October 2007 in Tanzania through the eyes of an Englishman

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A very large caterpillar.

Meru under cloud from Njiro Road.
31/10/2007 - Equilibrium

No progress on anything really. The Internet connection has not changed in any way. Our search for a building plot is no closer to any resolution. Adia has heard nothing from Dar about her internship. We are in fact spinning our wheels.

After a lot of searching through various intermediaries, we saw two building plots we really liked, and were working out quite decent prices. But then it turned out that the sellers had no title papers, and in all probability did not own the land. This is all too common here.

We were introduced to a couple of night spots, one called Masai Camp, and a night club called the Colobus Club. Masai Camp has a clientele composed largely of muzungus (that's bad swahili for white people - the actual plural is wazungu). I prefer something less biased. Colobus is a dance club, and I'm not much into them these days.

So I'm reduced to a caterpillar and the volcano. The caterpillar was huge - about 80mm long - I presume it must change into a rather large butterfly or moth. It's probably a delicacy, but if so, it was not one Adia was aware of, since it survived our encounter. The volcano looks different every day according to the light and the cloud, and where you view it from. It still gets my attention, and still does not give the impression in a photograph that it does to the naked eye.

The first serious rain.

Via Via - Phillip's birthday party.

21/10/2007 - Sideways Progress

On Monday, after a couple of trips into town to nag them, some lads came late in the day and 'installed' an Internet connection and a TV cable. A lot of noises had been made about cables in this estate having to be underground, and I'd assumed this was why the installation was somewhat expensive. In fact the installation consisted of stringing cables along the top edge of the garden fences from the nearest junction box, about 120m away, in the case of the Internet, and from a point where a number of cables were twisted together in the case of the TV. One of the installers then attempted to get the connection working with my wireless router. We didn't have any success with that. As an alternative, he plugged the raw Internet cable into the back of my laptop, and installed some logon utility that caused my machine to blue-screen a couple of times. To be fair, it was possible to browse web sites, and do FTP at about 4kb/s, but I told him that it would not do. He said I'd have to bring the laptop and router in to the office next day, and someone would show me how to set it up. I uninstalled the software, and my machine mercifully resumed normal operation.

The next day the installation was duly completed. The trick was that I had to use a web utility to log me onto their system rather than the blue-screening software. Of course I hate that. As far as I'm concerned it is not an Internet connection if you have to run anything on your machine to use it. The customer service girl at the office said she would get the bandwidth increased that day. I would have to wait until the boss got back from abroad to do anything about getting rid of the logon software and being able to connect several machines to the router.

I hopefully checked the download speed at intervals during the week, and nagged the office, but it has remained steadfastly nailed to the same bit rate. I also discovered that I could not send email. In line with the general standards of the service, they required me to use their outgoing SMTP server. That works, but it insists that you use SSL, and its certificate has expired, so Thunderbird makes me click OK to a couple of nag dialogs in order to send each email. Of course the system also won't allow VPN - I have to wait for the boss to get back to give permission for that. It does not look promising.

On Wednesday, after a good deal of procrastination (both of us), we settled on a TV. It's a conventional CRT 29" LG, but they've managed to make it reasonably compact and less ugly than average. To get a flat panel LCD TV with the same effective viewing area (without having the picture vertically squashed) we'd have had to pay about four times as much. We figured we could use the money in much better ways.

On Thursday afternoon the sky quite suddenly darkened and dumped a significant amount of rain on the city. The main commercial street - Sokoini Road - was inundated with runoff water from the streets running downhill from the north (Arusha slopes generally downwards from north to south as you get further away from the mountain). There was ensuing traffic chaos for an hour or so. Apparently the short rains are about to start.

On Friday night we decided it was time for our first venture into the world of Arusha restaurants. We went to a mixed cuisine restaurant called Bolata, and tried the Mexican food. Apart from the place being more or less deserted except for us, it was not bad. Adia had chicken fajitas, and I had beef tacos. After we'd eaten, since it was only about nine fifteen, we decided to push our luck and see what was happening at Via Via. As it turned out, it was the proprietors birthday party, and we were invited to join in. There were lashings of food and drink, and a two-man band, so we could have saved ourselves the trouble of the visit to the restaurant. A good time was apparently had by all.

The vegetable market in central Arusha.



One big downstairs room.

Kitchen and dining area.

13/10/2007 - A Mixed Week

Well, we made progress in some respects, but distinctly not in others. We were due to move into the new house on Tuesday evening, and as a result I was increasingly anxious to get some form of transport. I knew that there would be a good deal of fetching and carrying to be done, and could see that it would be unreasonable to bank on Rehema ferrying us about, since we were in effect doing a bunk on her.

So on Monday morning we set of on a short tour of the car dealers in Arusha. There are two kinds, and not many of either. The first kind deal in real new cars, completely out of our price bracket. The second kind deal in imported second-hand cars and indigenous second-hand cars. The Tanzanians make a distinction. If you buy an import, it has to be registered, and is regarded as being a 'new car'. I was not fussy about the distinction. Ali wanted to sell us his Honda CR-V, but I wasn't too sure about it. I suspected that the suspension might be a bit lightweight for African roads, and I'd also heard that Honda spares were difficult to get. In addition to that, it was a 98 model, and only had 36000km on the clock, and I don't believe in miracles.

The first dealer had a fair number of unregistered imports, mostly Toyotas and Suzukis. The Toyotas anywhere near to our price bracket were all RAV4's, and I think they look like toys. The Suzukis were all the familiar Nomade model like Rehema's, which Adia is not keen on. The guy there was helpful though, and told us some other places we could go to look.

At the second place the man - Mohammed - had no actual cars to see, but he said that if we came back in the afternoon, someone would take us to their yard, which was out of ton, and show us what they had. The third place had nothing of interest at all - mostly big expensive things, and not many of those. So we took a break at Via Via, and then in the afternoon we went back to Mohammed, and one of his lads drove us out maybe 10km on the Nairobi road to their compound.

The compound was mostly filled with Scania trucks in various states of dismemberment, but there were some domestic vehicles tucked away in one corner. One of them - an Isuzu Wizard - quite took my fancy. It was a bit bigger than Ali's CR-V, and bigger than the Nomades, and it was a diesel. However it needed quite a bit of work to get it ready for sale, and Mohammed's brother, who was showing us around said it would take at least two weeks to get it registered. We left the yard inconclusively, but outside I noticed that the car Mohammed's brother had come in was the same Isuzu model, so I half jokingly asked how much they wanted for that. The question was taken quite seriously - Mohammed would tell us a price when we got back. So I took a look at it and was quite pleased with what I saw. It was made in 1996, but looked to be in pretty good order, and had about 75000km on the clock, which seemed slightly more believable.

When we got back, Mohammed gave us a ball park price which was a good deal better than Ali's asking price, and said that if we wanted it we could take it away the next day. We said we'd let him know in the morning. After a bit of asking around we determined that Isuzu spares were not bad to get in Arusha, and certainly available in Nairobi, so we decided to go for it.

We went back in the morning with Adia in haggling mode, and she knocked him down by about 800 bucks, and it was a done deal. Of course I have absolutely no idea of what the price should have been, but given the prices at dealer #1, and Ali's asking price, it seemed like a good deal to me, a lot less than we'd have paid for the Honda. Mohammed knows someone at the road traffic office, and is going to get us fixed up with legal licenses on the strength of our British and India drivers licenses respectively after Eid, and in any case I can apparently drive here on my British license. Mohammed fortuitously has an account at Barclays, so were able to go there and transfer the money from Adia's account to his with zero fuss, and then lo and behold, we had wheels and were mobile. The vehicle is christened Potter, since it's a Wizard. We drove to Rehema's shop and I broke the news that we would not be buying Ali's Honda. Fortunately we are still on speaking terms.

Moving into the new house did not go as well. Adia was hell bent on sleeping there that night, so all our stuff was loaded into Potter, and we drove round there after the evening meal. But the house was not up to it. Primarily, it lacked the required complement of window glass. There were several panes missing, crucially one in the main bedroom, so we would have been eaten alive by mosquitos. The place was also still a mess. They'd clearly tried to get it ready as promised, but had not quite made it. We dumped most of the luggage there, then took off back to Rehema's to stay another night.

In the morning we went back to review what still needed to be done, and at that point I noticed that there was in fact no Internet connection. This despite the fact that I had stressed repeatedly that this was just about the most important thing from my point of view. I didn't care too much when we moved in, as long as I could go there and work. The man apologized and said he would get on to the cable provider immediately to get it done, then we left before I had chance to say anything I would regret. We took Potter for his inaugural wash. The guy who did it took three hours. Top to bottom, inside and out, engine wash, new car spray, the works - afterwards he looked like a different vehicle.

In the afternoon we went shopping for stuff we'd need for the house, and that night we did in fact succeed in sleeping there. The place reminds me of the council house in Abingdon where I lived with my first wife Elaine when I was 20 - many years ago. It's not special, but it's OK, it's furnished, the rent is reasonable, and for the six months or so we think we will be here it will do fine.

It's Saturday now, and unsurprisingly I still don't have the Internet connection, though the woman at the cable company said they would do it yesterday afternoon if they could, or failing that, definitely the next day. I suspect she may have neglected the fact that it was Friday, and I'll be surprised if anything is done before Monday, by which time they'll probably have forgotten - aargh! New York are waiting very patiently for me to get back on line, but I don't suppose they will wait forever. At least it is Eid today, so tomorrow Ramadan will be over, and life as I know it may I hope resume.

Road improvements.

Unknown bird stalking small prey.

6/10/2007 - Little Steps

Adia returned from Dar late Wednesday evening clutching a big plastic bag containing things she'd bought for our transfer to the new house next week. Her trip had been generally a let-down. Not only had she made little progress on the internship front, but also her brother, and his friend Musassa, both of whom we thought were reasonably reliable, had both asked Adia for money. In a way I don't blame them - we wazungu (that's white men - singular is mzungu) - are reputed to have infinite amounts of money, so I figure they think there's no harm in asking. However, this mzungu doesn't, and has a very strict budget for the little he has that does not include funding other peoples business ventures.

We accomplished little else during the remainder of the week. We did find the equivalent of the borough surveyor at the municipal buildings, and Adia managed to get a word with him on Friday evening. She asked him about several plots of land that are on our would-like-to-buy list, and he said he would look into them and let us know next week if he could determine their ownership.

The piles of volcanic rubble that had been dumped on the road down to Rehema's house were attacked by a work gang with a road plane and a vibrating roller late in the week. They left the road in a much improved state, and we now wait in anticipation of the rumoured tarmac. I am not holding my breath, and my personal preference would be that they wait a few months before doing that. If the road gets surfaced, the price of adjacent plots will inevitably go up, and several of those we are interested in are linked to this road.

I saw the bird while making a tour of favourite plots. It was clearly stalking something, holding itself at full height, and moving its head from side to side, then taking a couple of very quiet careful steps. It succeeded, and a couple of minutes after this shot, some small rodent met its end and was swallowed whole.

Instant mud.

The staff at Via Via.

3/10/2007 - Kicking my Heels

Adia duly departed on Monday morning. I was not impressed with the arrangements. It was hardly what I would describe as proper goodbye for a couple when one of them was leaving to fly off somewhere for an unknown length of time. This of course, was a part of the Ramadan effect. If it had been the real thing she'd have had to have washed her hair in the morning, but she thought she'd be pushed for time to do that. Then of course by the time she left she'd already said her morning prayers and thus begun her fasting, so she was not inclined to kiss me goodbye. What indoctrination can do to people!

My left ear has been in a variable state since my little brush with whatever it was on Friday/Saturday. Sometimes I can hear OK on that side, and other times it's reduced as compared to the right ear. I think there is some crap in the Eustachian tube on that side, and I should go and see an ENT person, but if I go by myself, the white face effect will probably set in, and I'll be charged the earth. So I'll wait until Adia gets back to exert a moderating influence, which should be this evening.

I've had nothing to do, and have consequently been somewhat grumpy. I can't explore much because I'm trying to give the sprained foot a chance to recover. The blue bruising has faded away now, but it's still stiff to walk on, so I'm hobbling about like an old man.

This morning it rained gently for a couple of hours first thing in the morning. It was not enough to have any significant agricultural effect, but it did slightly illustrate what happens to the dirt roads here when it rains seriously. The surface was converted to a slick of sticky mud that sticks to your boots like shit to a blanket and makes them weigh a ton. The irregular lumps weren't good for walking on the sprained foot either. You can imagine with awe what it's going to be like when it is 150 - 300mm deep!

I've been spending the middle part of the day at Via Via, a bar/restaurant that is located near to the conference centre, and which consequently acquires a somewhat cosmopolitan population at lunchtime. If you're visiting Arusha you should certainly drop in there. The staff here are friendly and good to look at. The picture is a placeholder. Getting them all together at the same time is like herding cats, and in this case when I did the picture was somewhat washed out by excessively bright sunshine in the background. I'll get a decent one in time and replace it. From left to right, there's Gladys, Zainab, Ombeni, Dina, Pendo, and Aziz.

There's a small table by the shady end of the bar, and there's a socket just behind the bar at that end, and there's pleasant African and other music, and the girls look after me. If the Celtel modem had a decent connection speed I could work here! The rent is modest - a sandwich at lunchtime, and a bottle of Kili every hour or so. I can certainly write here, and that's a fair proportion of what I do.

Adia's trip to Dar appears to have been something of a waste of time. Apparently the system of internships has been dropped this year, and returning students are required to do a masters course at the new National Law School. This would be fine except for the fact that the National Law School does not yet exist, and is not expected to do so until next year. So the students this year have to sit on their hands for a year. She will try to work an internship of some sort, but may end up having to find some unrelated job for a year. On the positive side, the boss boss at R2K emailed me today to say that we should talk about how some working arrangements can be reached with me here in Tanzania, so maybe there's still some chance of getting that arrangement back on track when we move to the new house. We will see.
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