September 2010 in Tanzania through the eyes of an Englishman

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Visit Tanzania?

If you are planning to visit Tanzania, and come to Arusha, please feel free to contact us. We can tell you about hotels, facilities, prices of basics, etc. Arusha is a great base for trips to the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Kilimanjaro, and of course our own pet volcano, Mount Meru. We now have very pleasant bed and breakfast rooms available at $20 to $25 per night - see Adia's Place. The South House is also now available for longer term visitors.
The BEV Retrospective - 1942/2002.

There was life before 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 1972.

30/9/2010 - Parting Shot

Yes, I know I'm supposed to have given up programming, but sometimes I just can't help myself.

My original version of the new-look BEV main page worked fine on Firefox using the jQuery stuff, which is supposed to be highly portable between browsers. It failed on IE8 - the expanding paragraphs didn't expand. So I had to roll my own slow toggle.

I learned a few things in the process, which as a good citizen I should share. You can find an article on how to do it on the BEV software page.

So the chairs are no further along, but today I did find time to replace the valve and the in-line electric shower head in our bathroom. I should get points from Adia for that!


The proposed new look BEV.
29/9/2010 - A Long Silence

I got started on the chairs, and once I get into carpentry mode it is difficult to break off. However once I'd got the wood and leather parts done for a couple of chairs, I thought I'd better take a break until I had the steel frames so I could check if I was making everything the right size.

Then, by some tortuous route, I reached the conclusion that I really needed to do some work on BEV to get it up to current standards, and improve its appearance and usability. That mean't a lot of changes to the way it's currently written to persuade the W3C validator to accept it as good transitional XHTML.

At the same time, while looking at the web site of a company here in Arusha, I discovered 'jQuery', a rather nifty JavaScript library that has been around for some time now, but escaped my attention while I rolled my own. I decided to give it a whirl.

You can vaguely see the result in the picture. There's a toolbar with left and right arrows that make the posts for the current month slide past horizontally - no more scrolling up and down a long page. The year/month index table has gone - you can select back months and retrospective years from the toolbar also. Some things in the right column have gone, and some are now hidden by default, and you have to click a title to expand them.

What I need readers to do is check it out on your browser. I know I have problems with IE6 - if you are still using that, please let me know. Otherwise please let me know if you see anything strange about the way it works. Click the contact button in the toolbar. If you can't, use the feedback link on this page to let me know.

I have the chair frames now, so I have no excuse for not getting on with the chairs.

BTW, the 'd' key on my keyboar is fading away, so please forgive any typos of the kind you see in this sentence.

My current holding of Mninga.

An unknown wood.
22/9/2010 - Found It!

My project for this month is to make a new set of dining chairs four our living room to replace the rather horrid plastic ones we have been using.

So today, Adia and I went out on a wood hunt. We went initially to a wood yard where I had previously determined that they had some selection of local hardwoods. They also have a carpenters shop where they make furniture. I noticed when we arrived that they had some items made in Mninga - the hardwood of choice in Tanzania and elsewhere in Africa. But at the same time, they had no Mninga in stock.

Now I have asked the question "where can I get it" many times in many different places, and always got either no answer, or evasion - usually "we can get some for you - what do you want". But one has to persist, so we asked yet again, and for the first time got a straight answer.

We were directed to a timber yard on a road that I have scoured before for such places. How I missed it I don't know - it has a big sign outside that proclaims they sell all kinds of wood. We went there, and I was confronted with what seemed like a treasure trove. They have stacks of Mninga, Mcola, Oliondo, Camphor Wood, Mringaringa, and other woods I did not even know existed.

One of them was the piece I have shown in the small picture. It looks very much like Mninga, but is apparently harder. I think it is pretty cool! They have the stuff in 8"x2" planks, ten feet and twelve feet long. So for about $100 I could get the wood for a replacement top for our big dining table, currently painted pine. I was like a kid in a toy shop. Mind you, it's not cheap, but neither is it extortionate. The Mninga is about twice the price I have been paying for Mringaringa, but it is a vastly superior wood in terms both of appearance and stability (the lack of tendency to bend and shrink over time). Hopefully you will see what I mean in future BEV offerings.

So the new dining chairs will be steel, Mninga, and naturally tanned cow hide, and the table top will get replaced in due course. Either that, or I'll make a completely new dining table, and give the existing one a coat of yacht varnish before putting it out on the patio with the plastic chairs.
21/9/2010 - Just Gambling?

Most people make relatively straightforward decisions, often limited to one area of expertise. This applies to personal decisions, and often to business or financial decisions. Investment decisions are often limited to a view as to whether a particular purchase in some limited field might appreciate or depreciate in value.

While a majority of people and organizations probably proceed on such blinkered decisions, there are other organizations that set out to exploit this fact. They are called 'hedge funds'. Often, hedge funds are described as companies who make financially related bets - bets on the value of something in the future. This is true, but it is how they do it that should concern us.

Hedge funds respect no national boundary and no national interest. They're aim is to discover price trends that may or may not not be obvious, and to place their bets appropriately. You should recognize that these companies employ people who are out of the price range of most national governments. Their employees, or partners, are people with intelligence levels approaching 'genius', who also have a healthy appetite for making money. When they find some situation where there might be an opportunity to make a good bet, other's in their organization will have found other situations that counterbalance the first one. Go further, and consider these possibilities in sets of dozens, or hundreds.

The hedge funds then have teams of mathematicians who can put these combinations of chance together and do the calculations. They will determine which combinations are likely to make most profit, and least likely to make a loss. This sort of concentration on investment decisions is out of the range of virtually all individuals, most governments, and many large companies - they just use the hedge funds to do the job for them.

There is a certain inevitability about this situation. As the hedge funds get richer, they will be able to exert an irresistible attraction for the highly intelligent people they need. Sooner or later, they will control the whole world economic system. Of course, when they reach that stage, they will inevitably collapse - their raison-de-etre will be destroyed, and the rest of us will have to suffer the consequences of a complete economic collapse.

This poses severe problems for a 'free' society. Ideally, there, all highly intelligent people should work for the benefit of the people. Think about it! We have a big problem looming here.

A cows nostril.

Bread experiment.
19/9/2010 - What's Going On.

My title is contrived, what is indeed? I apologize to readers who may have looked at the retrospective pages for 1967 to 1971. I did not do due diligence, and while the pages looked fine to me via Firefox, in Internet Explorer they looked like shit. Hopefully they are now fixed - sorry.

"What's Going On?" is a Marvin Gaye single from the early 70's.

For more of a flavour of the times, and more music links, check out the retrospective.

So, what is? Well not that much. Apart from fixing the evil formatting of 1967-1971 in IE, I also went back over the whole thing an attempted to fix the music links, which were all broken. How long they will stay fixed remains to be seen.

The cow's nostril caught my eye at our butcher's shop. I have no idea how you'd cook one, but I can guarantee the Africans and the Chinese will have a way. Here in Africa there is very little of a cow that does not get cooked and eaten somehow - same for China.

The bread experiment was provoked by a couple of loaves of rather nice wholemeal bread that Adia got from one of the bakeries in town. I thought to myself "I've done that before - how difficult could it be?" I cooked it in the toaster oven we brought from India. It's not bad, but the recipe was poor. I will have to do more research to perfect it.

Adia has transformed into a fitness addict. She and her friend Mariam have taken to walking up and down the hill up to the Esami college five times every morning. I did it once last week, faster than Adia, in about 6.5 minutes, but she probably does it faster now. It's a stiff uphill walk. You can see the results already - she is noticeably slimmer - and the campaign was what led to the brown bread.
16/9/2010 - State Visit?

In my understanding, and in the Wiki explanation of a State Visit, such a visit is "the highest form of diplomatic contact between two nations". The Pope is head of state of the Vatican, a very small state that as far as I know does not have any outstanding substantive issues with the UK. As such, I would expect the Pope's visit to be a relatively low key affair. He would get to meet the Queen and the Prime Minister, have a posh dinner, address the House of Commons, and maybe visit a selection of Catholic bishops and a community centre or two.

It is not normal for diplomatic visitors to conduct mass in front of thousands, and to tell the British people that their secular way of life is wrong or immoral. Imagine the outcry there would be if any other head of state came here on the British taxpayers tab and did the same sort of thing!

If that is the aim of a Papal visit, then either the UK Catholic church or the Vatican should be paying, and the visitor should have to get an appropriate visa like anyone else, and should not be treated in any special way by the government except possibly for the security arrangements often made for senior visitors from foreign countries..

Even more distressing is that the UK government must have been fully aware of the visit's itinerary (for security reasons), and yet they allowed it without any very noticeable notification to the British people that they were changing the rules! The Catholic church has a set of teachings and values that a significant proportion of British people find repugnant, contrary to basic human rights, or at the minimum, misguided. The visit in its present form is just not right!

Our house.

The digital TV tower.
13/9/2010 - Finally Some Progress.

I have today posted my retrospective page for 1971 - it has been a long time coming.

Why? Well I guess simply because I have made furniture for the rooms that really needed it, and I have not entirely decided yet what sort of furniture I want to make for the remaining rooms.

I have a number of problems with the retrospective pages. The one that concerns me most is the difficulty of finding MP3 files I can link to to provide playback of popular music of the year. Before and including the 1970 page I thought I had found a good source. But it was too good to be true, and has now been closed down. Now I accept that it is just going to require a lot of work to keep the whole concept working

The second problem is the variation between styles and formats of the pages for different years. That will also only be cured by more work, but that work won't be done unless the pages get visits - seems like logic to me.

Having got to this point, this afternoon I went out to look for pictures to use in today's page. My choices turned out to be views from vantage points. When I got the pictures home, I realized that it was not really the right day. There was too much haze. The human eye has a remarkable knack of ignoring this, but my camera does not.

My last vantage point was Themi Hill, where our television mast is located. I was riding Kiki, and as I descended I noticed that she was feeling a bit strange. By the time I got to the bottom I realized I had a puncture in the back tyre. I dismounted at that point and pushed her along the mostly downhill road to the first service station that has a tyre repair service.

I was afraid the scooter - an unusual vehicle here - might be a problem. But no, it has tubed tyres, so it just got fixed. Kiki's toolkit provided the spanner necessary to remove the wheel, an the rest of the job was done with the same tyre levers and tools they use for cars and trucks. Other than those, the tools they used were a bit of pumice stone from Mt Meru, a blunt hacksaw blade, and another hacksaw blade with one edge sharpened as a knife. The repair cost me the equivalent of about $3.20.
10/9/2010 - Bad Analysis.

Having almost come to blows with Adia about my attitude, I must return to the extremist Pastor Jones issue. I'll try to do better.

The problem here is one guaranteed by the US constitution - the right to free speech, and compounded by an obvious lack of understanding of the latter by the inhabitants of countries who are accustomed to having authoritarian government. Let's be clear. In US law, the Quran is a book, I believe the Christian Bible has the same status. A book is a heap of paper with printing. You buy them from a bookshop, an then they are your property. Burning them is therefore not an offence. Declaring in public that you are going to do so is the free speech bit. It may be stupid and inflammatory, but it is protected by the constitution.

Currently the US administration has got its knickers in a twist. Lots of senior figures were making lots of noise in the most visible media against the pastor (who may well be an extremist idiot, and who may now have backed down). But in Iran or Afghanistan, or Indonesia, this will have been interpreted, by ordinary people at least, as pure politics - what I say is one thing, what I do is another. In their countries, if some dissident mullah was making noises that the government did not like, he would without doubt be taken in by the police, or some other institution, along with any of his followers who might be inclined to follow his lead. They would have been held without trial for as long as necessary, and maybe longer.

In this context, Obama's failure to order Pastor Jones' arrest is interpreted as his covert opinion. If he really meant what he said, surely Pastor Jones would be behind bars. Hence the "death to Obama", rather than "death to Jones" chants.

Having said all that, I must say that the countries where the protest is coming from mostly have appalling human rights records, and that if they got their act together, and allowed their people freedom of thought and historically customary actions there would probably be fewer Pastor Jones's in the world.

Cali's latest daytime sleeping place.

Double vision.
9/9/2010 - Comment Expected?

OK, so there's all this spat going on about burning of copies of the Quran on 9/11. Britseye must have a comment on this! Well true enough - I do have a viewpoint, but it is relatively subdued. The book burning is a waste of Oxygen - I doubt that, in relative terms, there's more than a handful of Muslims in the world who understand the point it is trying to make. If you are going to do something reactionary and provocative, you should first be sure that there is someone out there who will understand your message.

At the same time I will pose a question which may be a relevant context. In several Islamic countries, it is illegal to posses a copy of the Christian bible. If you are caught with one, it will certainly be confiscated. What happens to it then?

Continuing on an Islamic theme, it is Eid (there are two - the one I'm talking about is the end of Ramadan) tomorrow, after a lunar month that will have lasted 30 days (don't ask me to explain - I thought a lunar month was 28 days). It's all just part of the obscurity involved in trying to follow literally a set of instructions that were written in the 7th century, and tailored to an audience that could probably neither read nor do simple arithmetic, had no access to what is now simple astronomical data, and all lived in the same geographical area - go figure.

I have to say though that since my introduction to Ramadan by Adia, this was the happiest one. Thank you my love.

The rendering of the outside walls that we selected to be done is now more or less complete. Give the imperfections in accuracy of the walls as constructed, Innocent has done his usual excellent job. There's a plant we have seen that grows against walls and covers them with a curtain of small leaves. It looks good - I need to find about 200 cuttings or seedlings.

We had potential customers here today for the South House. Once again, the outcome was the letting of one of our rooms, rather than the house. It might be an interesting story - I'll tell you when I know more.

The rendering of the outside of the south wall.

A do-it-yourself brick kiln.
6/9/2010 - A Different Walk.

Adia has been walking in the morning each day this month. She walks up the road to the main Njiro road, which is a stiff walk in itself. But then she also walks some way along the main road, and then up a steep slope that goes to the Esami college complex to the east.

Yesterday morning I'd got it into my head that I also wanted to walk in the opposite direction, across the small river behind our house to see what was on the other side. We have been here all this time and never crossed it. So when Adia got back I asked her if she'd do it, and quite gamely I think, she said she would. You need to remember that it's Ramadan, an she is fasting, so there's no breakfast, or cup of tea when she gets back - not even a glass of water.

My aims were limited. According to the Google map, we would come to a road not too far away on the west bank, and there I reckoned we'd be able to get a daladala into town, and from there another one back along Njiro road, leaving us with the mostly downhill walk back home.

I took the picture of the wall rendering on our way out. Rendering a fence like this is one of those jobs that starts quickly and then slows down. The large flat panels got done in the first day and a half. But then there are a load of fiddly bits, like rendering around the concrete posts and the wall cap, and the foundation. That makes the day and a half into a week. But Innocent and his team seem to be doing a good job. Wrega was busy watering the fresh mortar as we left.

Then there was the steep descent down to the river, and the even steeper ascent up the other side. I was out of breath. Clearly the exercise I'm getting is not sufficiently aerobic! At the top on the other side we found the brick kiln. Then it was an easy walk to the road, and about a kilometre along it until we found the point that was the end of the daladala route.

The daladala we got was particularly clapped out. I think every bolted joint and rivet had its own squeak or rattle, and many parts were missing altogether. Of course, this did not stop them from cramming about 20 people and various sacks of maize and beans and such into it, and of course it got us into town. The daladala we got back to Njiro was in relative terms quite luxurious.

I shall add this as one of my 'tourist attraction' expeditions. The route definitely gives you a view of ordinary life in Africa.

More leather, same price.
1/9/2010 - September.

The weather is still unusually cold despite the fact that the sun is very high in the sky close to noon now. There seems to be a constant cold breeze coming in from the east that encourages cloud formation, and keeps the weather cool even when the sun gets out.

Today I put my money where my mouth has been, and we went to Moshi to visit the tannery there. The visit was not a great success. Measuring up the pieces of naturally tanned cowhide that they had for the number of chairs I'd like to make for the big table, and adding in the VAT, the price was no different than that I have been paying here in Arusha.

The colour and softness of the leather was pretty good though, so I bought some anyway. However, given that I can buy the same quantity of leather from a shop in Arusha, for the same price, where they have to figure in the transport cost and their profit margin, it's clear that I have not yet found the right supplier. There's another tannery some 30km further own the road after Moshi. Maybe I'll get there one day.
Innocent and a couple of helpers have started work this week on the rendering of the external surface of the concrete block wall around the compound. I have been putting it off, since it is not expenditure that will contribute in the near future to our income, but it was clear to me that it needed to be done. The rendering is like the bread of a sandwich around the relatively soft concrete blocks that form the filling. Without it, sooner or later, the wall will weather away.

After some email conversation with Oanda, the currency converter widget they provide that I use on the page has now been modified to show results that are consistent with those they show on their own web pages

Hmmm, exciting start to the month - I hope you are not overwhelmed.
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What is BEV?

Brits Eye View is an Englishman's seven-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.

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We have rooms available at Adia's Place. So if you plan to visit Arusha, give us a shout. You can stay in a rather nice room close to both the city, and to rural Africa, at a very competitive price. Some time early in August, the South House will also be available for longer term visitors.