October 2008 in Tanzania through the eyes of an Englishman

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The BEV Retrospective - 1942/2002.

There was life before britseyeview.com. 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 1963.


30/10/2008 - It Happened.

Three houses in the village now have electricity. The transformer was installed and the hook-up to the 33kV supply was made yesterday so that those whose electrical installations were complete became connected.

I'm still on hold with the house, so we'll have to soldier on with Pig, the generator, for a while. Unfortunately he is now starting to make ominous rattling noises again, so whether or not he'll survive is a moot point at this stage.

We took Cali to see the vet yesterday, and it turned out she'd been bitten by some small snake, or by a scorpion. She got a shot of antibiotic and anti-inflammatory for about $9, and today she appears to be back to normal.

I had an email from my son Richard today which among other things related the tale of his cat's recent visit to the vet following a road accident - $1400 at the current GBP exchange rate. I must impress this on Cali, and make sure she understands that if she comes home with that sort of damage, she's a gonner.

Porsche badge.

29/10/2008 - Tickled Again.

It looks as if the German car company Porsche has had a big spree at the expense of the hedge funds of the world. I quote from the BBC Business News:

"What is upsetting the hedge funds is that if between 10% and 15% of VW shares were on loan to be shorted and only just over 5% were available in the market, it is likely that many of the funds that shorted VW had [unknowingly - my interpretation] borrowed the shares from Porsche.

It meant that because Porsche had not declared the proportion of VW shares it controlled, traders may have been indirectly and inadvertently borrowing shares from Porsche, selling them to Porsche, buying them back from Porsche and then returning them to Porsche."

As I understand them, hedge funds are rather similar to bookies, except that they think of the bets - which can be as destructive as they like, and as the law allows - and then they sell the idea to greedy investors who actually pay for a share of the gamble.
Apparently everything that Porsche have done is quite legal in Germany, so it appears that the hedge funds have been, to use a very old expression, "hoist by their own petard". Good on you Porsche!

Porsche owns most of Volkswagen which owns Audi - Vorsprung durch Technik!
29/10/2008 - Too Soft.

Thinking about it, I was far too soft on McCaine when I wrote this morning. I'm 66 years old, only four years younger than him, so I have some experience of life too. Here's my bit for Obama in this crucial last week.

When you get to my age, you can feel that your body is gradually letting you down, and I've no reason to suppose that your brain does any better, or that McCaine does that much better than me. So my point number one is that McCaine is just too old. Can you look at that turtle neck for four years, or for however long he lasts? Which random bodily disfunction is going to catch up with him during the next four years. I certainly don't expect to get away scot free. We all see the effects of the presidency on those who have suffered it. Would any man in his right mind consider that level of stress at his age? Is it fair for him to put personal ambition above the wellbeing of his country.

Second is the old adage, and similar argument, than old men are dangerous, because they don't really care what happens to the world. Their time is gone. With the best will in the world, how can an old man be better for your country, or for the world, than a competent younger man who has more at stake. Old men also get very set in their ways, which is not conducive to problem solving.

Third, he constantly harps on about his experience. In my experience, the people who are effective in life are those who re-educate themselves at least every five years. So quoting where you were during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 doesn't really mean much. What are his achievements is a more important question, and you don't hear him talking much about those. It's true that those who ignore history are bound to repeat mistakes that were made in the past, but you don't need to be old to have an appreciation of history.

Fourth, what is this constant harping on about taxes? As I understand it, the President does not set taxation rates, he simply suggests them to Congress. The members of Congress have plenty of pressure on them when it comes to the determination of budgets and taxation levels, so the issue of taxation should not be a primary one in the context of a Presidential election. Taxation gets looked after by the legislature.

Fifth, what is the nature of the fear about the 'Socialism' word. Socialism doesn't mean communism. In most democratic countries these days it means a political attitude that is just slightly to the left of 'Conservatism'. The USA prides itself on being the great example of democracy, but it almost seems that US democracy should only consider government options that are to the right of center. Please let the people decide - that's democracy - without branding them as heretics.

I could go on, but I'm hungry, a sensation I suspect a lot of people will feel if McCain gets elected.

Not a cloud.

29/10/2008 - Breaking Point.

It's going to be dangerous sunshine day today. When I got up, there was not a cloud in the sky, and there are only a few wisps now. But since I just posted the stuff for 1962, I feel like getting out of the house, so I'll just have to take a bath in sun block.

Cali the cat has got herself into some sort of scrape again. She has a wound on her left rear leg, and swelling, so it's off to the vet again. The dogs went last week, for rabies booster shots, a puppy contraceptive shot for Gretel, and Frontline to keep the fleas and ticks at bay. That cost an arm and a leg, and today there will be more - at least an antibiotic shot. Ah well!

I would not change places with Barack Obama or John McCaine this week. The stress in the last few days of the US election campaign must be unbearable. Like many of the commentators I have this vision of Obama's lead withering away in these last few days, or on polling day when a lot of people realize that they can't actually bring themselves to vote for a black president.

I hope that doesn't happen. I don't think I can stomach McCaine - he's too old, older than me, and I know that by my age you get set in your ways and stubborn, and I don't think we need that at this point in time. Also if he snuffs it in office, then we'll get Palin, and I don't think that's a good idea either - aargh!
On the brighter side, the pound rose by a gnats cock today, and might do so a little more if the Fed cuts the US interest rate again. Well that's the traditional expectation, but these days, who can say?

23/10/2008 - Quietly Put Away?

I notice that the story about Afghan student Sayed Pervez Kambakhsh has now slipped away from the news pages. This is the student who was under a death sentence for downloading and distributing information about womens rights in Islam from the Internet. His sentence was commuted to 20 years imprisonment.

So the pressure is presumably now off the Afghan authorities, and quite possibly the man will go to jail for 20 years.

To my mind, this is something that the governments in the west must take seriously. If we support this elsewhere - and we are supporting it, we have troops in Afghanistan supporting the government there, then what does it say about the importance our governments attach to our civil rights. Are they just a matter of political convenience, or do we really believe in sexual equality, free speech, freedom of religion, and an opposition to tyranny.

It's quite possible that if we withdrew our support for governments that tolerate this sort of thing, things might get worse for us. We certainly might be subject to more terrorist attacks, and so on. So are we now feeble wimps, who will just roll over for any external power that threatens to make life difficult. Don't decent human values mean anything to us anymore? Have we forgotten history, as in the rise of Hitler's third Reich? This business of "we should accept their cultural values" is equivalent to Chamberlains deal that was to ensure "peace in our time". What price the lives of millions who died supporting our values in WW2.

OK, so I'm ranting about this. Am I the only one who thinks there's something going wrong here?

23/10/2008 - Pound v. Dollar.

The pound continues to tank against the dollar. Fortunately for me, so does the Tanzanian Shilling, so the pound is still just keeping its head above the Ts 2000 mark.

At the same time, the falling oil price is showing through at the pumps. When I bought diesel for Pig yesterday it was Ts 1770/litre. Other indicator prices such as beer and bread have so far remained steady.

This week I'm working on getting the electrical wiring to the point where Tanesco will be able to connect to it. Today I have to install appropriate earthing rods.

The puppies, now seven months old.

Headbutting again.

22/10/2008 - Impossible Subjects.

The dogs are very difficult to get pictures of. They are never still, and have no notion of the concept of posing. Nonetheless, I thought it was time they had their pictures on BEV, for the record. So here's the best of a bad bunch of about ten shots. Getting both at the same time proved impossible.

I forgot to mention, as I do when it's anything to do with personal health, that I attempted to break something with my head again on Monday. Occasionally of late, and I have not pinned down the circumstances, if I have been sitting down for some time, or lying down, and then I suddenly get up, I get light headed and dizzy. Maybe I need to stop taking the high blood pressure medication. Maybe even I should see a doctor.

Anyway it happened on Monday, and this time I actually lost my balance and banged my head against the edge of the bedroom door. In the process I destroyed my favourite pair of graduated bifocal photochromic glasses.

Yes, I know, I should see a doctor.
22/10/2008 - Tickled but Sceptical.

I am definitely tickled by the BHA/Richard Dawkins campaign to advertise atheism on the sides of buses. However, I'm not completely sure the thinking is correct.

One of my principle gripes about religions is that they all seem to see it as their god given right to attempt to coerce others - particularly children - into sharing their belief. They preach. I think we atheists have to be careful not to go down that path.

We'd like others to be atheists, because we think this would make the world a better and happier place, but maybe we just have to be patient. Let's face it though, that doesn't seem like a very effective strategy.

The bus advert is carefully phrased "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life". This matches a strategy where atheists can explain their position publicly, and leave others to draw their own conclusions. So I shall watch this development and remain tickled.
22/10/2008 - Political Blasphemy.

I was so disappointed to hear that the sentence of Sayed Pervez Kambaksh had been commuted to a mere 20 years imprisonment. What is Islamic justice coming to? This man was found guilty of "downloading material from the Internet on women's rights in Islam". Such an act was clearly blasphemous, so 'the law' says he should die. What is all the shilly-shallying about.

To support a country that considers such sentences, British, American, and other NATO troops are giving their lives, and the corresponding taxpayers are being milked for billions at a time when they could really use the money at home.

Is it time to say goodbye to at least the loss of these lives? If we spent the money and political effort on developing and applying 21st century techniques for shunning states that don't give a damn for human rights, could we not achieve as good, or better, results?

18/10/2008 - Seeking Shade.

Here at at twelve hundred meters high,
the sun will harm you if she can.

She tempts with her seductive warmth,
hiding her quick, sharp UV knife.

I find a shady bar and order beer.
It comes, I sit and sip, and drift.

My eyes unfocussed, I stare both ways,
onto the future and the past.

Seeing there ones that got way,
and yet to be, the ones that will.

Tourist taking a picture of the market place.

15/10/2008 - A Spiral?.

So Gordon's rescue plan has been taken up by a number of large economies, and he has a new tie. Does this get us off the hook?

I fear not. If you look at the trend of the stock markets today it's obvious that the doubts have started to set in. Unfortunately, I don't think that this is just the continuing realization that there will be a recession. To appreciate the whole situation you have to think "there was going to be a recession, and now on top of that, capitalism as we know it has ceased to exist".

We know that the markets hate uncertainty. How uncertain can you get? I'm seriously expecting to wake up in the morning and find them in free fall again.

Today's picture has nothing to do with this topic. Seeing the mzungu woman taking pictures of the market with her big SLR was just too much of a temptation. When the guy asked me why I wanted pictures of them, all I could come up with was "well why do you want pictures of us?"

I posted the 1959 retrospective today. This endeavour is getting to be quite an obsession, but also in a way a quite exciting adventure. It's a strange sensation to explore your past in some detail: makes you think about who and what you are.
14/10/2008 - History Fading Away.

Working on the BEV Retrospective thing is quite taxing and frustrating. Initially it was my intention that it would be a print book, and as such it would be all or mostly text. This was difficult enough in itself - it's not easy to reconstruct the details of your life 50 years ago. However, given my decision make it an online thing, plain old text does not quite hack it, and I now have to come up with images from the time. This is in many cases quite difficult. I personally did not own a camera until I was about 20, and the number of prints or negatives still in my possession from that is approximately 1. Judging by the results of my searches on the Internet for supporting material, this must hold good for others. Either that or the relevant material is festering in the bottom of rarely explored drawers, and has never seen a scanner. I suspect the latter.

I noticed this particularly when trying to find imagery relating to the UKAEA research establishment at Harwell in Oxfordshire (was once in Berkshire), where I once worked. Maybe it's because the place was classified at one time, but the way it is at the moment, when their owners die, and the drawers are cleaned out, visual evidence of the existence of a place the size of a small town is going to be extremely thin. Of course, my searching difficulty is exacerbated by the miserable Internet bandwidth that is all we can get here in Africa.

It's late spring here in Tanzania, and the weather is doing it's seasonal thing with unpredictable showers and blustery winds against a background of rather hot sunshine.

Yesterday I think I was maybe out in it too long and got a touch of heat stroke. At mid afternoon I suddenly felt quite feverish and tired. But after a nights sleep I was fine. More likely I'm just getting old. You never know. I may be the first person to die on the blog, as it were. I've got another 48 years of retrospective to do before that though - so I'd better get my finger out.

Sorry that there's no image today also. I did take care to charge my phone, but there was just nothing that cropped up.

Bar at the market.

The vegetable area of the market.
11/10/2008 - TGIS.

Adia is still on a mission to correct everything she can detect that's wrong with Potter. Today she went off to get the A/C recharged so she can drive it with the windows shut and exclude the African summer dust. The way it works is that the fundi who does some particular task notices something else that isn't quite right, and that then becomes Adia's next target. Since Potter is about ten years old, and probably older in some parts, this could be an everlasting mission.

I spent too long sitting in front of the computer fiddling with RSS feeds and news readers. Then finally I decided that exercise was required, so I walked into town in the expectation that Adia would visit her new best friend Farida, and I would meet her there.

As an experiment I walked a different way. The main road route into town involves going east on one of a couple of roads from the Lemara Road to Njiro Road. This then goes north past Nane Nane, and skirts round the eastern side of Themi Hill before turning west toward the town centre. I decided to follow the Lemara Road instead. This runs roughly parallel to Njiro Road, and skirts Themi hill on its west side. From there, I followed the disused railway that passes to the south of the town centre, and from there I took a track that brought me to Sokoine Street close to the market. I walked fairly briskly, and it took me about an hour and twenty minutes, so I'm guessing it was about 8 kilometers.

There are several bars at the market. I usually frequent the one upstairs where you can look down on the vegetable section of the market, which is the busiest part. I'm usually the only mzungu there, so everybody teases me or tries to scrounge a beer, or wants to know what I'm about.

Adia picked me up in the new air conditioned Potter, and we drove home. I guess Farida will wait until tomorrow. The previous night, we'd been to 'Pirates', a bar in the cinema building at Njiro, because I had a craving for a steak, and they usually do decent ones there. As it turned out, they didn't have any on Friday - this is Africa - so we had retreated to Tina's bar, my usual haunt in that area and ate chips mayai. Tyson, our occasional mechanic was there and he and I proceeded to get somewhat drunk. It's actually worth noting that Friday is not a big night out day in Africa as it is in England or New York, or Bangalore. Saturday night is when people go out and let off steam here.

Anyway, today I still had the steak yen so we tried again, this time successfully - I stuffed myself. It's quite a treat having Potter back so we are able to go out in the evening. Kiki's headlight is not up to night driving on African suburban roads, so we have been marooned at night for some time now.

Pomegranates on our little bush.

10/10/2008 - Slight Mitigation.

It appears now that the Tanzanian Shilling is now starting to fall against the dollar too, which should make things better in terms of the GBP exchange rate. That is still holding above my magic number of 2000ts/pound.

Also there are little pleasures. The pomegranate bush that Adia planted in our yard is looking very healthy this year. It has lots of pretty red flowers, and has actually set some fruit. For my breakfast this morning I made cooked tomatoes and melted cheese on toast. I haven't done that for ages since it takes at least twice the time of just cheese on toast. But it was worth it - I really enjoyed it, and I'm becoming increasingly convinced that African vegetables have better flavour than those I've eaten before.

According to 'Bob', the world financial system continues to collapse around me as I slip into senility. To hell with it! I have a plot of land I can grow things on, and space to rear some chickens, and we have at least the little house that is habitable and paid for. So we are better of than many. Best of all, I don't have to go to work today, or next week or the week after.

I shall go out for a ride on my bike now to ensure that my heart gets enough exercise to keep me going in this best of all possible worlds.
8/10/2008 - Uphill Struggle.

With minor exceptions, the news in late 2008 seems to be uniformly bad. Perhaps now that a bunch of the worlds major banks are about to be partially nationalized; either by explicit government action, as in the case of the US and the UK, or by guarantee of deposits as in Ireland, Denmark, Spain, and possibly Germany; the financial crisis may abate somewhat. But it is still just perhaps - nothing seems sure. In the meantime the world economy continues to go to the dogs, and capitalism as we know it definitely has a big question mark hanging over it.

The man who owns the tract of land beyond our house, on the other side of the access road, appears to be hell-bent on building a concrete block plant close to where I want to build holiday chalets or something of the sort. So much for our idyllic semi-rural retreat. Potentially the area could soon echo to the sound of heavy-duty vibratory compactors, and clapped-our old diesel trucks plying up and down our access road belching black fumes. This is not to mention everything in the locality getting coated in a layer of gray cement dust. Tanesco have obliged him by putting in a three-phase supply up our road, while all the other roads in the village, which have more houses than ours just have a single-phase supply. When I asked them why they gave me some patently wet excuse.

I probably also mentioned that Adia's 'friend' Fatima and her husband were denying the existence of the computers I shipped from India, and that they volunteered to look after for us when we moved into the small house. We've spent half the week at the police station trying to get that situation sorted out. There'll probably be more on that later.

The pound and the rupee are both falling depressingly, which hits me directly in the pocket since I have to convert them to a currency that is effectively pegged to the dollar.

The cold I had last month, which appeared to be getting better, has regressed, and I've now probably got bronchitis plus a snotty nose, and I'm feeling half dead. Also I'm skint, which never helps. Other than that, everything is fine. How was your day?

Potter back and running.

3/10/2008 - Another Disappointment.

Sudi brought Potter back late last night, and let us know he was at his house in the morning.

The vehicle sounds different, which I guess you'd expect with a different engine. That is not necessarily a problem. What is though, is that in it's current state it would not pull the skin off a rice pudding. The principal problem I'm seeing is that the automatic gearbox does not seem to be changing down properly. I expect that if I'm driving at a steady speed in some gear, and then I suddenly put my foot down, as for instance in passing, the gearbox should change down. This does not appear to be happening. Nor do I detect any noticeable turbo effect.

The fundis were aware that there is something wrong with the gearbox, and talked of this as if there must have been an existing problem. But there wasn't. Before all this trouble with the engine, the gearbox shifted fine, and once Potter was started and warmed up, he had plenty of power.
In addition to this, the 'check engine' light is always on, and there's no engine temperature indication, which is going to be a scary combination to live with.
2/10/2008 - Alas Poor Potter.

Sudi drove 550 of the 600km from DSM, then Potter stopped. It's brand-new original timing belt was shredded, so the presumption is that it was not properly installed. Yet another fundi screws us up.

Sudi found help and the shredded timing belt was replaced with the old belt that was in the engine when we bought it. But then Potter was making black smoke, so Sudi left it where it was and gave up for the night. He is back with the vehicle now, and the fundi from DSM who screwed up is on his way.
1/10/2008 - Could Be.

Presumably the proposed bailout of financial institutions in the USA is intended to level out the current bumps, and get the system 'back to normal'.

But there is great public objection to this plan, basically along the lines of "these people fucked up, why should we bail them out?" This has been taken by the Bush administration (may it rest in peace) as an indication of public naivete about what's going on - 'if the public really knew, then they would support it'.

But what if the general public are actually just people with plain old common sense, who have decided that enough is enough, and who are prepared to swallow the bitter pill and go back to the days when you didn't buy something unless you could afford it. Perhaps they appreciate the bitterness of the pill, but are prepared to swallow it for the benefit of their grandchildren.

It also does not take a genius, just someone who has read a bit of history, to realize that something directed at the people as a whole, rather than at specific institutions, could probably be devised to cope with the results of a collapse of the current greed-based system. Just think FDR and New Deal. Before you can effectively deal with a situation, I'm thinking that you first need to know what the situation is.

If we let the current failed system collapse, then we should be able to see what needs to be done to replace it with something that works. Otherwise we bail it out, then in a few years it fails again.

OK, I'm an old man, and old men are dangerous because they don't care what happens to the world. So you young men and women out there, think about it. Has the 'free' capitalist system been achieving what you want for your grandchildren. Do you believe it can deal with global warming, or the very real threat of having a third or more of the world's population living in poverty, and being willing to do anything to get out. Yes, I'm talking about socialism I guess. My granny was a socialist, and she made my mother into one, but I do not have any shame.

The other way to think about it is that the people who are to be bailed out are probably salivating at the prospect of $700,000,000,000. They have lots of clever graduates and lawyers on generous incentive schemes who can scrutinize the fine print and come up with a way they can walk away with the $700,000,000,000 in their pockets. All you've got on your side is a bunch of politicians who are under the pressure of the coming election, and great time pressure, and a bunch of civil service specialists who are working all hours for pay that has no relationship to the sums involved. Who is going to win the technical battle?

The house at first October.

Meru from the southern and of Kikukwaro.

1/10/2008 - A Visitor Awaited.

Sudi is being coy about where he is at this time. We believe he's on the way back from DSM in Potter - or possibly I should say Potter II given that he's got a different engine. But he (Sudi that is) won't say when he set off, or how far he has come, so he could arrive here at any moment. Adia is chasing a fatted calf around the yard.

Ramadan is finally over, so life can return to normal. Unfortunately this is also the bad time in the normal month when all the bills are due. The most expensive thing this month is the Internet connection, which is priced in dollars, and paid every three months. Strangely though, despite the dollar's weakness, the amount in TShillings always seems to go up. Then there's the security company, then the satellite TV connection, and I think this is the month when I have to make my annual payment for the hosting of britseyeview.com. So I'm feeling poverty stricken - but then who isn't. After that though we live quite cheaply, and we'll do even better when we have mains electricity, and Pig stops eating diesel every day.

In the lane up to our house, there's now a row of low tension electricity poles, complete with insulators, you can just see one of them peeping over the top of the house in the picture. So it looks likely that wiring work on the 230 volt supply will start on our street first. There are LT poles elsewhere, but they don't have insulators yet. Whatever's next, it won't happen until Friday, as it's officially Eid today, and there's a two-day public holiday.

I took the picture of Meru a couple of days ago when I rode Kiki down to the south end of the village to see how far the electricity supply would extend. It's a beautiful view from there. As always, the mobile phone camera picture does not do it justice. If I had the money I'd look for a plot by the stream down there. It really is a beautiful spot.

It's a couple of days now since I watched the US bailout package voted down in congress. So far the world hasn't changed too dramatically, but we are assured that it will, and the bankers are apparently already saying that it's not enough. I am now reading Peston's blog on a daily basis - there it is you see, instant fame for a blogger. But it never happens to me ;=(
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