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November 2010 in Tanzania through the eyes of an Englishman

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First Ripe Fig.

30/11/2010 - Then Internet Woes.

OK, so it's not really Nov 30th, but I should make a quick note of my communications blackout since the 25th.

First it was absence of power, but that has improved somewhat since. I think they must have got the gas turbine plant in Dar up to full output again.

But then on the 27th, our Internet connection stopped working. I thought at first they had simply cut me off early at the end of the month to say "Pay yer bastard", but it wasn't that. Recently they've switched to a fiber optic connection provided by one of the mobile phone companies - Zantel (a part of the Etisalat group).

Apparently the latter had managed to hand out the same account number or maybe IP address to two clients. As a result, IP packets sent through one provider could be returned to the other one, and vice versa. The net effect was that it was possible to reach some Internet addresses, but only a minority of them. was in the unreachable category, so I could not get my email or update the site.

This morning it is back, so now I can do the switch over to December.

The fig was delicious, but would have been even more so if it had been left on the tree until it just started to split. I will have to find a way to deter the ants from eating them before me!

Needless to say, as I went to upload this, the power went out, so I've put the generator on for five minutes.

No Power.

25/11/2010 - Electricity Supply Woes.

Three successive days now, no power during the day. It seems also that it isn't just us, but possibly the whole of a major city. Word is that it's bad in Dar too. I don't know about Mwanza.

Strangely though, taking a quick scan over the Tanzanian news media web pages this morning, I did not find a single news source that had anything to say on the subject!

So if you don't hear from me for a while, that'll be why. I have to reserve the generator for emergencies, since it is close to dropping to pieces already.

Bad bird pictures 1.

Bad bird pictures 2.

23/11/2010 - I Love This Place.

The bird pictures are really not much to do with the rest of the post. I wanted to show you them, crap as they are, because they are just one little indication of how life here is different.

Things don't work here all of the time. I started work on 1974 at about 6:45 this morning. These days I can't stay in bed after the sun is up, unless I'm on a promise. After a couple of hours, the power went off.

I had an excuse to turn the generator on - Ali the tiler was there and needed to cut a hard tile with his diamond wheel saw. So I rode on the excuse, made some sautéed tomatoes and frankfurters, and toast from the generator. Much nicer than ordinary toast!

After that I had to be ingenious, and find things to do that did not need electricity, in my case, no mean feat!

Everybody else managed perfectly well. Adia could talk on the phone, since her batteries were pretty well charged (the phone's batteries too). Innocent and his lads can mix mortar and lay blocks perfectly well without power, and the compound staff can get by without a radio to listen to for a few hours, or choose to use it on batteries.

I got by until about four in the afternoon without being idle, and then the power returned, so I spent another hour working on bits for the next chair. I still don't have a modified steel frame for chair six, So the big table won't get that until at least Thursday.

But not being head down made me look at things. Kilimanjaro was visible on and off throughout the day. Meru was clear and calm. My lovely wife was on top form, getting people to do things and washing the dogs. I got my smoothing plane pretty sharp with an Indian blade. I fine-sanded the bits of chair 6, and rubbed them over with linseed oil so they are now completely ready to go. I checked out a steel door we had left over from the Old Cottage, and determined that it would work for the new helper dormitory. We're spending money like it's going out of fashion on the tiling and the dormitory, but I believe we'll get by without being in debt.

It really is a pity that I never found a way to organize a life like this until I was old enough so I'm looking at it like it was somebody else's home movie. But I love this place. You'd need to see it and feel it to understand.

Back home.

22/11/2010 - I No Longer Hate Mondays!

This just dawned on me. For fifty odd years, it was a habit - Monday morning, end of the dream, back to work, and so on. But now I find there's nothing bad about Monday. The exchange rates system starts working again, having gone into limbo during the weekend. My readers who look at BEV from their computer at work hopefully come back again. The fundis who took time of for the weekend come back and get on with the job.

For my part, in terms of work - whatever that might mean these days - I work at a pretty constant pace, doing whatever I'm doing every day. There's nobody pushing me except myself. At the same time, I still welcome Friday, because it's chicken and chips night. Are my horizons shrinking I ask myself?

Over time, BEV will become a record of the descent into old age and senility. At some point it will disappear, because I won't remember what it is any more, let alone remembering how to update it. But until then, it should serve as a journal of the ageing process, so little details like Monday morning are possibly quite important.

As you'll see from the picture, my frog/toad has returned to his/her plant pot. Maybe he'll be stranded here, since when I tried to take the first picture, I got the camera settings wrong, and the flash went off about three inches from his eyes. I hope that did not do any permanent damage.

My little point-and-click camera is really not the ideal device for taking pictures of this kind. Actually it's difficult to imagine what would be for that particular purpose. The picture you see was obtained with the aid of a rechargeable emergency light with fluorescent tubes, the camera set to macro, and with flash turned off. He's not really the sickly green colour you see - more yellowish actually.

I have some equally bad, but interesting, bird pictures taken with the camera at its limits too, but they'll have to wait for another post, since they'd violate my unofficial 'one post, no scroll' policy.

I have now got my software for viewing things with commercial value as far down the road as I can reasonably go without further potential customer input. I have a proper Windows install program, and the micro web server that will decrypt and display content. It's not exciting, but it seems to work pretty well. So if you have information that you want to publish on a single-user paid per install basis, get in touch.

I was hoping to get another dining chair more or less completed today, but the metal frames turned up with back cross-pieces that were not the required width. Adia had told the fundi that she'd call and confirm the measurements, but she forgot, and the fundi made them the same as the sample that we take him. I'll have to get the sample modified. He'll cut them off and replace them tomorrow, so maybe by Wednesday we'll have six chairs that can be arranged around the table symmetrically. At the moment, there's one remaining white plastic chair that is now a real eyesore.

Another chair.

Last tiles.

19/11/2010 - Late but not Never.

I've had my head inside a computer monitor again for several days. One of our guests from the Esami college was a lawyer, and he has got together some sort of collection of Tanzanian law transcripts that he wants to make into a CD that is copy protected to some extent. He's trying to persuade me to do the necessary software development. I have ideas about how this can be done, and I thought I had some of the bits already written that I might need. I made a tiny web server quite quickly, and some software for encrypting and decrypting HTML files. So I can now display the content of encrypted files from a local disk in a web browser.

I thought I already had a framework for a windows service to contain the tiny web server, but the D programming language has changed quite a bit since I wrote it, and it was completely broken. The gory details will appear on the software page in due course.

We seem to have got out of order in the development sequence for the new helper dormitory. Adia has the tiler here today putting down floor tiles in Zai's room, but Innocent has not yet come to make a start on the foundations for the new building. The cart is before the horse. I suppose that if push comes to shove, and the guest room is finished and required before the new building is finished, we'll have to move Zai to the kitchen store room temporarily. She's quite philosophical about things like that.

During the occasional breaks when I extracted my head from the computer, I managed to get the last chair in the current batch finished. Now I need three more frames and another piece of 8x1 mninga, and more leather. When they're all finished, I think the big red table is going to look quite impressive.

My toad or whatever, who wandered off in the heavy rain, has not returned. I hope he has not come to grief somewhere. Not that there's any point in worrying.

Adia has just pointed out to me that it is Friday already. Since we are not busy with guests, we can go to Boogaloo for chicken and chips tonight. Last weekend we went to the Chinese on the Saturday night, so by now I'm suffering from a deprivation syndrome. I'm looking forward to tonight.

Another Huge Red Snapper.

15/11/2010 - Situation Report.

So, what's up? Fairly quiet really - but for what it's worth here it is.

Harry brought another huge Red Snapper yesterday. He knows a fishmonger, and he always lets Harry know when there is new stock. This one is as long as the big one before, but fatter. How Adia got it into one or more of our freezer compartments, I don't know. Fortunately, Red Snapper is not a fish that seems to get tougher and less tasty as it gets bigger.

The short rains, which are supposed to happen in November/December, seem now to have set in. For a few days there have been sudden quite heavy but very short showers. But today it rained quite hard for maybe 20 minutes. It will be interesting to see how the new car park surface fares, and even more interesting to see what heavy rain does to our road to Njiro. A part of this had turned into a dust bowl, which will probably wash away quite quickly.

I had initially got the steel frames for five dining chairs made. I asked for four, and got another one because the fundi had the required material left over, and the time available. I am working on the last one now, and that chair should be ready by the day after tomorrow. After that, for my initial target I would have got three more made, but with the occupancy we've seen this last couple of weeks, I'd better make that another five. The table will seat ten without being unduly squashed.

The crowd of guests we had has departed now though, so we are back to almost empty. I can see that being permanently full is going to be quite a clever trick to achieve.

It's raining quite heavily again now. The toad or frog that lives in one of our plant pots on the veranda was attracted out by the rain. He hopped away into the wet before I had chance to get the camera.

We have decided that our next project will be an extension on to the end of my workshop for Zai, and potentially another girl to sleep in. Zai currently uses a room in the house that we need to turn into another guest room. Our builder Innocent will be starting that on Wednesday.

We may already have the other girl. One from the village has done work for us before, and has been coming regularly while we were full. She - 'Fina', probably Josephine or similar - and Zai seem to get on very well, and she's a good worker. We will see.

The puppies anxious to know about 1973.

13/11/2010 - Another Year Finished.

I have just posted 1973. It was a huge year, both historically, in terms of my personal life, and in terms of music, film, etc. Undoubtedly I will have made mistakes that I'll need to correct, and there may be some links still missing. But it is largely done.

Unfortunately my temperament is such that once I have started on something like this, I feel under extraordinary pressure to finish it. 1973 has taken the best part of four days, working quite long hours.

What else? Well the bunch of guests who have been staying have finished their Esami course, so from completely full, we have now reverted to almost empty. We were promised that there were other mature students who were anxious to take their places, but there has been no indication of that so far. There's a possibility of some Mzungu volunteers turning up in a couple of days, but I'll believe that when I see it.

Since Adia has been busy in the evenings feeding hungry men, we missed our Friday chicken and chips this week. We will be eating out tonight instead.

That's just the way it is.

9/11/2010 - Civil Rights in Africa.

I was talking to a couple of lads from the Esami college this evening about the general political situation in Tanzania, and in Africa as a whole. At some point, the answer to one of my questions was extremely close to "That's just the way it is!".

Bruce Hornsby's song leapt into my mind, and it suddenly dawned on me that what Africa needs is a broad fronted civil rights movement. It's no use taking the "Things will never change" attitude, in fact doing so is a guarantee that they never will. People need to use the courts, and their country's constitution to challenge the ways that governments and their employees behave.

Doing this in just one country is asking for failure. It is too easy for governments to snuff out small scale dissent. It needs to happen everywhere.

I have, I hope, sent an email to Bruce Hornsby asking if there's any way he can make the backing track available so that local artists in different countries can graft lyrics onto it. It's a great backing - Hornsby's piano playing is very distinctive - and it's a good speed rhythm wise. Just a rap over it would work fine! With words people can understand and relate to, I can't see why it would not be a hit in Africa.

My head is full of crazy ideas - that's just the way it is.

Obama in India.

8/11/2010 - What Does the US Expect from India?

President Obama declared to the Indian Parliament that he was anxious, or willing, to see India as a member of the UN Security Council. Well that's nice of him, but I'm not sure how much ice it will cut in India. Basically he's saying that the US is prepared to accept the facts of life as they are - the big growing powers are China (already on the Security Council), India, and Brazil. He is saying that the US won't veto such a suggestion with respect to India, but what guarantee is that? There are those who might, and the US has little leverage over them.

In return, Obama is basically asking India to open the gates for US companies to flood into India to take over the retail and insurance sectors, or more.

From my small experience in India, I'd say that this is not likely to fly. Sure, the Indian government might make noises about such 'foreign investment' being OK. But the bureaucratic rules that make the flood difficult will remain in place. To remove them you have to have the backing of Indian parliamentarians, and that's not going to happen quickly.

The parliament's voters are looking at the successes of companies like Tata and Arcelor Mittal, and thinking the other way round. "Why don't we go and take over their economy, rather than let them take over ours?" India managed to exist for years in the wilderness when the major powers chose to just observe it, except when it suited their purposes. India now has a much higher growth rate than those powers, so all it has to do is wait. Indian culture is such that its people are very good at doing that - you wait for a job, marriage, promotion, respect, and so on for as long as it takes.

So Wallmart, Tesco, AIG, and so on, don't hold your breath. Be patient, the Indian bid to take you over will arrive in due course if the Chinese don't get there first.

The RCD.

8/11/2010 - RCD Trips Culprit?

Throughout the day yesterday, we were plagued by nuisance tripping of the House's main RCD (Earth Leakage Breaker). As before, this seemed to coincide with the use of the building block making machine further up our supply spur.

At one point, I gave up. Resetting the breaker worked for 2 minutes until they used the machine again. So I physically turned the computer off (it remembers that it was on), and went to my workshop to see it there was anything useful I could do toward the dining chairs without an electricity supply. I checked periodically by switching on the electric drill. Strangely, there was no further power interruption.

After a while it dawned on me that the computer power supply probably has some rudimentary overvoltage protection. If the voltage exceeds some safe maximum, there is probably some semiconductor device that triggers, and prevent the high voltage from reaching sensitive parts. It may do this by simply diverting current through a resistor to earth, and if it does that, it will be causing an earth-leakage current that will trip the breaker. Voltage spikes were either being generated by the three-phase machine connected at the end of our spur, or by general system instability.

I put a voltage guard between the supply and the computer, and lo-and-behold, with the computer on, No more trips, though they continued to make blocks.

Just to ruin all my theories, later in the day we lost power from outside. Since one of our guests is a fairly senior Tanesco manager, we managed to get an emergency team to come out and look at the situation.

The power is back now. They said there was a loose nut on one of the phases coming out of the transformer. I haven't yet figured out how this would effect my theories. If the power stays on, I probably never will!

However, if you find yourself with a similar problem, this notion might help.

6/11/2010 - Electrical Instability and a Recipe.

Our earth leakage breaker has been tripping frequently this morning. Since our inverter fried, I have been using my principal machine connected directly to the mains - very stupid of me really. I should get my hand down and buy a new one - I've got the battery charger and a big battery. So trips of this sort are very annoying.

I have two suspicions as to the cause today. First, I think the supply situation is somewhat flaky at the moment, and there may be spikes that can cause sufficient earth leakage current. Second, they were using a concrete block making machine this morning somewhere further up the line that feeds our house. They've stopped now, and the breaker has not tripped for some time, so it could well have been them. There could be some sort of earthing related problem.

Peppery Sautéed Tomatoes.

Anyway, to proceed to my real topic, It occurred to me that I have not described what has become one of my favourite breakfast dishes. It is quick to make, and very tasty. Breakfast for two needs:
  • 6 good size tomatoes,
  • 2 long frankfurters,
  • Bread for toast, and butter or margarine,
  • Salt, pepper and olive oil.
It's a good way of using up tomatoes that are past their best. Search your collection for ones that have gone a bit soft, or have blemishes. Then wash them and cut off any unwanted bits. Cut the remaining good parts into four to six pieces depending on the size of the tomato.

Put a good sized splurge of olive oil (maybe 2 tablespoons) into the bottom of a deep frying pan, and dump the tomatoes on top. Then apply the pepper - somewhere between one third and one half of a teaspoon full should be about right - sprinkled evenly around, and also apply salt quite generously - tomatoes need salt.

Start cooking them on a high burner, stirring occasionally to avoid them sticking to the pan. As soon as you have them cooking, add a couple of long frankfurters in a valley down the middle of the tomatoes. When the tomatoes start to disintegrate, turn down the heat, and go and make some toast.

By the time you've done that, the tomatoes should be quite soft - Adia likes them almost fully disintegrated, so she usually cooks her share for longer then mine. Anyway, spoon some of the tomatoes and your share of the frankfurters onto a plate, and eat them with the buttered toast, forking pieces onto a corner of the toast, and then biting the corner off. Eat the sausage with the soupy residue.

If you don't already do this, try it - very cheap and tasty.

If all else fails.

5/11/2010 - Soon Forgotten.

If the Tanzanian government was stalling over the election, it did a damn good job. Arusha, which is the country's 3rd largest city, had finished its vote counting by Monday morning, that's 1/11/2010. Presumably, smaller constituencies could have managed to count in a similar length of time.

Eventually, this afternoon, a result was quietly announced. The ruling party has won, with no great losses to the opposition. Plus ca change, plus le meme chose. I shall shut my mouth, since as a foreigner I can easily be kicked out. Coincidentally, it is time for renewal of my residence permit anyway - so no boat rocking.

I have been teaching myself about Search Engine Optimization - SEO. How organizations like Google see your web site, and how they use the information that they see. They don't look at the site using a web browser. They have computer programs that download the HTML of your web site, analyse it, and save the results in a database. The parts of the your page that they look at, according to the Google documentation, include:

  • The web page title,
  • Meta information tags that provide a description of the site, and a list of key words or phrases,
  • The links on your pages to other pages on your site,
  • Links on your pages to other sites.
In their database, they can also look up any other sites that refer to yours. There's a thriving industry devoted to the contrived creation of such links. There's more, but that's the guts of it.

So I decided to write a little program to do the same sort of thing, so I could see how my site looked from the viewpoint of a web crawler - spiders-eye-view, you might say. Of course, deciding to write a little program never ends up that way. I have been fighting with it for three days, and been through four working iterations to arrive at something I was half happy with. You will be able to see the gory details on the software blog page in due course.

Hopefully, you can see the result of my efforts by clicking the 'Site Map' item on the current menu bar. I moved the 'Contact' item elsewhere, since it seemed to me that nobody ever used it. The site map list is clickable, so you can now reach every part of the site to which some obscure reference exists. This page is not what you'd call beautiful, since it is computer generated, and refining it was not high on my priority list.

At first, the result was terrible - hardly any information at all, so I had to go though a large number of pages to add the required meta-information, and I still have some to do. I was reminded of some parts of the web site that I had essentially forgotten, so there will be a lot of tidying up to be done there too.

When I've finished, I can submit a site map to Google, and hopefully their spider will visit me again, getting more relevant information in the process.

Boring recitation.

3/11/2010 - Long Drawn Out Election.

We're not much wiser now than we were on Monday. All you can see on the TV are election authority - NEC - people reading out lists of results, and making very slow progress through the constituencies. There are no pie charts, no lists, and no estimates of the result. The Internet is similarly devoid of information.

Several regional newspapers are reporting that the numbers being published in this way bear no relationship to the numbers that the candidates signed off to in the constituencies. So there's a strong possibility that the incumbent government has decided to overrule the actual results of the election.

This would account for the time wasting. In a few days people will become depressed and the "you can't fight the system" attitude will prevail. I just hope that the foreign election observers who are here are doing a decent job so that they can comment on the accusations being made by the opposition parties.

All of this is, of course, complete speculation, but in the absence of reliable information, what's a blogger to do?

The guest wing.

The fist fig.

1/11/2010 - November.

I'm really not that much wiser about the result of the Tanzanian election. It is not like in the UK or the US where if you stay up and watch the TV until three in the morning you'll have a pretty good idea of the outcome.

For example, the Arusha MP result was counted by early this morning, but the CCM candidate - a minister in the current government - refused to sign off on the result, since she was losing. Presumably she needed time to consult with the party bosses. It seems they could not come up with a solution for her, since at about five in the evening, she signed up, and it was announced that Arusha had gone to CHADEMA.

There is now a discernible pattern. The bigger cities are going to CHADEMA, but the smaller country constituencies are sticking with CCM. The overall result is still far from clear, with nothing being announced about the relative votes for the Presidency as yet.

However, I think it is fair to assume that Arusha will be excited but peaceful tonight. If the result had been announced the other way round, I think there would have been blood on the streets.

Maybe by tomorrow evening we'll have a clearer idea of the overall outcome. However that comes out, CCM will have either suffered a devastating loss, or will have received a strong wake-up call. Unfortunately, in the latter case, that will give them some years to come up with a foolproof scheme to get elected again, and that could leave us living in a police state. After all their years in power, the top brass of CCM really don't want to get investigated for their past behaviour by a new and zealous government.

My inability to understand enough Swahili to take in the TV broadcasts made for a frustrating day. At the same time, various defects were reported in the Old Cottage and elsewhere that I had to attend to. During all this I was trying to create a simple web crawler to try to understand how the BEV web site pages look to Google or Yahoo. This proved to be a relatively complex task, which should keep me busy for several days. It has already caused me to make changes, so if the site is broken, please bear with me.

I apologize for the fact that the pictures here bear little relationship to what I've written. Even if there had been blood on the streets, Adia would not have allowed me out of the village to take pictures of it. version 3.0
If you can see this, you probably have JavaScript disabled, and BEV 3 will not work as designed."

Squash This List

Check out the BEV retrospective
currently covering 1942 - 1973.

1974 is WIP (work-in-progress).

What is BEV?

Brits Eye View is the personal blog of a 68 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 1972. For the years 2003 - 2010, choose a year/month from the tool bar. For 1942 - 1972, choose a year.

Visiting Tanzania?

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

You can 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 $15 to $20 per night. The 'Old Cottage' is also now available for longer term visitors.

This Month's Posts

If there's something particular you'd like to go back to, just click it here

Top 20 BEV Pages.

Exchange Rates.

BEV Software Blog.

There are a couple of new items described on the current software blog post. The first is a site mapping script in PHP - this is what provides the new 'Site map' item on the BEV main menu.

There's also a rather convenient page that provides for translation of 'difficult' characters in computer code so that the result can be safely used in a web page.

Moods of Meru.

Mt Meru

On fire.

Random BEV Poem.

60 Years Ago - Hits of the Month.

US Billboard #1

- Phil Harris: The Thing

- Patti Page: The Tennessee Waltz

50 Years Ago - Hits of the Month.

US Billboard #1

- Ray Charles: Georgia On My Mind

- Maurice Williams & The Zodiacs: Stay

- Elvis Presley: Are You Lonesome Tonight? (comic version here)

UK Chart number 1

- Johnny Tillotson: Poetry In Motion

40 Years Ago - Hits of the Month.

US Billboard #1

- The Jackson 5: I'll Be There

- The Partridge Family: I Think I Love You

UK Chart number 1

- Jimi Hendrix Experience: Voodoo Chile

- Dave Edmunds: I Hear You Knocking

30 Years Ago - Hits of the Month.

US Billboard #1

- Kenny Rogers: Lady

- John Lennon: Starting Over

UK Chart number 1

- Blondie: The Tide is High

- ABBA: Super Trouper

20 Years Ago - Hits of the Month.

US Billboard #1

- Vanilla Ice: Ice Ice Baby

- Mariah Carey: Love Takes Time

10 Years Ago - Hits of the Month.

US Billboard #1

- Christina Aguilera: Come on Over

- Creed: With Arms Wide Open

- Destiny's Child: Independent Women Part 1

UK Chart number 1

- Spice Girls: Holler

- Westlife: My Love

- A1: Same Old Brand New U

- LeAnne Rimes (fragment only)

Contact BEV.

If you want to get in touch outside the built-in comment system, email Steve Teale.