing either job well, we would not be able to tell the difference.

Mwajuma is now equally skeptical about Paulo, since he has been hitting on her, and I think she now regards him as flaky too. Other than that she seems to be doing well. The only minor failing is that she say's she can't pee on the western-style toilet. I don't understand that. You wait until you really want to pee, and then you sit on it, and kind of just relax. Maybe she's trying to squat on the rim or something. Anyway, the consequence is that if she's busting for a pee in the middle of the night, she pees in the shower tray, and does not appear to rinse it out adequately, as Adia can smell pee in the morning. I'm sure it will get worked out in time - some practical peeing lessons might not be a bad idea, but that's not my job.

It's still raining quite regularly, and the corn and beans are doing splendidly. The broccoli is not far behind, and Adia planted a new bunch of stuff yesterday.

We still don't have a tenant for the small house, and after a slight flurry of interest a week or so ago, no current prospect. We'll have to think of new ways of getting the word out. If we can get people looking at it, it really should go - it really is quite cute now.

Sigi, quite happy on the vet's table.
3/6/2009 - June.

No picture of the house again - nothing different to see outside. The small house is now in a state where you could turn up in a taxi, and stay there the same night. We've split out some of our stuff and put it in there. As it is, we have more than we need, since we basically duplicated a lot of stuff while we were waiting for the things we shipped from India to arrive. I think we had a near-miss with a tenant the day before yesterday. I believe that if it had been furnished to this stage then, we would have had a customer.

Mwajuma is now well settled in. Her singing as she works has risen in confidence and volume, and she is like a little genie. You don't have to do much more than wish for something, and it's done. She's so eager to please it's not true. At the month end, when she got paid, she went off by herself to see her grandmother, and came back dressed in a new bright-pink dress that she'd bought - look at me, I'm a girl with a job! The dogs now regard her as authoritative. If she tells them to go in their kennels, they do so, PDQ.

Sigi definitely has some sort of skin allergy. The vet say's this is not untypical in an inbreeding situation, but that it will probably pass as he gets older. Currently he's on steroids, and that has calmed down the constant scratching. He weighs in now at about 13kg, at just three months, and he was starting to find it difficult to the get through the grill of the part of the veranda we had decided he should have access to. Since he now appears to be pretty well house trained, and sleeping on concrete could be an allergy factor, we have removed the length of chain-link fencing that was keeping him out of the forbidden areas. We have started to extend the kennel block though, since it won't be long before he has to learn to go in his kennel when we have visitors.
The vet who sometimes sees him has a house full of German Shepherds, and she's had some accidents too. She believes that although they may have genetic problems, and she has experienced those, that such dogs have a really good disposition. If that's the case, then Sigi is no exception. He's a real lover.

I should mention at the same time, that mum and dad are both still in excellent fettle - shiny sleek coats, and very fit and strong. I love them all. I have not been able to get a useable picture yet, but the sight of Sigi attacking his father in play-fight is something to see.

I am still up to my neck in software development. The scope of what I'm trying to do constantly expands. I'm doing database access components in the D programming language at present - quite taxing system programming stuff. Alongside that, I had an almost miraculous downloading experience. I needed to get a current version of Linux, so I can start migrating some of the stuff to that. So I'd been to the Ubuntu web site, and asked them to send me a CD, which they undertake to do, free of charge. But just for the hell of it, at the same time, I started to download it. And damn me, after about 24 hours, I got a good copy with matching checksum. I installed it on the box that had failed to boot with Windows XP, and the installation is now so smooth that I really didn't have to do anything more complicated than you'd do to establish an account with a typical web site. With Ubuntu, the box works fine.

I believe that Ubuntu is now very close to a point where there's no point in paying for a copy of Windows XX any more. Given Ubuntu, Firefox, Thunderbird, Abiword, and all the other excellent open-source software that's around, why would you pay? Windows still has a slight edge on text fonts, but since nowadays the printed document is becoming something of a dodo, who really cares? If it's clear to read, you can use it.
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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.

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