September 2009 in Tanzania through the eyes of an Englishman

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Our new Masai Wilson.
30/9/2009 - Electrician Again.

Tuma did a reasonable job of extending the block walls of SH2 up to the corrugated sheets. He has now progressed to rendering the outside of the block walls.

This reminded me that I had work to do before he got to rendering the inside of the walls, namely cutting the channels in the walls to take the conduits for the electricity supplies, and installing the conduits. So today I have been busy with hammer and chisel. This really gets to your forearms ans shoulders if you have not done it for a while. Today I guess I did about 1/3 of the work.

I need to get the electricity supply in this building right first time. If I don't, making changes later will be difficult, and potentially expensive, since the single slope roof makes access to the roof space limited and difficult.

The new Masai - Wilson - has been spot on so far, but then they always are to start with. Adia likes him, which is a big factor. He seems to be reasonably content here too. He's always singing - of course, it could be a song of regret or discontent, it's difficult for us to know since it is in some Masai dialect.

His predecessor Dennis is back on site mixing the mortar for the rendering for his brother and the plasterer that Tuma has sub-contracted. However we've heard nothing from Mwajuma since she was shipped of to her gradmothers.
Adia has turned against the idea of having Mwajuma back. She finds that life is more peaceful without having to constantly tell her the same things over and over. Now we have Amina, a young woman who has done work for us from time to time in the past, coming in part time. This is however a much more expensive arrangement.


Spemba inspecting his work.
27/9/2009 - A Shiny New Roof.

The absence of corrugated iron sheet in the city actually worked out in our favour. Spemba's mysterious source actually had some as promised, at a relatively small price premium. The factory marks on it said it was 30 gauge, but when he and his helpers unloaded it Spemba quickly reached the conclusion that it had been mislabeled, and was in fact 26 gauge - two grades better than what we paid for, and worth 1.5 times the money. He works with the stuff all the time so I'd take his word on that. Only one sheet was what he reckoned to be truly 30 gauge. So the roof will probably outlast me!

When you have already made a straight and true roof frame, putting the sheets on is relatively quick. So even with the trip to go and find the sheets, Spemba was through by about four in the afternoon. He owes us money, put pleaded that it should not all be deducted from his pay for the job. He suggested that we deduct the remainder when he comes to put up the gypsum boards for the ceilings, and we were content to go along with that. He's a good worker but a lousy debtor, and now we know that, there will be no future problem.
You'll see that it is a single slope roof. I wanted to keep it as low-profile as possible to minimize the impact on the view from our kitchen window, and the result works for me. I'm getting very design-conscious in my old age. Tuma will now have to fill in the walls up to the roof sheets, seal the top side, and put a small concrete lintel above the sheets on that side to complete the waterproofing. Spemba's going to come back and do quality control on that.

This small house is a prototype for units we will probably build on our adjoining plot to the west. There are already a couple of things in the design that will be changed as a result of the test, but nothing drastic. Even with just the block walls and a naked roof, I already think the building has a good feel from the inside, and will look OK outside. That's a good sign, but of course, only time will tell.

I did very little of value today. Screwed some bedroom shelves to their brackets, cleaned up my workshop area a bit, and consigned the now defunct broccoli plants to the new compost heap.

I think that tonight we will also be lazy and eat out at Nicks Pub - fish and chips African style.


Silver Springs.


Shady lane on a sizzling day.
26/9/2009 - Sizzler.

The weather now appears to have switched decisively to summer mode. The sun now has that lethal, sizzling feel, and there is dust everywhere - feels like Africa again.

In the early afternoon the heat worked its way on me and I wandered off up our village main street to get a Kili at our local pub. It's called Silver Springs - I can't think why, possibly a name borrowed from some movie. It's just a rough masonry shell with a roof. Inside there are plastic tables and chairs - quite a lot of them to be fair. However, the most people I've ever seen in there at the same time was probably three. In the corner in a steel cage, there's the bar, and there's a little kitchen outside that never seems to be open. But it's the nearest place you can go to buy cold beer.

On this occasion it was deserted, no customers, no barman, so I was out of luck. I wandered down the lane to Charlie's shop, which is the second closest place where you can buy a cold beer.

Spemba is putting the roof on small house 2, so in the morning, after much measuring and calculation, we went off to get the corrugated iron sheets that will be the roof covering. Last time Spemba estimated roofing sheet for us, he got it wrong, and overestimated the required number of some quite expensive sheets, some of which we still have waiting for a buyer. So there was a good deal of leg-pulling over the measurement this time.

Out of luck again, the city is apparently devoid of this commodity until some time next week. However, Spemba has a contact who claims to have some at a modest price premium, and we've only got him over the weekend, so Adia will go with him in the morning and haggle over it.

He's a good roofer. His roofs look like they will stay put for a long time, and he does the whole job, fascia boards and all, before he puts the sheets on, not like some we've known who leave you to look after that sort of thing later.

I did more sanding and varnishing, sanding and varnishing... My hand feels like it's set to the shape of a paint brush. But the spare bedroom is now just about up to the standard of the guest rooms. It is reserved for a German physician who is coming to Tanzania to do volunteer work. He's scheduled to arrive next week.
24/9/2009 - All Change.

Yesterday Mwajuma got busted. Adia discovered that she had conspired with Dennis to conceal the fact that she had dropped the night-guard phone in some water. Lying to Adia is not a good idea. She has a way of finding out - she'd make a good trial lawyer. Mwajuma has also been getting a bit rebellious lately, so yesterday she was shipped off to her grandmothers place to think on things for a while, and decide whether she wants the job or not. Dennis got bumped at the same time. Not a surprise - for him, the writing was already on the wall.

My thanks to Mervyn King, the head of the Bank of England. Recently he made some remark about the benefits of a weak currency, and surprise, surprise, the pound is now falling, reducing my income by the hour. Benefits for exporters perhaps, but for those on a fixed income, a weaker currency sooner or later - sooner in my case - means reduced purchasing power.

Tuma has finished concreting the floor in small house 2, and today he put another line of blocks along the back wall. The roofer Spemba will start tomorrow, and Tuma will divert to making the inspection chambers for the drainage.

I have now more or less finished upgrading our spare bedroom to be of a similar standard to the guest rooms, and it will now serve as a reserve guest room.

Tonight we have no power again for the second successive day. The problem is that the country is highly dependent on hydro power, but the areas where the dams are is not getting the rain it needs to sustain normal generation levels. Obviously the government has chosen to support businesses during the day rather than the population at large, as the power cuts to impose rationing happen during peak domestic hours between about 18:30 and 22:30. This is OK if you can afford a generator and fuel for it, but pretty miserable if you are in the large group who just managed to scrape the money together for a connection for lighting and maybe a fridge, and can't.


The Flet nightstand prototype.
22/9/2009 - Back to Normality?

Tuma, the builder, has switched to casting the concrete floor in small house 2. He seems to be back in his own domain doing that. Spemba, the roofer who did the big house, came to look at the job, and made several suggestions, nay - imperatives, for the small house roof. He will do it. Tuma just needs to put and extra row of blocks on the back wall.

Adia has now had it with Tuma's brother as a night guard, and I agree. My primary concern is that I think anyone with a smooth tongue could get in at any time of day, as Dennis just hasn't got the intellectual capability to differentiate between fact and fiction. Adia was talking to Di - one of the waitresses at Via Via - yesterday, and Di recommended a Masai who had worked there, but had fallen out with the manager while the owner was away on vacation, and left.

Everyone at Via Via agreed that he was the only straight Masai they knew - someone who would do what he promised. Adia got in contact with him today, and brought him to our compound tonight. Time will tell!

We might keep Dennis as a gardener, but frankly he's pretty useless at that too. He can work, but needs constant supervision. He did one interesting job yesterday with Adia - dismantling the existing compost heap and moving it to what will be the new vegetable garden area. About 2/3rds of it was well rotted compost - a years worth of vegetable waste and weeds. The less rotted stuff was moved to a new compost heap in a new steel wire-mesh cage.

I haven't varnished the Flet nightstand yet, but the picture gives a fair impression of its appearance, and clear varnish won't make much difference. Today I've been working on shelves for the spare bedroom, which is getting to be close to a habitable state.


Rain in mid September.


Who's who?.
20/9/2009 - An Odd Day.

Odd in several senses. First of all it rained overnight - somewhat strange for the time of year, and rained again during the day, producing a dismal morning. Second, when I got up there was no power. This in itself is not a big surprise here, but we later noticed that the meter on the outside of the house was alive, and that in fact, the main switch was off, but neither of us remember touching it. Third, it is Eid - someone spotted the new moon last night, and Ramadan has ended. Odd because almost any day can be Eid, since it is governed by a lunar calendar and creeps forward by about ten days a year.

This idea of an event that does not correspond to a time of year is alien to me. Mohammed is supposed to have received the revelation of the Quran during the Ramadan month in six hundred and something. It seems to me that at the time it must have been either spring, summer, autumn, or winter, and therefore very strange to celebrate something that happened say in spring at the beginning of autumn. Perhaps there's insufficient differentiation between the seasons in Arabia for anyone there to care.

Eid is a two day public holiday here in Tanzania. So today I got nothing much done because I thought the power was off, and tomorrow I might get nothing done if I haven't got absolutely everything I need to do my jobs. Aargh!

Anyway, today I more or less kept myself occupied by working on the prototype of a new nightstand (bed-side table) design. I'm calling it the Flet nightstand because its construction is similar to the dwellings of the Lothlorien elves as per Tolkien - planked platforms at different heights around the trunk of a Mallorn tree. It's pretty rough - made out of odd scraps of wood I had on my workshop heap, but I'll probably do a picture of it when I'm through, and I think it will be good enough to become an item of furniture in our spare bedroom

Since it was a quiet day, the dogs were out in the compound for quite a time today. Many people, including me and Adia are now having difficulty telling which is which on a cursory inspection. If you get close up and personal you can see that Gretel is a girl, but as Sigi has got bigger, he and Hansel are becoming problematic. Hansel is now just a tiny bit bigger, and Sigi is just a fraction overweight, and has a slightly different shade of hair on the top of his head and ears. But if they're moving quickly, you have no chance - it's just three apparently identical, and rather large dogs.

I neglected to mention in my previous post that our cat Cali has been on walkabout again. This time she disappeared for about a week. I presume she stayed wherever she stayed before, but she's not telling where. I have given up worrying - I've had cats that decided to change owner before, so I know it happens, and there's nothing you can do about it.
18/9/2009 - Vigilance Required.

Today, having taken a break to do other things, I returned to the mirror situation. We had taken the Nth broken one back to the glass shop to be recut, and ordered a replacement. The man at the glass shop asked if he should send one of his fundis to fix it, so I chickened out and said yes. The new mirror and the cut-down one are now installed in room 2 and the family spare room respectively.

The fundi did not do magic, he just didn't over tighten the screws as I did when I started the whole disaster. My mistake after that was to attempt to get mirrors that had holes corresponding the the plugs I had put in the wall. Wrong! What you have to do is fill the holes you had made, get a new mirror, and then drill new holes to match it, moving it a little if necessary. The next one I will do myself again. I can do the job at least as well.

The second point where I should have been vigilant today was with respect to the roof timbers for small house 2. Tuma the builder had asked for a ridiculous list of timber for the roof, so I had to measure the job up to make my own estimate of what we should buy.

His estimate was way over the top, but when we went to get the wood, we took him along so that hopefully he would be clear about the intentions. We found some good 4x2" timber, nice and dry and straight, at a good price. He stood and watched me buy eight pieces 5.5m or more long, for the roof joists. We bought other pieces for the 'wall plates' - the bits of timber that lie on top of the block wall that the joists get nailed to. So the shopping trip was successful. I also bought a piece of wood to make a shelf for the spare bedroom, and when we got back I set to work on that.

I kept an eye on what Tuma was doing as he put up the wall plates. Everything seemed to be progressing OK. When I'd got my shelf planed and sanded, I gave it a coat of mahogany stain varnish. That's one of those jobs where you have to concentrate to avoid the result having brush marks and looking streaky.

When I'd finished I went out to see what was happening to find that he had three joists in place that were a lot shorter than I expected. OK, correctable, we'd have to extend three joists - not the end of the world. But when I went down to see what was happening, I discovered that he'd cut all the pieces I'd bought for the joists to that same length. So I'd carefully bought 5.5m pieces, and he had promptly cut half a meter off the end of each of them. I was so pissed off! It's actually only about $40 worth of wood, but I'll have to search far and wide to find pieces of the same quality at that price.

He's off the roof job as of now, since I no longer have faith in his abilities as a roofer, and I shall dock the price of those timbers off what he gets paid - he can have the cut-up pieces. That probably means we will fall out, and we'll have to find a new fundi to finish the work. I should have been warned by the spurious shopping list, and supervised the roofing myself.


More miror woes.


A alternate plumbing system.
15/9/2009 - Growl, Growl.

I just watched a program on BBC World about the 'evils of air conditioning'. Now I'm fairly sure that the BBC gets reasonably good technical advice about the content of programs like that, but I suspect that much of the content of that advice gets lost in the editing of programs to make them topical, brief, and snappy.

The program correctly pointed out that some refrigerant gases are bad for the ozone layer, are greenhouse gases, and should be phased out. It also had the usual snipe at China because much of its power generation system uses coal fired power stations that are particularly bad at generating CO2. However it never mentioned the somewhat basic fact that air conditioners eat electricity - in many cases you have to have a special socket installed to provide enough current. Each air conditioner that is installed uses electricity at a bad time of day, and it is therefore more or less guaranteed that the electricity will be generated by low efficiency fossil fuelled plant.

Mankind has survived for many hundreds of thousands of years without air conditioning. Why do we suddenly need it now when we are already in the process of fucking up the planet?

Closer to home, I have doomed myself to bad luck for the rest of my life. This week I have broken four mirrors - if you believe the old superstition, that's 28 years. The first one I already reported - screws too tight. The second two broke while we were bringing home the replacement and the original that had been cut down to a smaller size. We went back and got another, but the fundi did not succeed in getting the holes close enough to the original. Two of them were too close together, and the mirror lost a corner as I was adjusting the screws. Man, I was pissed. I haven't touched it today - I figure I'll do better if I let the situation cool a bit first.

Instead, I investigated a plumbing system that is new to me. It's called IPS, and uses tubing that has a layer of aluminium sandwiched between two layers of temperature resistant polypropylene. The fitting have sockets that are just a push fit. Once you have put them together you have to cut them out to remove them, so it still does not have the flexibility of copper and solder where you can take a joint apart. But it will stand boiling water, and you can work with it with simple tools. There's a handheld cutter, a tool to prepare the ends, and a bending spring - yes, you can bend it. I have tried it out with an inline shower installation, and based on that I will use it in small house two.


Top lintel mostly cast.


Room 2 about there.
13/9/2009 - Give It a Break.

Tuma's lads got most of the small house two top lintel cast last night, working again until after dark. Adia told them to take a break today. I watered the concrete, since of course as soon as some exposed concrete had been cast, the weather decided to be scorching. Concrete does not develop its strength well under hot, dry conditions, so it's good to try and keep it a little damp.

The painter who gave the final coat to room 2 left lots of little emulsion paint splatters on the floor to add to the bits of varnish I had put there. So I spent about two hours of yesterday afternoon, and most of this morning, rubbing them off with steel wool and water - most tedious. But it looks good now. I'm putting two single beds in there, so you can bet your life we'll get a couple who want a double bed. This of course would apply equally well the other way round - sods law prevails.

So the best idea we've come up with for what to do next, is to complete the bathroom in room 3 - 'the honeymoon room'. If we get Ali to come and tile it, I can work on that while still having my workshop in the bedroom part, then as soon as there's a roof on small house 2, I can move my workshop into there and do the work in the room 3 bedroom. Much of the work goes into the bathroom, so once I'm out of there it should not take long to get room 3 finished. Then I can do the same performance in small house 2, and so on (ad infinitum?).

Without starting another bed, and I don't really have enough wood to do that, I'm stuck for something to do this afternoon. Adia is going to get veggies, so maybe I will go along for the ride.


Nine lines of blocks.


Cali's new basket.
11/9/2009 - Faulty Towers.

The replacement shower was a success. We bought it from a shop we have taken to recently that generally has better prices than most of the big hardware stores - Joshmal Investments. It was about TS 45,000 - about 2/3 of the price at the big store, so there was still a question mark hanging over it as to whether or not it was a fake. Juma the plumber was a no-show, so I took the old shower assembly off, and the new one went straight on in its place with no fuss. Then lo and behold, when we turned it on there was a decent flow of water, and you could adjust the temperature - a proper shower, yea! A bit of time fastening the new shower pipe to the wall, and tidying up, and it was a bathroom.

However, I was not off the hook. Later the same day as our guest was enjoying a shower, there was a popping noise, and the bathroom suddenly started to flood with water. I isolated it, and then looked to see what was up.


Plant and bedside table.
It turned out that the inlet system of the toilet cistern had simply snapped off, dumping the contents of the cistern onto the floor, and allowing the inlet pipe to spew more water after it. I put a plug in the end of the inlet pipe, told our guest she'd have to flush it with a bucket overnight, and promised her I'd deal with it first thing in the morning.

On Monday morning I was pleasantly surprised to find that getting a replacement was not a problem. I took the remains of the old piece out, and then quickly discovered a cause for this somewhat unexpected failure. There was an imperfection in the bottom of the porcelain cistern that caused a high spot on one side of the hole where the inlet assembly fitted.
To make it watertight it had been necessary to tighten it down quite savagely. This must have started a small crack in the plastic. Changes in the water pressure due to other taps being turned on and off would have then cyclically stressed this crack so that it propagated, and at some point it got big enough so the water pressure was enough to cause it to break off. Well at least, that's my theory.

So to get the new inlet assembly to seal without sending it along the same route, I had to pad the joint with silicone sealant, and leave it to set overnight before connecting the water supply back to the cistern - another day's bucket flushing. However, now at last it seems to be a functional bathroom, at least until the sink falls off its pedestal and breaks our guest's toes. Perish the thought!

The second room is about finished, though also not without its difficulties. In that case, I had fastened the full length mirror to the wall late one afternoon, and everything was looking good. But when we got up in the morning, one of the corners of the mirror had cracked off through the fixing hole. I guess I had tightened the screws half a turn too much. It was OK during the warmth of the day, but when it got cooler at night the screw must have contracted and nipped the mirror that bit too hard. I live and learn. The mirror can be cut shorter and used for something else, but we'll have to get another one cut for the room and hope they can position the holes accurately as per the old one so I don't have to re-drill the wall.

Armed with knowledge, I fitted the same shower assembly in room two, and that went smoothly as well. Hopefully if I can fit the replacement mirror on Monday, the room will be finished.

In the meantime, Tuma and his family have continued at breakneck speed on small house two. I've never seen fundis work with such tenacity and determination. They get here on time in the morning and work really hard all day. At the end of the day yesterday they'd got nine lines of blocks laid which means that the next stage is the top lintel. The after that there are two more lines of blocks, and then it's the roof!

Our cat Cali has a habit of always sleeping in the most inconvenient of places. My computer keyboard is a favourite, or the dining table, or a freshly made bed with clean sheets after she's been dust-wallowing in the compound. Adia finally bought her a basket, to which my response was essentially "no chance". Sleeping where we'd like her to sleep did not seem to me to be part of her repertoire. But damn me, as soon as she found the basket she was in there. She must have thought we'd bought it for some special human purpose - just the job, I'll sleep in it.


Classic example of shopping while hungry.


Rapid progress.
6/9/2009 - First Room Let.

The Canadian woman did get back to us, and is now ensconced in the first guest room for a month. The only problem seems to be the shower, which is just not delivering enough water, and is difficult to adjust for temperature. Juma says we bought a piece of crap in the first place, and he went shopping with Adia yesterday to get a replacement. I shall get him to install it, then if it doesn't work it won't be my fault ;=)

During Ramadan, Adia doesn't eat from about four in the morning until about six thirty in the evening. She does however go shopping, and the picture shows a classic consequence. Faced with a choice between this 7.5kg monster and a small one, the monster prevailed. We shall all be eating fish for a week - the head would make two meals!

Small house two is progressing by leaps and bounds. I should rig up some sort of positioning support for the camera, then I could make a time lapse video. Any time now I should break off from the room I'm working on and do the under floor plumbing for its bathroom.

The idea was that it would be my workshop for some time, but Adia now sees the possibility of a years let starting in December, so I suspect it will get pushed through to completion as quickly as funds allow.


Foundations appearing rapidly.
3/9/2009 - September.

Two years in Tanzania now. The house looks pretty much the same from the outside, but the first guest bedroom is now complete, and the second one not far behind. A Canadian woman came and looked at the available room yesterday, and made us promise not to let it until she got back to us - we'll see.

I've spent the last three or four days making more furniture for room two - as before, a bedside table, and a plant stand. The bedside thing is more or less the same design, but uses more conventional woodworking techniques. The plant stand is a new design. They're both in pieces being varnished at the moment. I'll do a picture when they are finished. Today I must start on another single bed.

Another Masai has bitten the dust. Zakayo - Paulo's brother - performed pretty well for a time, but then the first pay day, he went out, got blotto, and was then useless for about 24 hours. He was forgiven that transgression. However at the end of August it was even worse - spectacularly bad in fact. When I last saw him he was lying on his back, mouth wide open and drooling, having passed out while preparing the dogs' supper. A large lump of congealed dog food powder was boiling in the bottom of a pot on the charcoal stove. When he came to, Adia gave him his marching orders.
He has been replaced by the young brother of the fundi who is working on the new small house, whose name is Dennis. This is the first attempt at a night guard who is not a Masai and wasn't imported from Kagera. He's 21 and seems a pleasant lad. I suspect that the most immediate problem with him will be that he and Mwajuma will be having babies in double quick time. Heigh ho!

His brother is making very good progress on the second small house. He's a real worker, and seems to do his job carefully and well. I think that by the end of the day he will have started work on the concrete foundation lintel. If he continues the way he has started, then he's a keeper. But they all start that way.
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What is BEV?

Brits Eye View is an Englishman's six-year personal blog 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.

***
We do now have the second room of Adia's Place (the Brits Eye View Micro Hotel) available for occupancy. So if you plan to visit Arusha, and don't mind being a guinea pig, give us a shout. You can stay in a rather nice room close to both the city, and to rural Africa, at a ridiculous introductory price!

If you think I was being hard on MJ, try:
http://kunstler.com/blog/2009/06/the-man-in-the-mirror.html

Twinkle twinkle, little star.
How I wonder what you are,
up above the world so high,
like a diamond in the sky!

"What's a diamond mummy?"

RFC - How About New alternate stuff in a right column?



Now that many people are likely using higher resolution screens than they did in 2003 when this blog was started, I'm considering adjusting the format to take up a little more real estate.

Please get on the newsgroup and let me know what you think.

For example, odd interesting quotes or things I've seen, or links to interesting sites. For example:

Political Correctness is a doctrine, fostered by a delusional, illogical minority, and rabidly promoted by an unscrupulous mainstream media, which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a turd by the clean end.

Or the content at:

http://www.halfbakery.com/

Stronger pound - rises above $1.60