November 2008 in Tanzania through the eyes of an Englishman

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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 1965.

Our new pet.
29/11/2008 - Rain.

Last night we had a mother of a thunderstorm. It was very electrically active, with some uncomfortably close loud bangs, and it rained cats and dogs for several hours. I lay awake wondering what it was doing to our plot, which is mostly bare earth at this point, so there's nothing to hold the topsoil. I expected to wake in the morning and find most of it gone. However it was not too bad. There was a well defined channel where the water had run down from the area on each side of the big house, and some topsoil had been washed down through the little culvert by the gate onto our access road, but not that much. The road from our village to Njiro is in a bad way again though.

A few weeks ago I had planted some tomato and green squash seeds in little plastic cups, but nothing happened except for possibly one spindly tomato seedling. So last week I had concluded the seeds must have been crap, and I bought some new seeds from a different company. These popped up in quantity today, so it looks like my suspicions about the first lot were well founded - I didn't do anything that much different. I will have to make sure I take them in at night otherwise it's sure to rain on them again and drown them.
The mantis just appeared in our kitchen. It has been living at the top of the kitchen curtains and coming down at meal times to eat scraps of food.
26/11/2008 - Doom and Gloom Again.

Thinking about the economic situation in the USA, a couple of things strike me. Recently, a $700 billion rescue plan made a rocky passage through Congress. Now, the car companies having been turned down by Congress, the Treasury Secretary tells us that another slightly larger package is necessary to sort things out.

This suggests that the government believes that each package it considers will actually fix the problem or problems. Otherwise, the first package should have been $1,500 billion. More likely it should have been $3,000 billion to allow for the fact that its effectiveness could not be guaranteed, and things could continue to get worse.

If that is the case, then we can say that the economy is already in free fall, with the government afraid to fess up, and just taking measures to provide some comfort to the public after each disastrous event. Do they already know that there's nothing they can do that will substantially change the course of events, which could well be the greatest depression in human history.

The other thing is body language. The way that Gordon Brown is looking suggests to me that he understands all this, but politically just can't say anything because it would cause panic. And he may be one of the best qualified world leaders when it comes to understanding this situation.

In the US, Bush looks like he has opted out. The way Obama is setting things up to stress his concentration on improving financial management and the economy, and his studied calmness, reeks of a front. What are the chances that when he gets into office we'll get the story that the previous administration didn't come clean, and things are much worse than he'd been led to expect. This is all standard politics.

I sincerely hope I'm wrong, because if not, I will be a member of a group that has just about everything to lose. If I am right, then the only way out that I can see will be an internationally organized synchronized switch to command economies - complete worldwide nationalization of everything significant, and price and wage controls. That would be a clever trick. Like I said a couple of months ago, communism fell because it didn't work, and now it looks like capitalism is falling because that doesn't work either.

I think we need a new *ism. For a somewhat out-of-date, but equally pessimistic view in much greater detail, see The coming economic meltdown.

Seasonal fruit.
25/11/2008 - Finally a Real Supply.

We never succeeded in getting any sensible number of units on our electricity meter on Monday. The system in Dar Es Salaam was apparently down, so it could not propagate our details back to the local system. Consequently the computer in Arusha didn't recognize our meter number so we were SOL.

This morning it all worked. We keyed the provided 20 digit number into our meter, pressed the enter key, and bingo, we now have six hundred and some units - that's kW-Hours I guess - available. This is probably overkill, but since you have to stand in line to pay for them, we thought we'd get a bit ahead of the game. Whatever, now I have cold beer again.

I probably talk about pineapples every year at about this time, so I won't harp on. Just to say, for a big one, at the market, you'd probably pay 80 cents/ 50 pence.

Having listened to Mr Paulson on the US economy again today, I'm increasingly worried about the world economic situation. If it's bad enough for what he's proposing, it's going to be very difficult to keep things out of a downward spiral. Companies don't have customers, so they lay people off. Then the companies who served the laid-off employees don't have customers, so they lay people off, and so on.

If GM goes bankrupt, that could trigger just such a collapse, but at the same time, if Congress bails GM out, where does that path end? Does the US government have to nationalize everything?

The financial high-wire act being proposed by the British chancellor doesn't entirely fill me with confidence either. OK, so if it works... But if it doesn't, then the pound will probably disintegrate, taking my pension with it.

Our electricity connection.

Hansel growing up.
24/11/2008 - The Lap of Luxury.

Finally, yesterday, TANESCO came to connect our electricity supply to the big house. Once they'd done that, I ran a temporary connection down to the small house from a 32 amp circuit breaker. So the small house is now essentially an appliance.

The process was not without its problems, and I'm glad I was there at the time. First, the guy who was installing the meter box cut off the earth lead from the main entry cable when he'd stripped it to expose the conductors. I had taken my eyes of him for a few seconds to watch what the guys making the connection were doing. There was then insufficient cable length to strip it further, and it was not possible to connect the cable from my ground spike and the earth lead of the entry cable together inside the meter box. I asked him - not too politely - why he'd done it, demonstrating by gestures that he'd spoilt the installation, and then the penny dropped and he realized what he'd done.

Consequently I had to go groveling about in the roof space, undoing the reasonably tidy job I'd done clipping the cable to one of the roof trusses to find him an extra 30cm so he could complete the connection.

Next I discovered that the guidance I'd had about the earth leakage contact breaker had been incorrect. I'd been told that TANESCO required to make the incoming connection to that, and had left the incoming leads cut to about the right length sticking out of the back of the box where I'd installed the breaker. I realized they had no intention of doing so when the man up the pole was about to connect the live wire. I stopped them at that point and tried to explain. In turn they explained that making the circuit breaker connection was not their job. Fortunately, Adia arrived back at that point, and she sweet talked them into doing it - for a small payment of course.

But anyway, it's done, so I can now sit here in silence as I type this without the nagging drone of the generator, and the fridge, toaster, and microwave are back in action albeit temporarily.

I say that because they give you 5 kW-hours on the pre-paid meter as part of the connection. But when Adia went to the office this morning to pay for a real number of units, the installation team boss had not yet turned in the serial number of our meter, so they could not deal with us - come back after two this afternoon. They are so disorganized it's not true.

Changing the subject, I've noticed over the last week or two that Hansel seems to be going through another growth phase. He is definitely filling out around the chest and shoulders as well as getting bigger. He may make it to the size of his father yet.
19/11/2008 - Right First Time.

Yes, the connection of our electricity supply does require a bribe - three actually. TENESCO's rules allow them 30 days after you've paid in full for your connection before they actually have to do anything about it. I would not actually like to push it to that point, since I'm pretty sure you would then run into scheduling problems and so on.

If you're need is more urgent, then you have bribe a man who heads a team that can actually do it. You also have to bribe the woman who sent out the letter that said they were ready to connect you once you'd paid, and then there has to be something for her boss to actually authorize the connection.

This is the reality of life in the developing world. At the same time I'm sitting here piously hoping that some bureaucrat in India might spontaneously send me my provident fund money just out of the kindness of his heart. I really must be getting senile.

To pass the time, I've been working on Africa's most expensive vegetables. We want to be able to grow some spinach and lettuces, and so on, on our plot, really because it's just a satisfying thing to do. But if we did, my dear puppies would simply run all over them and trash them - "They're just puppies". So to do it, I have to fence in an area of the plot to keep the not-so-little buggers out. Consequently, I've spent the last two days clearing the area formerly occupied by the scrap wood pile, and surrounding it with a chicken wire fence. My first attempt was broken by the puppies during the following night, so today I had to buy some 16 gauge galvanized wire to reinforce the chicken wire.

Then of course, I'll have to pay somebody to turn over the ground in said area. If I tried to do it at current temperatures, I'd probably kill myself.

Pardon me if there's a certain sense of bitterness here.

One of my pancakes.

17/11/2008 - Restricted Cookery.

With piglet crippled, and the electricity supply still nowhere in sight the name of the game is now gas cookery. The microwave and the toaster are unusable.

So yesterday morning I decided I would make pancakes. I always have to remind myself about ingredient quantities for them, so I checked on the web. However, all the recipes I found either wanted to measure flour in cups, or by weight, and I don't have a scale or something that I can say with any certainty is cup sized.

So I had to guess, and quite by accident I made what I think was the best pancake batter I ever did. I could just pour a scoop of it into the bottom of a hot skillet, swirl it round to cover the bottom, and then the pancakes were absolutely no trouble. Turned over easily, and tasted great.

I'll bet I couldn't do that again.

Today we're back to waiting for TANESCO, though there were also some encouraging noises from India. We've seen those before though, and nothing has happened. I'll believe it when I see it. Maybe we'll try and find a fundi who can do something about Piglet's voltage regulation.

My new landlord.

15/11/2008 - Rejuvenated Tina Bar.

Joyce, the landlady at my local bar had been getting increasingly disgruntled about her business there, and must I think have been working on something else. Anyway, over the last few weeks there has been a transition, and the place is now being run by a guy of Goan origin - Alan. He was actually born and raised in Tanzania, but sounds just like my friend Krishna in India.

He has ideas for the place. He's sacked the existing kitchen staff and brought in some new people, and he says he's going to expand the menu to something a bit more cosmopolitan. He's also done some work on decorations and general maintenance that was overdue.

I seem to have been sold with the pub as a valued regular, though to be fair I haven't been there that much since Potter was out of action, and if I go now it's usually in the afternoon. Apparently there is to be a reopening or change-of-ownership party soon which I'm hoping to be invited to.

I don't know that I have any BEV readers in Arusha, but if I have, I recommend that you check out Tina bar. Drive down Njiro Road to the cinema, and take the right immediately before that. Once you get past the cinema you'll see the bar on your right.

I'm not getting a finders fee, but you can tell Alan I sent you.

Steve with dogs and a big pineapple.

15/11/2008 - No further progress.

We've seen nothing of TANESCO, so we're still dependent on the small generator Piglet. After that had been on for some time yesterday, I noticed that it was showing its output voltage as 300 volts - positively dangerous. It has probably done it before, and that would account for the demise of my modem power supply unit.

Adia took it to a generator fundi this morning, not the usual one, he wasn't there. This guy made it run a bit more smoothly, but failed to deal with the voltage regulation issue. It will have to go back again. Currently we've fudged it by twiddling the idle speed on the carburetor, but that has made the toaster and the coffee machine unusable - the voltage drops to about 150 volts when you turn them on. The TV is OK as the voltage regulator that it's on seems to cope with it.

Adia also bought the huge pineapple which I wanted a picture of, and the dogs joined in spontaneously. It's the first half-decent picture I've got of them both together.

Interesting house design.
13/11/2008 - Same Old, Same Old.

I saw the house while out walking the other day. African houses have some interesting architecture, but I'll leave you as the judge on this one. I'm sorry I cut the top of the picture off, but it really is quit difficult to take pictures with the mobile phone in the bright sunlight. It's mostly down to guesswork.

So, what's new? I've spent most of my computer time over the last few days trying to get the retrospective page for 1964 into some sort of order. The previous years had been written to some extent before I converted them to web format, so this was the first I did from scratch that way, though I did have some notes. The Internet connection speed here is a real drag. It takes forever to find out the simplest thing.

The British pound has resumed its plunge into the abyss. The result being that my effective income has dropped by about 22% since the beginning of the year. That's a stiff pay cut, and I'm now worrying about money again - something I thought I had escaped from.
Other than that, nothing much has happened, except that yesterday we got the notification about our electricity supply, and what it would cost. It was as we'd anticipated, so no big deal, and it is now paid for - thanks to Adia's mum Amina.

I have got the electrical system as ready as I can, so now we have to wait until TANESCO actually comes to do it, and hope they will connect it as-is. I wonder if that involves yet another bribe? Once we have the supply I'll run a temporary cable down from the big house to the small house so we can revert to those little luxuries like having a fridge and taking a warm shower.

It was Adia's birthday yesterday, she's now 33, and I managed to remember - an unusual feat on my part, and due I daresay only to the reminder facility on my mobile phone. I was all for going out in the evening, but she wasn't bothered, and we ended up eating at home, though I did manage to do a considerable part of the cooking. I still love her even if she is getting old.

10/11/2008 - Panic in the Night.

Last night we were feeling lazy, so we picked a couple of fresh tomatoes from the plant that has grown out of the bottom of our compost heap, and added a couple of cucumbers from the market, then went off to my bar down at Nane Nane to have Chips Mayai. The pub kitchens here think that a salad is two slices of tomato on the side of your plate, while I tend to think of a salad as being a whole plate. But if you turn up with the goods they'll give you a plate that's full and quite nicely presented. As I've probably said before, Chips Mayai is a chip omelette.

With some of their pili pili (hot sauce), diluted with a not-too-sweet tomato ketchup, the combination came out very well. Needless to say, I had a few beers as accompaniment.

So, in the middle of the night, the fact that I needed to pee, and that it was pissing it down outside woke me up. At that point, out of nowhere, I suddenly realized that the pipe I had put in to take the drains from the kitchen and laundry room sinks, was poked through the side of one of the inspection pits in the sewage system without any sealing, while lying in the bottom of a trench that was in the way of the likely main drainage path for ground water flowing down our plot.

This realization instilled a sense of some panic, as I had a vision of large quantities of rainwater and mud flowing down the drainage system into the septic tank and soak pit. Things you forget!

I dragged myself out of bed, found a light, put on a dirty pair of jeans and my wellies, and squidged up though the mud to the offending pit. Fortunately the flow into it was quite modest. As the short rains have just started, the ground is still quite dry below the surface, and still sucking in the new rain. I did the best I could to seal the pipe entry with some clay-heavy soil, and then went back to bed.

So today, I backed the pipe out, removed the temporary seal, and did the best job I could to re-seal the joint with mortar. I also put another course of blocks on the top of the inspection pit since it was precariously close to the average ground level and would likely have flooded at the first big storm after the ground had become saturated. Then I filled the section of the trench close to the pit with the earth that was taken out to dig it, and made some adjustments to the local level so that ground water will most likely flow across it.

I think I have done a job on it, and so far today, the rain has held off, so if it does rain again overnight the mortar should be reasonably set, and I'll sleep easy. Once again no pictures - I really must get my act together in that respect.

Now I'm knackered - ah, more of the simple life.

7/11/2008 - Domestic Bliss.

Yesterday when I started the diesel generator Pig, he was making a very unpleasant rattling noise. I turned him off, and made toast using Piglet - the small petrol generator. Adia told me that Pig had been making a funny noise when she turned it off the night before, but she'd forgotten to mention it. So as soon as we could get together a few strong lads, Pig was bundled into the back of Potter and taken off to the fundi who fixed it before when the bearings had gone. Also in the afternoon I discovered that the power supply thingie that powers my wireless modem had overheated and destroyed itself.

Then last night it rained quite heavily most of the night, as per the weather symptoms I've been seeing over the last few days. So, this morning I woke up to a sea of mud and the need to go into town to attempt to get a new power supply.

The puppies were in their kennels, since otherwise they would have covered the deck outside the house, which Amos had already cleaned, and us, with another layer of mud. At that point Gretel chose to to something I've been trying to discourage for some time, and stuck her head through one of the square holes in the steel grill on the door of her kennel. It turned out that this was the day I'd been warning her about, and she was unable to get her head out again.

Wrestling with a squirming 25 kilo dog to try to get her head to a suitable angle proved futile. So finally I had to go and get the hacksaw, and cut some of the bars. This wasn't entirely easy either, since the holes in the grill were a little small for the hacksaw, and since she was alarmed by the sawing noise and vibration close to her head. However I managed to make three cuts through the grid so that we could bend the resulting cross shaped piece to one side and extract her head. Yes, yes, there should have been a picture of this scene, but I was preoccupied, and Adia didn't think to do it, so there isn't. Perhaps I could get Gretel to pose with her head through the bars, but somehow I doubt it.

I hope she has the sense not to do it again, and also remember that when they first arrived as puppies eight months ago they could climb through the grid with ease.

So then I had my trip into town. I wasn't sure how Potter would do without low gears in the mud, so I decided to take Kiki, who I'm reasonably happy with these days. I fell off once on a piece of road with a steep side-to-side slope and no path that was free of slimy mud. The back wheel fishtailed. Fortunately I was doing essentially zero kph at the time, so it was a harmless experience.

When I reached town I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Internet connection provider had a stock of spare power supplies - I guess mine wasn't the first to go. What's more, the replacement didn't cost an arm and a leg. I came back a different way on Kiki without any further excitement except for a wobbly bit where some truck had churned up the mud. So now I'm back in business.

Adia drove Potter into town later when the mud had dried up a bit, to determine Pig's fate. It turns out - as far as I can decipher her description - that both crankshaft and camshaft are damaged, and it will cost about $400 to repair. Clearly buying the cheapest diesel generator I could find was a false economy.

The electricity supply to the main house is due to be connected any day now, so we've decided that for a few days we'll manage without the fridge, microwave, and hot showers, and wait for the mains supply. Then I'll probably have to fork out for a replacement standby generator, but that can be a petrol one, and smaller, since it does not have to heat water for the shower. Also it will only be used intermittently, rather than beaten to death morning and evening every day of the year. So I should be able to afford one with a reliable Japanese engine.

Ah, the joys of the simple life!

Dust squall.

6/11/2008 - Short Rains Here Soon.

Yesterday there was a brief but quite turbulent squall that came in from the east bearing a great cloud of brown dust. I thought there would be a thunderstorm, but the thing just blew past.

However it's an indication that we are getting into the turbulent and unpredictable weather period known here as the 'Short Rains'. Last year at about this time of year a sudden thunderstorm with strong winds blew down some sections of the wall we had just built around our plot. I wonder what treat it will have in store for us this year?

I see that neither North Carolina nor Missouri have called their election result yet. What are they doing? Is it just that nobody cares anymore? Adia has now developed a fascination with the workings of the US political system. I will have a lot of questions to answer.

Yesterday evening we got a chain email to the effect that there was going to be an Obama victory party at one of the local pubs. As your correspondent in Arusha, I felt obliged to go and see. It was basically just a scam to get a few people to come and have a drink there. Contrary to some rumours I've seen on the TV, Africa has not exactly gone wild on the news. But enough of that. Today I must return to normal life and get our electrical system ready to be connected.
5/11/2008 - Political Comment.

I got a long response from my ex wife Lynn in New Jersey today, who is a registered independent, that was written before the election result was known. It contained the wonderful extract "the possibility that someone of McCain's age could die and leave us 'You betcha - Wink, wink' Sarah Palin in the White House makes my hair stand on end".

Missouri and North Carolina both still seem to be holding out. I guess the workers decided that going home for the night and getting some sleep was a viable option.

The Obama family in a famous moment.

5/11/2008 - An American Dream Come True.

There were many moving images in the CNN coverage of US election night that Adia and I watched in the early hours of this morning. I wish I had the appropriate frames for the four I will pick out:
  • 1) Jesse Jackson in tears among the crowd gathered in Chicago,
  • 2) The skinhead child sleeping with his head on the shoulder of his grim-faced skinhead father in despair at McCaine's acceptance of defeat,
  • 3) The numbers and clear joy of the people of all races and ages in the crowd at Chicago,
  • 4) Michelle Obama's kiss on the lips for her husband after his speech.
I've watched a few Democrat presidents in my time, and I have to say that looking at Obama now, he seems to make Bill Clinton and John Kennedy look like amateurs.

Adia's mother's reaction to the result this morning was "the whites will kill him". I sincerely hope she's wrong, and that the far right elements in the US don't get any nasty ideas over the next few months. As far as I can see it was a fair election, and the citizens of the US were very clear in their choice - popular vote and electoral college. I'll eat my words of yesterday, the democratic process is apparently alive and well, and no one should regard himself as being above this process.
4/11/2008 - Standing in Line.

It's US election day, and once again we see the spectre of citizens having to line up for hours to cast their vote. Every voter that is compelled to leave the queue because of work, or family responsibilities, or whatever, skews the result and damages the democratic process.

And this is in the nation that prides itself as being the most technologically advanced in the world. Where is Internet voting, where is voting using your registered mobile number. Where is American creativity in this process.

Here in Tanzania, our helper Amos is glued to his transistor radio, and Adia and I are watching the early polling reports at six thirty in the evening. I think since the influence of the USA on the world economy is what it is, maybe there should be a pseudo-state with some modest number of electoral college votes, where international voters could register their input in the selection of the US president. I'd guess that in this year, such a system would be swamped, as here in Africa at least, Obama has overwhelming and spectacular levels of support among the ordinary people.

It will be two in the morning here when the polls close, and by the time we get up, I expect that the result should be fairly clear, though you never know with the electoral college system.

The house at first November.

Growing pomegranate.

1/11/2008 - Time Marches On.

So what's new and different now it's November. Well, the house is still much the same, though I've made some additions and changes to the electrical system in anticipation of getting connected. The three phases on the poles up our access road are now live, and Adia's mum - Amina - has said she will pay the TANESCO connection charge as her contribution toward our new house. I've been making similar changes in the little house today, as at some point we intend to get a separate supply connected here then we can rent it out as a self-contained unit.

The pomegranates on our little bush that were just tiny bulges at the beginning of October are now filling out well. One branch has far too many on it, but Adia won't let me thin them out. It seems like it will be a productive bush, and I think it is big enough now to survive the puppies.

Hopefully Diwali is now more or less over in India, so there might be some progress there in the coming week. Also, there are only now two more days of the US election campaign to put up with, then we can all breathe a sigh of relief or despair as the case might be.

The pound is still clinging on around my psychologically significant 2000 TS mark. If it goes any lower I shall start to feel poor.

Civil war has broken out again in DRC about 1000km to the WNW of Arusha, and only about 300km from Adia's home town of Bukoba in Kagera west of Lake Victoria. Fortunately for Tanzania, there is no shared border with DRC except for the one running down the centre of Lake Tanganyika, which is wide enough to act as effective isolation.

What I don't understand is the relentless heartlessness of the arms dealers and countries that continue to feed arms and ammunition into conflict in DRC. They've been at each other's throats there since the times I'm writing about in the BEV Retrospective, in the late 50s or early 60s. If one of them is Rwanda, then shame on them after what happened there in the 1990s. Don't people ever learn?

Speaking of the BEV Retrospective, my daughter Rachel phoned me today to say that she had raided her mother's photograph albums (with permission), and is going to send me a bunch of scans relating to the period I'm writing about. I will have to go back and replace some of the pictures of inanimate objects with pictures of people, or just add extra pictures. They'll have to come by snail mail, otherwise I'll have to have one of the generators on for about 24 hours to download them via email.
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