September 2008 in Tanzania through the eyes of an Englishman

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The spur off the 32kV line.
28/9/2008 - The System

Having learned a lesson from our interaction with Hemal, Adia went straight to the police about the computers. Yesterday we met the man she'd been speaking to there at around lunchtime. He determined that Fatima should be brought in, so we guided him and a couple of colleagues to the house where she and her husband Arthur are now living. Fatima and Arthur drove to the police station with an accompanying vehicle, and there, in short order, she was stripped under the supervision of a WPC, put in a prison robe, and transferred to the lock up. The policeman explained to Adia that in their experience, this procedure often helps people to clarify their thinking about things that have inexplicably disappeared.

She was in there about four hours before someone bailed her out. Now an investigating officer has been attached to the case - a woman, and presumably the law will take it's course. I have said I'll settle for the computers in the state that I left them, or cash in TShillings approximating what I paid for the machines. In that case worrying about the software and intellectual property that was on them is pretty pointless. It's gone.

Late yesterday afternoon the pole at the intersection of the current 32kV line and our village spur had been erected, and a man was up the pole securing the new cables. The area served by the original line was without electricity. I don't know when they did it - maybe at night - but this morning the original lines were on new insulators, and the lines for our spur were attached to the poles but isolated from the supply. I presume the people downstream have their supply back.

Fatima is back on the phone this morning promising to pay for the computers, but I'd prefer if she said that to the investigating officer. She works for the UN here in Arusha, and could quite possibly lose her job if she ends up in court.


Down the tubes?.
26/9/2008 - So What Price Capitalism?

Judging by the headline items on BBC World News, when the population of the USA wakes up today, they may well start selling shares and queuing outside banks.

I had thought that really I was being a doom and gloom merchant when I talked about this before, but now it seems to be really staring us in the face.

OK, so the bank that failed today - Washington Mutual - was FDIC insured, but how many such failures could the FDIC stand, especially if the US government has to shell out the $700,000,000,000 for the present proposed bailout. Government bonds are going to be worthless before you know it!

I don't wonder that Dubbya was looking somewhat tight lipped at is latest press conference. I'm sure he has a better idea than us just how bad the situation really is.

At my end, some low-voltage poles have now appeared on the street next to our access road. So from the look of it, even if they don't put poles up our road, which they've said they will, we'd only have to pay for one pole to get hooked up.

Our 'friend' Fatima volunteered to look after some of our things when we moved from Sun Park to the small house here. She and her husband have moved since, and she is now denying all knowledge of three computers she had at her house. That's about $2500 of gear. Just what I need to hear at this point.
26/9/2008 - Distant View.

I realized yesterday that I had my school years incorrect in the retrospective account of my early teens. As it was I would not have made it through secondary school before the date when I know I left. It is really quite hard getting dates - even which year things happened - straight in your head when you're relying only on memory of things that happened 55 years ago.

Anyway, I think it is sorted now. Please let me know if I've broken any links.


Our electricity poles erected.

25/9/2008 - Electrical and Vehicular Progress

Some of the 32kV poles were erected, but then one of the village residents complained that a pole had been erected on his property without his permission. At that point Tanesco took their bat home for some time. But yesterday activity resumed. Several of the poles are to be moved about a meter closer to the road to avoid the objection.

The transformer and the required cable were also delivered earlier this week and are currently locked up in the yard of another village resident.

The story on Potter from DSM was not good. Apparently its ECU is broken, and it will not start until another one is fitted and reprogrammed to suit the injectors. At that point we bit the bullet and decided we'd look for an Isuzu 4JG2 engine. This is the previous model engine, used in the Trooper and the Bighorn, and it can be fitted in the Wizard. These vehicles are relatively common here, and people know how to service and repair the older engine. The 4JG2 also has an excellent reputation for reliability, which is more than you can say for the Wizard 4JX1 engine. Unfortunately it's a little less powerful, and less efficient, but there you go.


Further evidence


The irrigation ditch
20/9/2008 - Looks Like It

Yesterday a number of poles appeared scattered randomly along the village main street. So I guess we might get our electricity supply quite soon. They'd better do something with them fairly quickly, otherwise some joker will come along and cut them up for firewood.

Anyway, the Potter saga continues. The fundi where it was had reached a dead end because the place where he works does not have diagnostic equipment to plug into the ECU. His boss had said he would get a fundi with equipment to come down from Nairobi, but nothing was happening - always tomorrow.

At the same time, Sudi had been having a conversation with a fundi in DSM (this is apparently the accepted abbreviation for Dar Es Salaam) who works in a shop that actually specializes in Isuzus and has the diagnostic gear. So to make a long story short, yesterday Potter went off in the back of a large container truck, and he is now at the shop in DSM. Sudi will stay there and stand over the guy to make sure he doesn't just leave it for a few days, then tell us that the engine is knackered and we need to replace it, which they just happen to be in a position to do should it be required. In time this will be the most expensive vehicle in Tanzania.

There was also activity on the plot behind our house yesterday. The cassava that was growing there is apparently now mature, and a gang of villagers were there digging it up. They didn't finish though, and there is little activity there today.

This means I now have to make some decision as to what to do with it - the plot, that is. We can't afford to build on it until we've got the house finished, and some rooms ready to let to pay for it, and of course some willing tourists. So I guess it will be vegetables, and I have to decide what kind. I want to try tomatoes, possibly under polythene and insect netting. Then spinach would also be good, as it is more-or-less our primary green vegetable - and cabbages too. If the soil is suitable, carrots would also be good since we eat a lot of them - I'll have to ask one of the local farmers. I also want to grow some salad vegetables.

Of course this will all cost money. I'll have to fence the plot to some extent, and buy seeds and fertilizer, then I'll have to employ a part-time gardener, since I don't think my old mzungu's back is up to heavy spade work. Also a local man will know how to hook in to the local irrigation system, and know the quirks of the soil, and so on.

The stream that runs down the valley to the east of our house must be dammed at a point or points upstream of where we live. From there, following the contours of the land, there's a system of irrigation ditches along the west slope of the valley, which is quite gentle. From these ditches there are smaller ditches that run into the fields to their east. The flow of water is controlled by making or removing small earth dams in the ditches. It's organized so that different areas have a stream flowing through them on different days of the week. There is one of these ditches just to the west of our plot.


Significant hole
16/9/2008 - Maybe It's On

I went into town this morning to pay for my next three months of Internet connection. Turned out when I got there that it wasn't due until the end of the month, so I decided to keep the money in my pocket until then.

On the way out I noticed that some men were digging a hole by our village main road, right under the 33kV electricity line that passes behind our house. "Tanesco" I asked and they replied affirmatively, so it looks like the long awaited electricity supply might be on its way.

Apparently this is the hole for the pole or poles that will carry our new transformer. The line from there will run along the village main road, and there are other holes appearing along there now. Word was though that they were only going to run spurs off this along side streets that have at least five houses. Ours doesn't. so Adia spent some time this morning haggling with the Tanesco engineer. He says he'll put a couple of poles up our lane, but it looks like we'll have to pay something for them. Don't know how much yet.


Chameleon
15/9/2008 - All Doom and Gloom?

I wake this morning to hear that Lehman Bros has gone bust and that Merrill Lynch has been taken over. Alan Greenspan says we haven't seen the end of it yet. Maybe it is economic meltdown.

I'm pleased to see that Tim Berners-Lee is leading a push to get the Internet to the 80% of the world population who don't have access. Perhaps my bandwidth will improve some as a consequence at some point in the future.

Adia seems to have a gift for spotting small creatures at a distance. Yesterday she came home with the Chameleon clinging to a twig. She had found it on sandy soil, at which point it was brown, but by the time it reached me it was doing a good colour match with the leaves on the twig. Little creatures are still alive and well in Africa.

There's also talk in our village that Tanesco (the electricity supply company) might come this week to start putting in poles for our electricity supply. Of course talk is talk. I'll believe it when I see it.

Today is the day for signing of the power sharing deal in Zimbabwe, details yet to be released. So it's not all bad news.

14/9/2008 - Further Potter Misery

I had been reasonably confident that Potter would start, since Adia had reported that it started before on the occasion when it broke its camshafts.

Yesterday she called from the fundi's place and said that it had started, but it was just as it was when we took it to Hemal in the first place. I took this to mean that it was running on about 2 cylinders. Later she played the sound to me over the phone, and I realized we had a miscommunication.

The sound was of the starter motor cranking the engine. I realized then that when Adia had said it started, she just meant that the engine turned over - the camshafts were broken by the starter motor and a big battery.

So now, all bets are off. They tried the ECU (engine control unit - the vehicles computer) in another Wizard, and it didn't work. They tried the other Wizard's ECU in Potter, and that didn't work. I despair.

12/9/2008 - Electricity is Green, Right?

Well, in most countries, the answer is that it depends when you use it. What stirred me to remark on this was a news program I saw the other day about the new Nissan Altima hybrid car. In the program, they showed pictures of electric charging points in some city or other where you could plug your car in to charge.

Electricity gets generated by equipment roughly in the following order of decreasing greenness:
  • Hydroelectric power from rivers and dams, and wind power
  • Nuclear power,
  • High efficiency natural gas fired power stations,
  • High efficiency oil fired power stations,
  • Reasonably efficient large coal fired power stations,
  • Crappy old small coal fired power stations.

As it happens, this decreasing greenness list corresponds roughly to increasing cost, and the power generation companies like to use the cheapest sources first so they can make most profit. They only bring in the more expensive and less green sources when demand for electricity forces them to do so.

So, if you plug your car in to charge only when you go to bed at night, then it will use mostly electricity generated from hydro or nuclear, and it will be green. However if you drive it into the city, and then plug it into a charging point there during the morning rush hour, it will be distinctly not green. At that time, electricity demand is at a peak, with all the lights, computers, and machines going on in businesses, mothers turning on their dishwashers and washing machines, and the subways and rail systems drawing maximum electrical power.

It would be greener in the case of a hybrid car if you simply filled the tank with petrol or diesel, because the efficiency of the alternate engine will probably be higher than that of the mix of plants providing the electricity at that time of day.

Moral of the story: don't go out and buy an electric car and assume you are doing your bit for the environment. That will only be the case if you stick to the 'charge at night' rule. Also, charging points in the city should be banned.


Typical download speed here
12/9/2008 - Slow, Slow, Slow!

There was a snippet on BBC World this morning about the Amsterdam City Council subsidizing fibre optic 100MBit Internet connections for all the homes in the city. Such speeds are already commonplace in some Asian countries like South Korea.

It made me feel a really third class world citizen. You can see the sort of speed I get here from the picture,
and that costs me $60 a month - satellite bandwidth. Our (East Africa that is) fibre optic undersea cable connection isn't due to be completed until 2010, and when it is, the politicians here will almost certainly overcharge for the new bandwidth, and eat the profits.

House progress is at a standstill, I've been waiting for over a year now for some money I'm owed from India, our vehicle has been in dock for nearly four months, using the Internet is like watching paint dry, and it's twelve days of Ramadan now, with no nookie - you've got one grumpy mzungu here!

It's possible though that Potter may get started today - Adia is there with Sudi keeping an eye on the fundi, and Pig is still running with his new bearings.


Pig back in his pen.

11/9/2008 - Repairs.

The rattling noise in the diesel generator turned out to be due to failure of a crankshaft bearing.

Pig is a 4.7kW diesel generator Made by a Chinese company called ETQ (Eastern Tools Company). I was surprised by this failure. I'd have expected the connection rod bearing to have failed rather than the crankshaft bearing - but there you go. The outer bearing housing had also suffered damage, and we had to get it buttered with weld and remachined to hold the new bearing.

It's amazing what you can get done in Arusha if you know where to go. Fortunately Sudi does.

Potter's engine is now reassembled, and the engine compartment is getting pressure washed at the moment before the engine goes back in. My fingers are crossed.
8/9/2008 - Everything Broken

Last night our diesel generator started making a rather nasty rattling noise, so we quickly turned it off and did the rest of the evening on the small petrol generator.

This morning I checked the oil, and though it was a bit low, I don't think it was fatally so. I had thought of getting our mechanic friend Tyson to come and look at it, but our friend Sudi said he knew a fundi who specializes in generators. Miraculously he succeeded in getting the generator into the back of his car. I was convinced it would not go in. It's big and damned heavy. So, it's gone of now to be looked at, and we have no fridge.

The car fundi is supposed to be reassembling Potter's engine today. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. It would be nice to have something that works before we end up in the black hole.


Doomsday machine?.
8/9/2008 - Large Hadron Collider

Apparently there is speculation at the moment that when the LHC is actually run, it will create micro black holes, and one of these might suck in the Earth. Biggest blow job of all time!

Well, for starters, when it is run starting Wednesday, they will only be accelerating particles in one direction, so there won't be any high-energy collisions. They are just testing. Then they have to test the other direction. Only after that will they start work in earnest.

Meanwhile, for the last 4.5 billion years, the Earth has been sitting here getting its atmosphere bombarded with particles of much higher energy than the LHC can generate. Such particles are created by supernovas and other cosmic high-energy events. So if a black hole could be formed by high energy particle collision, and if such a black hole could swallow the Earth, then it would likely have happened by now.

So continue; eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may die, but probably not that way.
7/9/2008 - Capitalism in Meltdown?

In the 1990s the Soviet communist system collapsed largely because it could not afford to stay in business due to flaws inherent in the system of government - the command economy. The capitalist side rubbed their hands with glee and said "Ya, boo, we told you so!"

Today we see a financial crisis in the US that appears to have no bottom. OK, so all the pundits agree that the government has no choice but to bail out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. But the sums of money involved are such that they almost have a mind of their own, and it's therefore almost necessarily the case that this 'fix' will create further problems.

Is it possible that we are now seeing a symmetric collapse based on the flaws that exist in the system of government - undiluted greed capitalism?

Incidentally, if you haven't read the small print, the stupid sounding names are acronym sound alikes. Fanny Mae is FNMA - Federal National Mortgage Association, and Freddie Mac is FHLMC - Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (bit weak that second one). Do these sound a bit like government bodies to you? Surely not: In a capitalist society the government should not have so much control over the mortgages of millions of people - but it does now.
4/9/2008 - BEV Changes and the Georgia Situation.

You may notice that I have redesigned the page somewhat. The 'index' item in the top menu used to take you to another page, but now it will take you to the bottom of this page, where you can pick a month in the range Jan 2003 - Sep 2008. The items for 'poems' and 'recipes' take you to separate pages each of which has a mini index. I was consistently failing to update the index page. Doing it this way may encourage me to keep the indexing up-to-date. I have also been working on a new project that will become apparent fairly soon.

Here in Arusha, not much else was happened. The fundi has cleaned up the replacement parts for Potter, and the new piston rings should arrive today.

In the world at large, I muse on the significance of the Georgia confrontation. If I need to remind you, the situation of Georgia is one of the most strategically significant ones in the world. Russia has a long history of being very concerned about its neighbours. That was so no less true under the Tzar's than under the soviet system, and it does not look as if the leopard is changing its spots.


The Georgia situation.
Now of course, it also has gratuitous power because of its vast oil and gas reserves. Similar wealth is also shared by its neighbours to the south east. However, to get the oil/gas out of those countries, you can currently move it in only four ways - through Russia, through China, through Azerbaijan and Georgia or Armenia, or over difficult mountains and through countries that are unstable or unsympathetic toward the western democracies. If Russia can eliminate the third route, then it has Europe by the balls, since Europe is now so dependant on natural gas for domestic and power generation supplies, and natural gas can only be sensibly supplied through pipelines.

Then of course, the USA does not want to see it's formerly roughly par rival once again become an equal superpower. China would probably like to be in a situation where it can control or absorb the flows from the Asian suppliers. Taking all these things together you have a situation that is probably more dangerous than the one in Europe than provoked WW1. WW1 was sparked by the assassination of a royal in Serbia - at the time another strategically significant country. We should watch the situation in Georgia with apprehension.


The house at first September.


The old mzungu.

2/9/2008 - A Year in Tanzania.

So now I have done my first year in Tanzania, and I have to say that I am very fond of the place. You could pick a lot worse places to spend your declining years. I'm expecting a man from the foreign office any day now as I sit on our stoop with my bottle of beer removing kernels from corn cobs - it's a hard life.

There has not been a great deal of progress on the house, since having exhausted our initial capital, we must now do a little each month out of my pension. With the British pound currently in free-fall, the situation could get worse before it gets better. I must think of some more provocative things I could put on BEV to draw readers, and hence, advertising!

The retaining wall for the patio was done, and there are now some steps up to the top of it, leading to a 1m drop on the other side. I put the pipe in to connect the laundry room and the kitchen to the drainage system, but you can't see that since it is currently in mid air behind the wall. I need to get a load of demolition rubble for infill, and then some moram to level the patio area, and then topsoil to get the level of the garden right. At that point the pipe will be underground. However, the priority for expenditure this month is getting Potter fixed.

Sudi got the half engine in Dar, and it is now with our fundi who is about to reassemble Potter's top half. As it turned out we had to buy the whole thing, the vendor decided he did not want to break it up. So now we have quite a few spares we don't really need, including a set of 4JX1 fuel injectors. Those might come in handy some day. When we've finished with this expenditure I shall expect Potter to be my runabout for the rest of my time. We are still waiting for the new piston rings.

Ramadan is upon us, so life will be a bit pear-shaped for the next 28 days thanks to Mohammed's cunning hair-wash catch 22. It will make me muse on the vagaries of religion yet again, but I've survived two of them now, so I guess I'll survive this one. As I go along I discover more about the variability of adherence to the Muslim faith. Christians, I know, range from the fanatical to those who just go to a carol service at Christmas. Unsurprisingly, it appears that Muslims are much the same. Many of those we know don't fast at Ramadan, don't pray, drink alcohol, and eat pork - but they still consider themselves Muslim. I have a sneaky belief that the world would be a better place if more people were at that end of the spectrum, whether Muslim, Christian, Hindu, or Buddhist.

I was struck by the reliability of Sod's Law (Murphy's law) in the case of Hurricane Gustav. This time, the authorities pulled out all the stops, and so of course, Gustav fizzled - if that can ever be said of a huricane. Next time, nobody will feel inclined to leave, and then of course the storm will change into a category 5 at the last minute.
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