Manhattan seen across the Hudson river from New Jersey.New York panorama image

October 2012 in Tanzania through the eyes of an Englishman

26/10/2012 - Progress.

We have now pared down our building work force to two masons from the Shinyanga region plus one regular local helper. The two Shinyangans had come to Arusha because there was no work in their home area. They had become somewhat trapped here because they needed to work to send money home, but were, in our book, being exploited by contractors here. So we have more or less taken them over. We pay the two and any helpers they need a decent day rate, and we do our own supervision and checking of work quantity and quality.

Things now no longer get done at breakneck speed, they are done better, and entirely under our control. The guys get paid enough so they can take a day a week off. So far it is working well, work is getting done at the speed I expect, but without any nasty surprises.

The prototype house is now rendered in and out, and the floor screed is down. Our masons are now building the remaining side of the compound wall. They have made the foundation and steelwork for the posts, and cast the bottom lintel. Yesterday though they were diverted to concrete over the main house's laundry area.

Open: The ring joints are twisted for ring integrity, then the spur is clamped to the twisted pair in a piece of connector block.

Ring/spur junction - open.

Over the last two days I have been putting in the cabling for the sockets in the PH. I like to do this using a combination of a ring main and short spurs. Where there's a heavy-load socket pair I take both ring cables down to the socket and twist join them there before clamping them into the socket connectors. But I have tried various methods of joining spurs to the ring.

Closed: The conduit box slides on to keep out fingers and falling water.

Ring/spur junction - closed.

This time I have devised a way of doing it that seems to me to be quite robust and safe. I join the sections of ring by tight twisting the ends of corresponding conductors, then I clamp the twisted pair and the conductor of the spur in a piece of plastic/brass connector block. These are arranged so the separate connections are well isolated, and the whole assembly is then contained in a length of plastic conduit nailed to a joist or whatever. Then anyone stumbling around in the roof space can't rearrange the connections or stick their fingers in there easily, and water from any roof leak can't drip directly onto the conductors. At the same time, the joint is quite easy to make and delightfully tidy and cheap.
The well head: This will eventually be covered by a surrounding brick wall and inspection cover.

The well head.

22/10/2012 - Water, Mud, and Risk.

Well, so now we have a well. Unfortunately it is still kicking out somewhat muddy water. It is usable, but when you see it in volume in one of the big tanks, it is definitely somewhat turbid - 'Not drinking water.' I'm told it will clear given time.

A couple of guys came today to clean out our high level header tank. A health and safety at work guy would have had a fit, and really I'd have been happier if I did not have to watch. Getting up to it is not too bad - two men just have to climb up from one narrow ledge 3m above the ground to another one 1.5m above. That's bad enough to watch. But then someone has to climb inside the 1000l tank to clean it. Now climbing it when it is full would not be too bad - with 1000l of water in it the tank is not going anywhere. But of course to clean it, it needs to be close to empty. In that state, I'd say it weighs significantly less than a man, but a man has to climb up it and get in through the hole at the top. And it is quite smooth plastic inside and out with little or nothing to grip. I wince to watch.

Once you've got the men at that level, inside and out, the job is pretty straightforward. You bale out the remaining water in the tank with a plastic container into a bucket, and pass the bucket to the guy outside. He throws it over the side. When the remaining water is down to an inch or so, you soak it up with a piece of old towel, and squeeze it into the bucket, collecting the mud and and detritus in the process. Then you pump a little water into the tank, and repeat the process. Once it is squeaky clean, the two men have to do the reverse climb. When they get down, you breathe a sigh of relief.

In legal terms I think it would be better to give the men who had 'contracted' to clean the tank, the ladder, bucket, baling container, and cloth, then bugger off to the pub. If you were there watching how they did it, and one fell off and broke his neck, I don't know what you'd tell the police. It's for this reason that I have a strong urge to build a new water tower with proper steel access ladders. But such a thing is damn expensive, and the the common theory that you can just get a couple of lads to clean the top tank out is quite seductive. This place is still in Victorian times in some respects, and jobs like that are one of those.

The drilling rig: From the 70s maybe.

The drilling rig.

15/10/2012 - Drilling.

I maligned the drilling crew - misunderstood which Monday. They brought the rig into our compound last night and put jacks under the truck. This morning they got it all set up, and by about ten they were drilling.

It's an old percussion drill, not one of the more modern rotary ones. Basically a piece of heavy steel pipe with a tungsten carbide tip suspended on a steel cable that is rhythmically raised then dropped on whatever is underneath by a diesel engine powered 'nodding donkey'. It just gradually bangs its way into the ground. Periodically they take it out and use another pipe with a non return valve on the bottom to remove slurry from the hole.

The first few metres made the kitchen door end of our patio shake quite badly. It's just a retaining wall filled with rubble with paving blocks ot top on a light foundation, and I wondered for a while if it was going to get seriously damaged. But when the drill got deeper you could barely feel it. It was mesmerizing to watch it rising and falling, but now it is completely out of sight and you can only see the cable going up and down. The hole is now about 13m deep - only another 25 or 30 to go.

On the adjoining building site, the fundis are busy with the details of the rendering around the doors and windows - not a heavy work day, but one requiring considerable skill. Tomorrow they will put down the floor screed. Then there will probably have to be a break in the building work.

I'm resting my foot again. It was doing OK but then Adia lost her balance on the building site and stepped on the big toe that had been hurt before, and then later I accidentally kicked a concrete wall with it. They should lock me up!

The repetitive boom, boom, boom of the drilling maching puts you to ....... sleep. Whoops 16:00hrs already.

Gateposts: Not perfect, but pretty fair, and in this case I only have myself to blame.


12/10/2012 - No Hurry...

Almost needless to say, I got no response to my email to the water authority. It's fairly characteristic of African company web sites. Some manager thinks it would be cool to have one, so money gets spent on creating it, but no effort is devoted to ongoing content or site maintenance. It's quite likely that my email is lying in the web-master's inbox, but there is no web-master.

Similarly, the drilling crew who were supposed to come and start our borehole on Monday (now Friday), are nowhere to be seen. Harry knows the guy who does it, and was involved in the negotiation, and I suspect he may have squeezed them a little too far so that there is nothing for them in the deal.

We have reluctantly parted with Innocent as our main building contractor. He's a good craftsman when it comes to block-work, rendering, and putting down a flat floor, but cost-wise he was taking advantage of our presumed innocence.

I noticed really because a house within watching distance got rendered recently, and thus by watching the progress there, I was able to make a rough estimate of what it would cost to render the prototype house. Adia did her Sherlock Holmes bit to discover what fundis and helpers were usually paid, and then we did the sums for the rendering, and retrospectively for the two walls that were just built. The results showed beyond reasonable doubt that Innocent was squeezing the workers, and charging an excessive amount for his own work and supervision.

So we've currently got a team of three fundis that we inherited from Harry's cousin, rendering the house. There's a story behind the finances of that effort too which I'll share with you when is is worked through a little further.

With considerable assistance from Innocent's brother Gideon, I have got the second gate post cast. Following that we got a further large truck of sand delivered - the sort of truck with two sets of back wheels. I pressed my ear against the first post as the heavy truck drove over the underground gate lintel. There was no sound as of cracking, so I'm hoping that means the lintel is as strong as it needs to be.

6/10/2012 - A Bullet to Bite.

We have been agonizing over the water supply situation. It seems to be the case that the water supply authority can only provide about 60% of the demand of the city.

OK, a naive point of view suggests that we should simply buy more reserve tanks or buckets depending on our scale of demand, and fill them up when the water is turned on. That though has the effect of shifting storage capacity from the water authority to the users. The WA volume is depleted, and so their calculations then indicate that stricter rationing is required. The user's tanks therefore have to last longer, so the users install more tanks or fill more buckets. It's a vicious circle, or perhaps whirlpool in this case.

The situation is exacerbated if you live on a hill or ridge as we do. When the water to our village is turned on, it has a finite pressure, and thus a flow limit through the main that serves the village. Water starts to run into the tanks and buckets at the bottom of the hill. The pressure drops accordingly, and initially there is insufficient pressure for the water to even reach the tanks at the top of the hill. Eventually the tanks at the bottom of the hill fill up, and their ballcocks cut off the flow. The pressure then rises, and the water can reach the inlets of tanks further up the hill. The competition to fill tanks also gets more vicious as users interpose booster pumps to increase the flow rate.

As it works out, we are 'sucking on the hind tit.' So if he water is turned on for four hours, we get maybe only half an hour of flow, and then nothing more for days.

Bob's well: With submersible pump lowered. It's mildly surprising that no children have fallen down it yet.

Bob's well.

We have got away with this so far because one of our neighbours has a small concrete block making facility on his plot, and he had a traditional hand-dug 20m well built to supply water for the blocks when necessary. He has not made blocks for some time now, and allows us to pump water from his well into our tanks when things get bad. But he is attempting to sell that plot, and in any case a 20m well in this location is going to be unreliable and prone to pollution as more houses with septic sewage systems are built. Fortunately it has been good so far.

Running out of water in our line of business with a guest house and houses for rent is not something we can allow. There is another backstop, in that you can get reasonably safe water delivered at about $45 for 7000 litres - last quote. But I'm guessing that the price of that will go up quite steeply as the supply situation gets worse.

So we are thinking that to have some measure of security, we need to have a borehole drilled. The latter cost about $84 per metre, and need to be at least 35m deep to get into rock well below the level of domestic soak pits, and thus provide reasonable quality water with a decent prospect of life and flow rate. I'd prefer 40m.

This is going to bring our building work to a dead stop for two or three months, but could quite easily pay for itself in the not-too-long run. Comments from readers who have experience with boreholes in areas where septic systems are prevalent would be appreciated.

Living dangerously: Difficult shot of our auxiliary water tank - water in a white vessel with intense back-light.

Living dangerously.

5/10/2012 - Email to the Arusha Water Authority.

Here in Kikukwaro B, we have had essentially no water for the past 10 days. The supply came on for maybe half an hour early today, but there was no pressure to fill tanks.

We run a guest house, and currently have 5 visitors and staff minimally using flush toilets, and water for washing themselves and cooking.

At this point we have about 1000L left, which might see us through the day. What do you suggest that we do tomorrow?

There is no mention of water shortage on your web site, no comment on measures being taken to effectively improve the situation, and no recommendations for alternative sources.

Seems to me that planting trees at this point is a bit futile - real-time measures are required. For example the authority could have put a ban on garden and road watering three months ago. Is there construction in progress for further water catchment in the protected rain forest areas further up the mountain, or is AUWSA just keeping its fingers crossed?

I do hope that someone is doing something other than talk!

Free bird food: There are lots of figs this year, so many that it seems the birds have almost had their fill.

Free bird food.

3/10/2012 - October.

There is a slew of figs on our tree this year, but sadly, because of the extended winter, they are not very good to eat. They ripen colour-wise, go soft, then break of the tree easily, but they are not as sweet as they should be. Sweetness requires lots of sunshine. The ones ripening now are improving, I ate a couple that were decent after breakfast today. But the short rains are expected to start in the middle of this month, and that will put an end to that. In fact we had short hard shower on Monday as a precursor, and looking at the sky today I think we might get another.

I'm still nursing my right foot - stupidly joined in carrying buckets of concrete on Monday to cast the first of the gate posts in the new compound, and now I'm paying for it.

Some more Zambian guests arrived last night to stay for three weeks. Our occupancy rate has definitely picked up of late. This is just as well, since the building process devours cash at a frightening rate.

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Brits Eye View is the personal blog of a 70 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.

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