New York panorama image

March 2012 in Tanzania through the eyes of an Englishman

Not a pretty sight.

29/3/2012 - Self Inflicted Wound.

A couple of days ago I brushed the spinning blade of my table saw with the tips of the first and second fingers of my left hand. I say brushed, but any form of contact with a tungsten tipped saw blade revolving at maybe 4500rpm is serious.

I was lucky, my reactions took my hand in an appropriate direction pretty quickly, and the saw only had time to carve off a chunk of skin from each finger end maybe 9mm long and 6mm wide, exposing the flesh underneath.

Wounds of that kind can't really be stitched, so they will have to be dressed until they dry out and scab over. Of course the tips of your fingers are about the worst place to put a dressing, particularly in this case because the wounds need to dry. So the gauze is good even if it is unsightly. I have to try to make the existing ones last until tomorrow. That's going to be pushing it, since even though I'm going to great lengths not to touch anything, you can't avoid it entirely, and they are wearing out fast.

Of course having those two fingers out of action, even on your secondary hand, places severe limitations on what you can do. The doctor at the clinic that dressed it insisted on antibiotic, so beer is off limits for several days, and I can't enjoy my idleness in that direction, and am somewhat grumpy. I have taken to walking. It passes the time, provides some exercise, and is not stressful to the fingers.

I thought I was being careful with the saw before, but I can't really account for how this happened - obviously I did something stupid. The incident will certainly make me extra vigilant.

A small chunk of Ugali.

25/3/2012 - Making Ugali.

You'll need a medium size pan with a strong handle, and a strong wooden spoon, stick, or spatula.

Water; rather coarse maize flour.

Put some water in the pan to make it about half full. Add a couple of tablespoons of the maize flour and bring to the boil for a couple of minutes. This will form a thin porridge. Add more maize flour - quite a bit, maybe half to three quarters of a cup to almost drown the porridge, and stir vigorously until the stuff is an even but thicker consistency. Keep the heat going, and work quickly.

Add more globs of flour about half the size of the first glob and continue to stir vigorously until an even consistency. Repeat this until the stirring becomes almost impossible and you have a pretty stiff lump in the pan.

Ugali works as a cooked food because of this incremental cooking technique. It is a mixture of maize particles of various sizes and degrees of cooking in a matrix of the original somewhat glutinous porridge. If the maize particles were all the same size and all fully cooked it would be like eating a ball of glue! Cooked properly it is quite light, and not sticky. It's my impression that the best ugali is that which was cooked as fast as possible while following the outlined procedure. Don't start the cooking if you are likely to be interrupted.

If there are left overs you can fry them up for breakfast like Polenta, or as you would fry up mashed potatoes.

Run a blunt knife around the ugali and turn it out onto a plate to serve. Put the hot cooking pan back over it upside down to keep it hot.

Just cut a lump off and stick it on your plate. It should be stiff enough so you can pinch a piece off with your fingers and dip it in the accompanying sauce. The latter can be a simple curry-like dish - something with some flavour and a bit of bite. Traditionally you would also cook some spinach-like leaves. There are numerous weeds all over the world than can be quickly steamed and eaten in this context. Examples in the UK other than spinach are nettles, dandelion leaves, plantain, chick-weed, and so on.

Gratuitous Commentary:
I'll augment this later with a sequence of pictures of Adia doing this.

Cooking and eating ugali with a simple sauce made from onions, garlic, carrot, pepper, and salt (tomato, and chili if you are eating nightshade type plants), and some wild leaves will put you in touch to some extent with the proportion of the world's population who are living below the poverty line. They may well just eat the ugali with a little salt and the boiled leaves - try that too.

Cheap cooking oil storage tank.

19/3/2012 - No Power Rationing.

The managing director of the government owned electricity company TANESCO talked to journalists at some meeting recently. His disclosures were not encouraging. This was not because of any specific information he gave, but rather because of the inconsistencies in what he said.

He assured TANESCO customers that the ongoing power interruptions were not part of rationing as understood in some quarters and described them as a result of technical hitches occasioned by poor infrastructure, among other factors.

According to him, the poor infrastructure was a result of government 'neglect' of the company and the power sector in general. I'd guess that this neglect took the form of refusing to allow electricity price increases for political reasons when the price was below that required for maintenance and investment for growth. The gross inefficiency, top-heavy management, nepotism, company cars, free power to employees, corruption, and so on of your typical state owned industry probably didn't help either.

He said interestingly that a Sh408-billion loan that might be forthcoming from Citibank would be used 'to purchase heavy fuels to run some of the power

generation turbines installed around the country'. He also said quite clearly that the current maximum production capability falls short of demand during peak hours.

The implication here seems pretty clear. The relevant plant can't be run because the power it generates does not sell at a price that pays for the fuel it uses. I suspect that the Citibank negotiators are either playing some clever game, or are being fed duff information.

Whatever! If demand exceeds capacity then someone gets cut off, and that's rationing as understood in my quarter.

Dovetailed drawers.

14/3/2012 - Pushing The Envelope.

Continuing my effort to avoid making more panelled frames for the moment, I'm now working on drawers for Adia's dressing table.

Since I am a pedantic old fart, I'm attempting to do them the traditional way, with dovetailed joints, and solid wood bottoms. This definitely pushes the envelope of my woodworking capabilities!

I've done it before, but that was years ago, so now I am doomed to make a set of mistakes that are a minefield for would-be dovetailers. These are fairly well known, and I have read up on the subject, but regardless, you still make them. Here's an overview and a brief selection.

There are two pieces of wood involved in a dovetail joint. One piece has tails - like a dove, and the other has pins - the complement of the tail. You can see both best in the lower drawer in the picture. There the dark wood intrusions are the pins, and the light wood interlocked parts are the tails (the top drawer sides are the same light wood - the colour difference is just a wonderful trick of the camera flash.)

It's simple in principle, you decide on the pattern of your tails and pins - largely a matter of style - then you mark up the tails, cut them, and transfer the pattern to the pins piece by copying round the cut tails with a pencil. But there are many possibilities for mistakes - here's a brief list of the cock-ups you can perpetrate:
  • You make the tails OK - this is fairly easy, Then you mark up the pins, and you cut out the sections that are supposed to be pins, leaving you with two sets of tails.
  • So you start again with another piece of wood, but cut out the pins on the wrong side of the marked lines. Then you correctly cut away the tails. This time you have tails and pins, but the fit together is so loose and floppy that you are back to square one.
  • Finally you get two pieces of wood that theoretically should fit together, However the joints are too tight, and in your impatience you force them together and a piece breaks off one of the components.
  • So now you have the front and one side of the drawer connected together (no glue yet, hopefully). You make the other side of the drawer, and get the tail pattern upside down. Another piece of wood and more time wasted.
  • You have another opportunity to make the same set of mistakes when you make the back of the drawer. This has pins on both ends to fit into tails cut on the back ends of the sides. A special possibility arises here, where you can cut both sets of pins and then find one of them is facing the wrong way - wide side out instead of wide side in.
  • The two sides and the front have to have grooves cut in them to hold the drawer bottom, so if you are really gormless, you can end up with a nicely fitting set of four dovetail joints, but with the groove at the top of the drawer, or on the outside, on one of the sides - way to go!
  • OK, it all fits together, so you think 'quit while you're winning', and leave the final assembly until next day. Overnight, the sides, that were obviously made from damp wood, take a curve so that they resemble a piece of guttering, and won't clamp up decently without breaking.
  • Eventually, when you've got everything else right, you cock up the glueing and clamping of the four sides so that the drawer shape is not a rectangle, and won't fit in its hole with the front in line with the chest or whatever.
It's easy to see why your kitchen units that were fitted in a day and a half don't use traditional drawer construction. I must be mad!

I forgot to mention that you get the pieces of wood for the sides and the back by buying 8"x1" planks of your chosen wood. These then have to be thicknessed down to half an inch or a little more. Half of the wood you buy ends up on the machine shop floor as shavings.

Non-reflecting mirror.

11/3/2012 - Doldrums.

Sunday again, and nothing much accomplished. I'm dithering on my woodwork, as I am somewhat fed up of making panelled frames, and more of them will be needed for the next logical step.

I made a mirror frame, and to pass the time I attempted to come up with a better way of mounting the damn things on the wall. I hate those cheap steel mirror plates, and I have not found brass ones here.

When you're dealing with concrete block walls the drills have a way of wandering when they hit a hard bit, then then when you hang the things on a screw in the hole, the mirror does not hang vertical. Also if you have them concealed rather than sticking out and looking ugly at the top, it is difficult to manoeuvre the mirror on to them, and I've cracked mirrors in the process before now.

So I wanted a low stress method that could be adjusted to get the mirror true. Unfortunately this tends to involve additions that are visible on the outside.

The one in the picture has a three-screw attachment system that is very easy to set up if you do things in the correct order. There's a wooden bar that screws to the wall at the bottom with two strong screws. It does not have to be precisely horizontal - just close. There's a groove in the top of this bar. Then there are two substantial pan-head screws screwed upwards into the bottom frame member of the mirror, that fit into this groove. These can be screwed in or out to adjust the mirror to spot-on vertical.

When you've got to that point, the mirror will more or less just stand there on the bottom bar. The third screw goes at the top and serves simply to stop the mirror from falling toward you. There's a half inch hole in the top bar of the frame for that, so that there is wiggle room if you decide to readjust. After the initial adjustment of the bottom screws, you mark through that hole with a pencil, and drill the wall - the half inch hole copes with drill wandering there. The screw into that wall plug goes through a hole in a small metal plate big enough to cover the half inch hole. It is screwed in until one of the top corners of the mirror just touches the wall. At that point the mirror is secure and re-adjustable.

Of course you can then see the ugly hole, screw, and metal plate at the top, and the support bar - which may not be parallel with the bottom of the mirror, and screws holding it to the wall, and the adjustment screws. See this as an opportunity to decorate your creation with fascia pieces. The lozenge shaped bit at the top of mine has dowels glued into its back that plug into corresponding holes in the frame. It is rebated at the back to allow for the screw head and metal plate. The fascia at the bottom also conceals its own attachment to the bottom support bar, and hides any gap between the support and the frame. Mine are very simple, but if you had a jig saw and suitable artistic ability they could be quite ornate. They could also be in a contrasting wood. (Mine contrast slightly because they are not yet varnished.)

Maybe I'll get one of the local wood carvers who make tourist artefacts to make me a lion for the top, and a row of gazelles for the bottom.

Sergei Rachmaninoff.

4/3/2012 - Treasure Trove.

A couple of days ago Adia found a box that I had been searching for that contained some audio CDs that I had been missing, including among others:
  • Steely Dan (definitive cllection),
  • Bryan Ferry (the collection),
  • Chris Rea (best of),
  • Rachmaninoff 2 (symphony that is).
Now there's some wonderful stuff on all of these. The dark, brooding, and cynical lyrics and wonderfully NY jazzy tracks of Steely Dan, Ferry's better than definitive rendition of 'A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall', and Rea's 'Stainsby Girl', to name just one track of many very different and excellent ones. If you don't know this stuff, check it out.

But above all, for me, stands the Rachmaninoff. Most definitely, if you have not listened to that, do so! You probably know one of its principal themes - the third movement. The piece is aimed squarely at your average mortal. If you feel down it will sympathize with you to start with, and then lift you. If you feel good it will make you feel euphoric and/or horny - no drugs, no additives - just excellent music.

This afternoon we went to a village meeting. These are almost always fund-raisers, today it was for a wedding. I voted Adia onto the fund raising committee just to test the proposition that 'nobody says no to a mzungu'. She is now honorary treasurer. I'd been to the JKT bar at Nane Nane before that and had a few, and there were drinks at the meeting, so I'm now thoroughly oiled.

Well, it is Sunday - a day off for many - and I did make and fit the wardrobe door handles. Peace, love, and joy to all BEV readers.

The wardrobe doors.

Difficult corner.

3/3/2012 - March

Well, I've reached something of a milestone. All eight doors are now on the new wardrobe. Alignment of the panels is far from exact, but that will only change if it gets to Adia and me. So far it has not, and I reserve the right for my furniture to be somewhat rustic.

The tricky door was the one adjoining the set of six doors along the front, that is one of the pair of doors concealing the hanging clothes section. There are two doors in a corner there, and both have to open individually to the maximum extent. For the hanging section one I used a different type of hinge, set in flush with the door. Its frame also has rebates so it can swing over the sticking-out hinges of the next door. This seems to work. You can have either door fully open and lying over its neighbour, or you can have them both open at complementary angles.

Today I did the tedious but essential task of adding the top of the whole thing to keep the dust out. I have to do the door handles next. I've looked in the local shops, and not seen anything that grabbed me, so I'll probably just make simple wooden ones.

What else? Well I have to be fair to TANESCO, and say that the power supply situation has got less dire - power yesterday and today! But I still wish they would try to be more transparent.

My other concern is Syria. This is a real mess of a situation, as stated to some extent in my micro-blog bit. However you can also look at it as a regime that is attempting to preserve the rights of some minorities - its own, and the Christians for example - against the imposition of an Islamic state. Simultaneously we see the exponents of that latter path kicking down WW2 gravestones and destroying their associated religious symbols in Libya. If that's what you get for helping an uprising, it becomes possible to see to some extent the reality of politics for Russia and China, who are both trying to hold together large multi-cultural states with profound differences across their regions.

A simple question to ask in this context is 'did taking out Sadam Hussein provide any real benefits to the population of Iraq, or to stability in the middle east?' I rather doubt it.

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1976 is yet to be started.

What is BEV?

Brits Eye View is the personal blog of a 69 year old Englishman - Steve Teale, started in January 2003. It's currently 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.

I started playing with it in January 2003, when I was living in Manhattan. At the time I felt I was going nowhere, and exposing the details of my life could be no worse than not. Almost immediately I changed partners, and quickly recognized that while I might be prepared to live in a goldfish bowl, other's weren't.

The same year I lost my job - recession, exhausted my NY State unemployment benefits, and got a job in India. Consequently a large proportion of BEV was written in Bangalore. India was OK, but I could not see what I was going to do there when I retired.

This uncertainty was resolved when I met my current partner Adia in 2006. She was a Tanzanian, studying law in India, so I came Tanzania in 2007. Here we have built a house, and made new friends. The rest, you can read on BEV.

At about the same time I had the ridiculous idea of extending BEV backwards to cover the years 1942 to 2002. So far I have got to 1975. For the years 2003 - 2011, choose a year/month from the tool bar. For 1942 - 1975, choose a year.

Visiting Tanzania?

Adia's Place now has On-Line Booking. Please feel free to check it out. It may not be 100% yet, but if you get a confirmation email then it's a safe bet that we got your booking.

In the short term we will re-confirm.

If you have done all the usual tourist destinations, then make a leap and discover Africa! Come and visit Arusha, Tanzania.

You might be able to stay at - a great centre for safaris to the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Kilimanjaro, and of course our own pet volcano, Mount Meru.

Please feel free to contact us. We can tell you about hotels, facilities, prices of basics, etc.

We now have very pleasant bed and breakfast rooms available at $20 per night. The Old Cottage and the South House are also available for longer term visitors.

Studying in Arusha?

Some of the major study centres in Arusha are at Njiro. There, you'll find the Arusha Institute of Accountancy, ESAMI, and TRAPCA.

If you are not happy with the accommodation there, you are only a 5 minute drive from - a secure haven of tranquillity with African food like your mother cooked for you. Price is competitive with the on-campus accommodation.

Just call Adia - 0762 442888 - and she'll come and get you and show you her place. You won't regret it!

This Month's Posts

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Top 20 BEV Pages.

Exchange Rates.

BEV Software Blog.

I've been working recently on D programming language interfaces to SQL database systems. This is very much work-in-progress, but you can read more about it on the software page. Source code is available at github.

This work is currently on hold, since I am making furniture for our bedroom and there's only one of me.

Moods of Meru.

Mt Meru


Random BEV Poem.


If you are a Linux user, you might want to try this piece of graphical design software I worked on last year. You can use it to design business cards, labels, logos for your web site, and things of that sort.

You can download it from the BEV COMPO page, where you'll also find the documentation.

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