March 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 also have bed and breakfast rooms available, and a special introductory offer - see Adia's Place.
The BEV Retrospective - 1942/2002.

There was life before 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 working on 1971.

Meru shortly after dawn.
31/3/2010 - Another One Gone By.

The end of March signals the beginning of the Teale birthday month. I was born on April 30th, my elder son Richard on the 13th, my daughter Rachel on the 1st, and younger daughter Leo on the 18th. So happy birthday tomorrow Rachel, circuit conditions permitting, I'll try to phone. Failing that there's plain old email, or Facebook.

I believe I should greet some new or infrequent visitors to BEV. My statistics tell me that I had unusually high numbers of distinct visits yesterday and today. So if you are new to BEV, or for that matter if you are a regular, as they say here 'Karibu' - welcome. Please come again. If you are a new reader, I'd be pleased if you used the feedback link at the top of the page to introduce yourself and comment on the page.

I have now finished all the furniture that is to go in the last, larger, guest room. This puts me in a quandary. I have been using the bedroom as a workshop to make its furniture, so what to do now? Zai is sleeping in the only room that I could possibly migrate to.
Consequently I must either delay completion of the room, or be without a workshop. I really don't want to be in the latter state. Currently most of the exercise that keeps me reasonably in shape comes in the form of sawing and planing.

I have decided that the least-cost path to a permanent workshop is to build one attached to the west wall of the compound. So Innocent came today to look at the job, and gave us a price for the labour, which we thought was very reasonable. If that was the only cost involved I would have told him to start tomorrow, but the labour cost gets lost among the materials. The whole thing will cost about $1200, which means it will have to be spread over about four months. I want to do it, and I want to get it started, but first we'll have to establish if Innocent is willing to do it in bits. Of course, that does not get me off the hook of what to do about a workshop. I can't hang on to the the room for that long, and it's the rainy season now, so outside does not work. I guess I'm going to have to find another form of exercise for a while, or just put myself on a diet for four months and work on software.

The water supply is back to normal today, so I can at least relax slightly on that front.

Cucumbers that look serious.
30/3/2010 - More Excitement.

Adia woke up in the night and determined that the pump that lifts water from the main storage tank to the 1000L header tank was making a bad noise. I turned it off at the switch box, and added it to my list of things to do the next day.

Apparently the mains water had been off for at least two days - why, I don't know, it has been pissing it down regularly here over the last couple of weeks, so you'd think there would be some supply available.

Nobody had thought it necessary to mention this to me, otherwise I would have turned the pump off and used it as required. Anyway, I checked the big tank, and sure enough it was nearly empty. Not empty enough to have air-locked the pump though, and when I turned the pump on it was working OK. I'm guessing we had a brief supply of water during the night after the pump was switched off.

None of this speculation was particularly helpful. Fact was that for all intents and purposes, we were out of water. I started thinking in terms of paying one of the tanker companies to come and fill up the big tank. But then later there was a desultory supply, and by nightfall the big tank was just about full.
The picture has nothing to do with this. If you had seen our previous attempt at cucumber culture, you would think this was a different species. This lot, on the replaced soil, are growing like crazy. It the number of flowers is anything to go by we will have a bumper crop. If we do, I want to try making traditional fermented pickled cucumbers.

The repositioned gate.
29/3/2010 - Emergency Maintenance.

Over the weekend, Adia had noticed that the positive end cell of Potter's battery had a bulge in the end wall, and that the acid in that cell was way low. We had bought it sometime last year, and it came with a guarantee, but we could not remember whether it was a year or six months.

So this morning, Adia dug out the receipt, which left us no wiser about the guarantee period, and we polled off into town to the Bosch depot where we bought it. It turned out that the guarantee was for eight months - strange figure. So any way the way it worked out, we were just still within the guarantee by about two weeks - lucky or what! The guy who deals with dead batteries was not in today, so we have to take it back tomorrow.

Also over the weekend, Harry had noted that the dogs could almost get their heads out under the gate, and that we should do something about it, as with the state of the gate as was, someone outside with a panga could probably disable or kill them. I had said the same thing to Adia myself on several occasions, but I think it might have been one of our periodic cases of language misunderstanding.

Anyway, hearing it from Harry did the trick, and today we got our current steelwork person to come and look at it. The gate really needs to be taken down, have new gateposts cast, and then be rehung.
We have baulked at this so far because it would leave us badly secured for three or four days. Consequently we thought that the thing to do was to get some pieces of steel plate welded to the bottom of the gate to make a minimal gap to the ground.

The steelworker - Alex - asked why we didn't just cut the hinges off the gate with an angle grinder, lower the gate, truing it up in the process, and then weld the hinges back on again. This struck me as being a simple, elegant, and in retrospect rather obvious solution.

So this afternoon, he and his lads set about it, and did just that. It wasn't quite as simple as it sounded, but it got done. Now the gates look reasonably vertical again, and Cali the cat might be hard pressed to get under them. The way it was done, I think the gate might survive for a while before the eventual big job.

Be prepared.
27/3/2010 - Perplexity.

One of the regular subscribers on the D language newsgroup drew my attention to a Wiki page that contained this fascinating image.

It is a piece of WW1 propaganda that contains so many assumptions and propositions that the mind boggles looking at it now, and should have looking at it then.

The sailor has a beard, and has a big gun. The infantryman is standing with fixed bayonet in an exposed position (most WW1 infantrymen would have faced the court martial rather than do anything as stupid as that). He is being passed a clip of ammunition by a boy scout - what the fuck is he doing there? The nurse is carrying away some unspeakable excreta or body parts under the traditional cloth, and gazing sadly or sardonically at the infantryman - he's next. The almost emancipated (not until after WW1) woman is working busily to produce the ammunition for the boy scout to hand out - hey, it's a job.

I'm perplexed by the handsome muscular guy with the hammer. He appears to be about to destroy some machine - don't we need that for the war effort?

But best of all is the short wimpy guy who has a steady job in a life insurance office walking past with his hands in his pockets like "nothing to do with me". You could transform the whole thing if you replaced him with an image of Schwarzenegger or maybe Obama walking past with a look of disbelief, and his hands akimbo in a gesture of "are these people mad?"

Next time a politician tells you that you should do something to help your country out of a jam, revisit this image, and then go over the detail of what he's asking you to do!

Sorry, I realize you didn't need to know about any of that, and it was nearly 100 years ago, but ...

Work in progress.

Cucumbers revisited.

Sudden growth spurt.
24/3/2010 - Time Flies.

You're all going to get bored and go away soon, I just know. And the GBP is going to go on shrinking in value, and I will be a pauper. And I have a feeling one of my teeth is going to play up. And Adia has gone on one of her interminable hairdressing trips - she must have a boyfriend - it's the only logical explanation. Either that or somehow she is still in a time warp created by her friend Florence from Bangalore. But I have discounted that theory. I don't think it was ever Florence's fault - it's just that Adia either has a boyfriend, or has zero sense of time - she's African after all, so both theories are plausible.

So, anyway, what's been going on? Well, the usual stuff. I fixed a bug in my rendering of GDC for GCC 4.4.3. Of course, then I immediately found a new one that will keep me busy for a few days. I could have attacked it this morning, but the power was unreliable, so I gave up and went back to woodwork. That was crippled too, since shortly after I started, the power went off altogether. I was reduced to sanding, which as I've said before many times, is my least favourite task.

I've been trying my hand at a small table, built with traditional mortise and tenon joints, with no braces for the legs. It will probably be used as a computer desk, since most of our guests seem to come with a laptop attached, and like to have somewhere to use it other than their lap.

Our original planting of cucumbers was a disaster. I sowed them in plastic cups, and planted them out onto the new topsoil provided by our helpful haulage contractor. The topsoil was crap. The only thing that did well on it for some inexplicable reason was the eggplants. They have thrived. The cucumbers barely survived! They produced a few malformed fruits then died - almost as successful as the zucchini.

When we finally gave up on the latter, I got Danny to remove the poisonous topsoil from the area where they had been growing. We replaced it with soil that was dug out when the septic for the South House was built. The new cucumber batch on the new soil are a completely different proposition - they're growing like it's going out of fashion.

The broccoli were similarly disappointing on the same soil. We ripped them out yesterday, and I shall get Danny to replace the soil there and where the first cucumbers were too. I believe it was just the first truck load of topsoil that was bad, and that should get rid of most of it. The eggplants are next, and they were OK. Then of course we'll have to pay someone to take the crap away. We'll try to make guy who brought it take it, but I'm doubtful that will work.

On a more positive note, the grafted avocado sapling that we bought ages ago has suddenly decided to grow. We planted it in the middle of the lawn initially, and it just sat there and did nothing. It didn't die, but that was all it achieved. As I explained before, I concluded that the soil under that position was too alkaline as a result of concrete mixing activities there, so we dug it up, did some remedial work, and put it in decent soil in an empty cement bag for some time. Then a few weeks ago we moved it to the corner of the lawn by the patio. There, it still did nothing.

But then, about a week ago, out of nowhere, it suddenly started to grow. Most of the leaves you see in the picture have grown since then. Maybe now it has the idea, it will keep growing.

For the second day running, the 'Silver Springs' had no beer. Fortunately I had a couple of bottles in the fridge, so I was reduced to sitting on the veranda pretending Adia's Place was a pub until herself got back - the things you do!

More furniture.
20/3/2010 - Modest Success.

I got the new version of GDC that I've been working on to the state where it will compile its own standard library, and I can compile and run simple programs. Maybe it can compile complicated programs - I just haven't tried any yet. I was pretty pleased.

I put a very small announcement on the D newsgroup, and got one polite response. So maybe I've been wasting my time, and nobody is interested. That thought could seriously slow down progress.

However, I have continued with my woodwork, where the results are more tangible. As well as the shelves, I have now nearly finished the bedside tables for the big guest room - they still have to sanded and polished/varnished. I already have a bed frame made, and today I bought the wood for its sides, and for some wall-mounted shelves.

We went to Boogaloo tonight and had a large chicken and two helpings of chips, so currently I'm feeling rather lethargic, and this is my limit for tonight - kesho (tomorrow). There was an Arsenal/West Ham football match on which was quite engaging, but I could not see us sitting there for another 45 minutes, and we don't have a channel at home that covers it. Having said that, Adia just found a channel where it's on - catch you later.

Not meeting EEC standards.

My woodworking standards improving.
16/3/2010 - The Simple Life.

We had a purge on the vegetable patch yesterday and picked everything that was ready to go. Looking at the collection, it occurred to me that virtually all of it would not meet the standards required to be sold in shops in the EEC. Our veggies are typical organically grown stuff - wrong size wrong colour, skin blemishes, and so on. The eggplants might just make it - for some reason they have done particularly well.

The thought went further. I don't know if it is still fashionable, but back in the 80s, it was a yuppie thing, in th UK at least, for those who were in good jobs, and earning good money, to buy a place out in the countryside, and attempt the self sufficiency thing - 'getting back to basics'. With a completely different flight path, I have got myself into the same situation. Usually the basics thing was a disaster. Stockbrokers know how to broke stocks, and computer programmers know about weird arcane stuff. They don't know about growing vegetables, and neither do I. It is just as well that we don't have to depend on the things we grow for our day to day supply of food.

Having said that, as I've said before, the veggies we grow do taste good, so even though I'm a rank beginner at growing them, I shall persevere.

I could not get any real focus on software today, so when the power went out briefly and shut me down, I started work on the night stands for the big guest room. Woodwork is all about practice and experience, and it is difficult to tell whether you are getting better, or not. Today though, I had a little indication that I might be improving.

I prepared the pieces for two sides of a night stand. When I'd finished, I plugged the bits together, and stood them on the floor to get an impression of how they would look. To my pleasant surprise, the mortise and tenon joints were all firm, and the sides just stood there. So I am getting better - yeah!

Adia seems pleased with the new girl Zai. She hadn't asked her to do it, but while Adia was out this afternoon buying food for us and the dogs, Zai took it upon herself to do the accumulated washing. So she's a self starter - a trait I always appreciate.

The mango.
15/3/2010 - A Continuing struggle.

Significant progress on my software front yesterday. I think I finally broke through the barrier I have been struggling with for weeks. Suddenly the compiler got through compiling quite a few files of the D standard library - Phobos. But of course, not all of them. Now it has given me a new problem - another part of GCC that has been significantly changed. I have some idea what is going on, but it could be a week or two before I chase it down to a solution.

Of the fruit trees we have planted in our compound, the Mango is way ahead. It is actually starting to look like a young tree now. There's an avocado that is not too far behind, and the fig tree is doing pretty well except for the fact that Gretel neatly chops off any leaves that have the temerity to stick out beyond its protective cage. I don't know what she has against it, but I believe she discerned at some point that I had a significant interest in it, and she is against anything that might get more attention from me that she does.

We got another house girl from Bukoba today, after extensive interviewing by Adia's mother Amina. She's called Zai, and is a bit older than the last one, at 18. She's barely spoken a word yet, so I don't have any idea how she will do. As usual, time will tell. It would be good to get one who could become established and stay for some time.

The shelves.
11/3/2010 - Another Groundhog Day.

Well to be fair, the Internet connection was working again, but to compensate for that the electricity was off half the day. I made a little progress on the software front, but then switched to woodwork again.

The shelves are more or less structurally complete. I have to add a few supporting blocks inside the frame to stop the shelves from sagging under heavy load, and I have to get one of the metalwork shops to make me some simple brackets to secure it to the wall. It would free stand, but then if some drunken guest decided it would be a good idea to climb up to the top shelf, it could fall on someone. I'll screw it to the wall just to be on the safe side.

Of course, there's the little matter of the fine sanding and finishing - not my best loved jobs. I will varnish the actual pine shelves. That's the best guarantee against interaction between the finish and the clothes and stuff that will get put on there. For the frame though, I'm considering just rubbing it over with boiled linseed oil. I saw something finished like that a few days ago, and liked the effect - a sort of dull gloss.

The shelves are for the large guest room. When I have finished those, I still have to make a plant stand, a couple of bedside tables, and a mirror frame. It's never ending!

Now of course, it's BEV pages update time.
9/3/2010 - Oh Joy!

I spent much of the morning struggling with a bad to non-existent Internet connection. I spent most of the afternoon with a piece of sandpaper in my hand rubbing down the shelf frame. My two favourite occupations.

Later in the day, when I'd had enough, we went down to Nane Nane to get the wood to make the actual shelves. We got it planed, and sent it up to the compound on a hand cart. Then Adia made me get my hair cut - not before time I should say.

The shelves are quite wide - almost 450mm, so I have to glue together two pieces of the pine board we got for each shelf. I got two of them done then decided enough was enough, and went to the Silver Springs for a couple of beers.

Adia is making liver, sweet potato leaves, and ugali, and it sounds like it's close to ready. Catch you later.

The shelf frame glued and pegged.

The beginnings of our first bunch of bananas.
8/3/2010 - Cramps, Shelves and Various Plants.

After I'd done my after breakfast bit of software investigation (not helpful today), as promised I went on a cramp hunt. As a sanity check, I went first to the shop that purports to sell top-quality tools. They had some British ('Record') ones that were clearly well made, in 4' and 6' (feet) sizes, but the 4' ones were $112 each, and I needed two, and that was way beyond my budget. I could own those for 30 years without them paying for themselves. So I tramped around the back-street shops, and eventually found some that were about 6', and $21 each, which suited me a lot better. They look to be reasonably solid, and I hope they'll last me the time I have left. There was no indication of where they were made - I'd guess China.

We also got some more plastic plant pots and some more plants to go in them. Adia has been feeling guilty about the way the Old Cottage has been ignored while we have been trying to make the South House attractive. So when she got back she potted things and put a couple of large plant pots and contents on the deck outside the OC. It does make a surprising difference to the appearance!

I set to with my cramps, and made the frame for the shelves a permanent thing. I laid the face pieces on the cramps on the floor, applied glue, squared them up, then squeezed them tight. Once in that state I drilled holes, and hammered in wooden pegs to hold the joints in place. Then I took off the cramps and did the same with the side sections. So they are standing there now connected up without a single nail or screw. As I said before, the old fashioned way.

I had been a bit perplexed about how to make the pegs. In my former woodworking days I would have used dowel rod - but I've never seen that here. I've used pegs a few time previously, and then I just whittled them with a knife, a time consuming and inaccurate process. So this time I asked myself how people might have done it in the past. I had a piece of 3mm steel bar, so I drilled a hole in it of the required size. Then I split a short length of Mruka wood into bits about 6mm roughly square. I quickly shaped the end of each piece so it was close to a fit in the hole. Then I used brute force and ignorance - belted the rough peg through the steel hole with a hammer. Then lo and behold - roughly round pegs of a consistent diameter ;=)

Next I have to make the actual shelves. They will be pine boards about 22mm thick glued together edgewise - another use for my new cramps.

When we came back from our Christmas/New Year visit last year, Adia brought some banana saplings of the green banana type that is the staple food in Kagera. There are now three trees in a well developed state, and one of them is now fruiting - just about on time fourteen months after it was planted here. The reddish hanging down thing (what does he mean?) will develop into the bananas. Banana 'trees' are strange plants. The varieties we eat no longer produce seeds, so they are propagated entirely from root cuttings. Once a 'tree' has produced fruit it will die away. Other 'trunks' will grow from the root.

This means that bananas are very prone to destructive effects of new viruses. Since all the plants of a variety are genetically identical, a new virus can make a whole well-loved species useless.

The sweet potatoes being harvested.
7/3/2010 - Same Direction.

I'm still 50/50 between the D compiler and woodwork.

On the compiler front, I am creeping forward, but there is movement. I have given up trying to do it in a rush. Now I think of an idea that might move me forward, make code changes as necessary, start a build, then go away and do some woodwork. Later in the day I'll go back and test the result. If it's no good, I stop and start a new cycle the next day.

The woodwork is going well. The framework for the set of shelves requires 14 pieces of wood, cut to length and planed. Then to fasten them together there are 20 mortise and tenon joints, all done by hand. That is all now done - I'll get a picture of where I've got to in the morning.

For the next stages - fastening it all together - I need some 6 foot cramps. I've got away with the woodwork I've done so far without, but they are really a basic item of the woodworkers kit, so I'm going to have to bite the bullet and get some.

I think I can run to it this month, since we've had a bit of extra income from the sweet potatoes. I'll be shopping around tomorrow.
The latter got harvested a couple of days ago. When we saw them, Adia and I both thought that they were too small, and that Mica had gone too early. We thought the purchaser would argue about the price. But Danny said they were fine for their variety, and it turns out that the unwritten rule is that you pay before you dig, so it is caveat emptor.

We got a few before they were all removed, but they have not been cooked yet, so I can't comment on how they are. I'll let you know later.

Doing it the Roman way.
4/3/2010 - Some Progress.

I had been banging my head against a brick wall for four days trying to sort out a problem with the GDC build under GCC4.4.3. The usual thing, I had made changes, so my assumption was that problems would be due to those. You would think I would learn!

I had been trying to debug the compiler built with the changes, and was getting all sorts of rubbish out of the debugger. So I went over every change I'd made many times, checking, in some cases removing, and re-testing - same old thing. Eventually it dawned on me that I should test the playing field, so I built the C compiler with no modifications, then attempted to debug that with the smallest piece of code I could come up with. Guess what - same debugger shit! I tried it again with a previous version of the compiler - same stuff. GCC clearly has problems debugging itself! Perhaps I'm not past it after all. I have rebuilt it today without any optimization, since the latter was one of the explanations I was offered for the debug problems. I'll try that tomorrow. OK, I'm calling that progress, though it's maybe only sideways.

In the meantime, I have reverted to woodwork. I have to make some shelves for the last of the guest rooms.
Having not been impressed by the efforts of the carpenter we employed for the South House, I decided I should make what I would have wanted, so that in future I could say "make some like these".

This meant that I had to make some proper woodwork joints. Having roasted the day before planing the bits of wood outdoors, I did the mortises today in the veranda. It occurred to me as I was working that a carpenter from Roman times would have related directly to what I was doing, and probably offered me some tips or suggestions, as might have one from the classical Greek era, or from ancient Egypt or China. Some things are remarkably constant.

The wood in the picture is Mruka, which texture and density wise is about as close to oak as you'll get here. It tends to be a bit more wavy-grained than oak though, and it is difficult to get it in a reasonably seasoned state. The stuff I found was not too bad.

The first cabbage.
2/3/2010 - March Already.

So what's new? The South House is finished and occupied - but you already knew that. I replaced the bed in the Old Cottage - but you already knew that. I have been head-down in software - you guessed that!

I have to confess to having a hard time. I can't remember when I have spent so long looking at a software problem and making zero progress. Am I past it? I was close to giving up and saying "I can't do it" today. Adia told me to get a grip and carry on. She's right of course - if you give up when things get difficult you'll never get anywhere. I may compromise by slowing down a bit though - flogging yourself never achieved anything. Maybe if I do a bit of woodwork in between my mind will relax and start thinking laterally.

We now have slew of cabbages. If nothing else, the vegetable plot seems to grow those OK. I shall have to learn to make sauerkraut. The broccoli that is right next to the cabbages is a disappointment. The heads are not well formed, and some of the plants seem to be more inclined to grow leaves than heads. To be fair, the eggplants and beetroot have done well, and after their initial setback the tomatoes aren't doing badly either. The capsicums were a disappointment though, and the lettuces were bitter. I guess I'll learn what we can grow in time.
We had two dramas in Tanzania yesterday. A bus on the Singida - Babati section of road crashed killing 21 people and injuring another 40 or so. The survivors reported excessive speeding. I have written about the behaviour of the bus drivers on that stretch before - atrocious! In the interests of natural justice I hope that the driver was among those who died. The same day, an Air Tanzania 737 crash landed at Mwanza. It did not catch fire, and everyone walked off - you can never tell.

The British Pound has fallen dramatically - it's sickening to watch helplessly as your income shrinks before your eyes. I shall be a pauper shortly. Not much else to report - no sex, drugs and rock-n-roll to speak of. I grovel appropriately, but if I guess correctly, most people would be equally pressed to come up with a lot that was of radical interest in their lives.
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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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The British pound is currently trading at
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The most popular BEV archive page (Jan 2003 - Nov 2009) is still June 2003. (I still wish someone would explain to me why!)

We have rooms available at Adia's Place (the Brits Eye View micro hotel). 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 very competitive price.

A GDC-newbie web page

I have made a new page for beginner users of the GDC (Gnu Compiler Collection D Compiler) here. Since I am a newbie to it myself, I thought I should share my experiences of getting the thing up and running and beyond.

Currently on the Software page:

GDC, MinGW, and Code::Blocks
- Taking a different tack on the D programming language.

Javascript Exceptions
- A design flaw?

Minimally Intrusive Javascript
- Writing scripts for use by others.

BEV Tiny Feedback Component
- Simplified installation (I hope).

Javascript Little Known Facts #1
- Array Slicing and Function Call.

Javascript Little Known Facts #2
- Nested Functions and Closures.

Javascript Little Known Facts #3
- Labels.