March 2008 in Tanzania through the eyes of an Englishman

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A composition in mud.



Frantic attempts to keep the mud at bay.



The truss man.



A replacement.



My helper Hamisi.

30/3/2008 - More Work Than Time.

I can't keep up with everything, and BEV is hanging on the hind tit. So I will try to be economical. First, the long rains (mid March to mid May) have definitely set in, so for the next three months, life will be a battle with the weather.

If I had a black skin it would be less of a problem. When it gets muddy, the most basic response is to simply take of your shoes and mud bathe. Feet don't pick up as much mud as shoes. The problem is though that I have stark white muzungu feet. So if you take that route you are likely to end up with sunburned feet. That, I know from past experience is something you don't want to have.

So, what's been up, or in Swahili 'vipi'. Well, as you can see from the picture, I have made the prototype roof truss. Actually I've made the first two trusses - only eleven to go. The prototype turned out good, and it will actually become truss halves 1A and 1B, and go on the house. (The trusses are in two halves to make it easier to get them up without a crane. They then bolt together to span the walls, and the final gussets are nailed. In theory the bolts can then be removed, though in practice I'll probably leave them there.) The first one of course took an age - maybe three days. Everything then had to be calculated and measured from scratch, and I had to put the thing together wily nilly. But it's strong. All the builders and engineers who have been to see it say so, and that it would actually hold ceramic roof tiles. This is because I made it based on Canadian government designs published on the Internet, and Canadian roofs have to stand substantial snow loads. It's probably way over the top for Tanzania where it only has to support metal sheet and wind load. But my engineering efforts always were somewhat OTT.

For the record, the span these are to cover is about 8.8 metres - across the living area and veranda. They are Fisk, or 'W' trusses, and are secured by plywood gussets nailed on each side using lots of 65mm nails. The top members are in 150x50mm pine and the bottom and cross members 100x50. The plywood is a little heavier than it needs to be at 19mm, but plywood is difficult stuff to find in Arusha so I had to use what I could get - at least it errs on the right side. The sort of thing I've made you can see here
.
The second one was more organized and much quicker. I knew the cutting schedule for the plywood gussets and the main members. All that has to be done on an individual truss basis now is the cutting of the cross members to the required length and angles. They can't be fixed sizes since real wood as used in the main members just is not that precise. It has curves and waves that are enough to spoil the snugness of the joints if you don't cut the cross members individually. But I got that off to an art form working on truss half 2B, so now I'm hoping that we'll be able to do a truss a day. Once the shuttering is off the two concrete beams at the front and back of the veranda I will be able to drape a blue tarpaulin over them and we should have somewhere to work in all weathers except when the rain is horizontal.

In the middle of the month we received a new helper dispatched from Kagera by Adia's mother. This one is about as different from Lydia as you could get. While Lydia was probably 15, and at the age of rebellious adolescence, Demitria - Demi for short - is a 41 year old widow who has had 6 children of whom two survive; a woman with some experience of life. She is quiet and unassuming, and both Adia and I like her. She's a big Kagera girl, same sort of size as Mama Azizi, and could probably move one of my trusses single handed. Yesterday she spent a couple of hours planting maize seeds anywhere on the plot where she thought they might survive, so I guess fresh sweet corn might be a popular snack in a few months time - a country girl.

My helper with the trusses, underground plumbing, etc, is Hamisi. He does the digging and lifting that would break my old back, and Adia is negotiating with him to work for us full time. Having complained about my poor old body I should note that it is in increasingly good shape. I am getting quite lean and muscular, and I can pick up things I could not pick up before. This does not come for free of course. There is pain involved. I have some arthritis (I suspect) in my right shoulder, and my whole body is stiff as hell when I wake up in the morning each day. But that soon passes once you get going.

I must say that I rather like this retirement thing. There is never a dull moment, except when rain stops play. I am surrounded by the countryside and mostly agreeable people, I don't need to watch TV, and I learn something new every day - truly a second childhood. Heaven knows what I'll do when the house is finished. Probably save up some money for another little plot, and build another small one myself with Hamisi. Then we can ell it and do another, and so on. You never know.



The little house on the prairie.



Be it ever so humble.



The dance hall.
15/3/2008 - Devils You Know.

Well having sacked Adam, we had to find another builder or a supervising engineer to continue with the building work. We have been buying most of our heavy building material - blocks, gravel, sand, and so on - from a man called Maganga. He introduced us to another man who would be able to do it, but we thought he was too expensive. Since that didn't fly, Maganga volunteered to do the job himself, and after a couple of days of haggling between him and Adia, a deal was struck. This was a difficult process, since it was like an irresistible force haggling with an immovable object. Both Adia and Maganga are 'careful' about money. Maganga is a bit of a character. He drives round like a maniac in a Toyota Land Cruiser pick-up, and carries an automatic pistol - a licensed one it should be said. One of his attractions in this role was that he has a vibratory compactor for the under-floor, and a diesel concrete mixer - very sophisticated.

Maganga brought an engineer, and between them they came up with a litany of things that Adam had done wrong. The most significant of these was that the two ends of the 'L' shape of the house were out vertically by about 25cm. It has been necessary to take a course of blocks off the high end, and drop the floor level there, and to add a course at the low end. We have also ended up with a step in floor level in the bedroom side of the 'L'.

Since I last wrote we have got through two Masai. Adia took to checking in the middle of the night, and it was discovered that Lesika, and his successor Segula were sleeping at times when we pay them to be awake. The latest one - Elias - comes at six in the evening, and leaves at six in the morning, and seems to have more idea of what the job is about. I am sure that Adia will be checking.

I was on the critical path once the floors had been compacted because I had to put in the under-floor drainage for the bathrooms on the bedroom side. I also had to rethink and lay the outside underground pipes given the changes in floor level, and the fact that Adam's foundations were way off horizontal. It looks like I have just enough drop to make everything work.

On Thursday and Friday this week, the concrete for the floors was poured, and half of the top ring beam cast. The water supply has been abysmal lately, so we emptied our storage tank to make concrete, and then had to cart water up from the stream that runs in the dip about half a kilometre away. Adia and I were reduced to showering once a day at Rehema's house where they seem to get water more regularly than we do. Ours just came on today, and we discovered at that point that a water pipe had been punctured somehow during the floor and beam work, so I just had to quit writing and go and splice in a new piece of pipe. I hate being without water, and I really should have installed a 5000 litre tank, but everyone told me that was overkill.

The concrete mixer was a real boon, since given the fact that Maganga is a stickler, and the fact that the concrete mixer is a batch process, I'm sure we got much more consistent and correct mixes. It certainly looks good. We hired three guys to haul more water up from the stream today to water the new concrete. When they'd finished of course, it rained.

You get a much different impression of the size of the rooms when the floor is in place. The living room looks like a dance hall, and our bedroom, which Adia had thought looked a bit small, now looks a good size.
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