Is America Same?

My new location is split up into crews, much like Houma. Each crew has a crew chief. The crew chief I worked with this week is a black Sudanese man named Wesley Snipes. His fellow operators really do call him either “Black Sudani” or “Wesley Snipes.” He is cheerful and friendly, and we speak in Arabic together. The other members of my crew include a man named “Buddy”. This is his actual nickname. I went through extensive research to find his actual name to properly assign him on my job tickets. Buddy reminds me of Harry2. Buddy is Filipino. Most of the operators I have encountered are Filipino. They cook delicious food and are always yelling at each other in Filipino. A common theme I observed working with these operators is their inquisitiveness about America. I often hear questions like “Is America same?” followed by motioning to a landscape or situation. Other popular questions are “Where in America is cold?”, “Do you have driver license in America?”, “Are mountains in America?” or “Is some people black in America?” It is amazing how movies can shape people’s view of a time or place. How little do we really know about the world?

“Where in America is safe place to raise family?” Wesley Snipes asks me, opening up a long discussion lasting a 45 minute car ride. “A friend told me there are places where if you don’t have money, you can not go out. Someone will flash you his gun, and you give him $50 or something, whatever you have. If you no have money, they shoot you.”

“Is it true in America, anyone can shoot you?” Buddy looks to me, desperately hoping I will deny this. “It is true,” he sighs, “They will shoot you if you no have money.” I tried to explain that in theory, it is not allowed to just shoot poor people. I found it hard to convince this group that they would not be shot in America.

“You hold the most powerful passport in the world…. U S A” Buddy informs me.
“And me too!” Wesley chimes in, “Mighty Sudani passport is very powerful!”

Wesley is a joker. He is constantly harassing the other operators by wiping his greasy hands on them or slapping them around. He plays practical jokes and likes to tease me. He tried to tell me that Sinbad was talking badly about working with me behind my back. “Don’t say that! I would never say that! This is my future FSM!!” Sinbad protests. Later at dinner, Wesley quietly sat playing Candy Crush on his phone. Sinbad poured water into cups and some spilled on the table.
“See Sinbad, if you don’t like Laila, dump water in face.”-Wesley, without even looking up from his phone.

We ate at a restaurant run by an Egyptian. I ate too much. Waddling back to the car, Wesley suggests, “We take picture of Laila now, and Laila in one month.”

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Please enjoy these pictures snapped illegally in the desert field where I was working this last week:

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This place is almost like Arizona. Sometimes when I’m walking around, I pretend I am Arizona or California, and just around the corner is an In N Out. Other times I look out on the field and it looks like New Mexico. I think the Rio Grande may be just on the other side of some plateaus. It’s not though… still more desert.

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Dukhan

Friday” I had to go to the hospital for blood samples and X Rays for my residency visa. The hospital is split into two sections, much like a bathroom. The men and women’s areas operate completely separately, and you will never see a man in the women’s section nor vice versa. Two Arab, non Qatari, women were working in the phlebotomy room. While I sat in the chair squeezing my fist, the other woman having her blood drawn said very concerned “Why you take so much blood?” Her phlebotomist exclaimed loudly in Arabic “3shan mazagi kidda!! Hashrabo, 3ani?!?!” which means “Because I’m in the mood to. As if I’m going to drink it!!??”. Everyone erupted in laughter except for the poor woman who’s blood supply is missing a test tube full.

After my medical exam, I came to the land field, Dukhan. Some operations in Doha go offshore, however our main client, Qatar Petroleum, has more than four rigs on land in the desert. This little oilfiled village is known as Dukhan. It is about one hour outside of Doha. In the way here, I saw a race track where there are camel races every week. There is a McDonalds, Subway, Domino’s, several other restaurants, and a market called Costnat. The Cosnat sign reads “COSNAT: a new concept”. The concept is grocery store. It was at the Cosnat where I picked up these bad boys:
Softi

My preliminary thoughts on the Softi Cubes are as follows: They are all the same color, despite their varied flavors. They are not in cube form. This was misleading.

The accommodations at Dukhan are very nice. Basically, there is an oil patch in the middle of the desert. Several rigs move around on it to the different wells to do rig activities. All the rigs are in close proximity to each other. Just outside of this oil field, Qatar Petroleum has set up a small town, as mentioned before. There is a new little apartment complex there. We stay in these apartments while working on the rigs. It essentially serves as a base camp. We can do several jobs in a row on many rigs and only return to the base camp and either shuffle around the equipment which is in the field with us, or have more equipment sent out from Doha. It’s nice because I get to stay with other engineers and operators who are on other jobs. If everyone is on a different rig, we all convene at the base camp and are nearby if any support is needed. These accommodations are by far nicer than Ezdan towers in Doha, and infinity times nicer than any deepwater drillship. Its a big apartment, with a full kitchen, two couches, cable, flat screen TV, wireless internet, and a nice window:

Base Camp

I am almost finished with my supply of Softi Cubes.

The Interweb Conspiracy

I just wrote a long long post about a lot of awesome things and then the internets crashed. Now I am angry, but will try my best to recreate the post I just spent over an hour crafting.

In operational news, I am likely going to the desert tomorrow to see some jobs!

Qatar is a country comprised of many immigrants. Actual Qatari citizens constitute only 20% of the population. Immigrants from other Arab countries, India, Pakistan and Nepal are the other majorities. Qatari’s are easily spotted as they either look like this…

or this…

without exception. Everyone else is a foreigner.

Hundreds of people move to this city to wash windows. At night, they swarm the streets. They attack building by building dressed in coveralls, reflective vests, and hard hats. Suspended hundreds of feet in the air, the migrant workers wash the windows of sky scrapers which decorate Doha. These men come from third world countries, live 10 men to a room and are paid 1000 Riyals a month, roughly 330 USD. I hear them singing and laughing as they skip through the streets. Though most of the people living here are from other countries, no one is granted Qatari citizenship. A gentleman I work with has lived here is whole life and his father has worked for the Qatari government for 35 years. His family has been denied citizenship. I try to place these things in context with what I know about immigration in the USA. To begin, the immigrant population in Qatar is more representative of the globe than immigrants in the USA. To conclude, a Qatari citizen has Qatari ancestry without exception, though they are grossly out numbered in their own country. No one is naturalized. Contrary, any American citizen may have ancestry from anywhere. If I ever speak to a Qatari, I will ask how they feels about all the foreigners. How do they feel about me? Am I poor? Do I bring crime and drugs and violence into their homeland? I imagine the mentality towards foreigners is quite different from the USA. Qatari’s do not work: plain and simple. They are rich by default. Hundreds of Indians wash windows for 330USD a month and they don’t have to sneak into the country to do it. While I am not washing windows or hopping borders, I am just a little immigrant, here to take advantage of the work opportunities.

The employees of Whateberger hail from across the globe. They reside, while not occupying, tower 3 of the Ezdan complex in Doha. Every morning, the employees gather to wait for the bus outside the lobby. I walk downstairs at 6:50am. I see some business casuals clustered near the doors. A meeting of brief cases and back packs takes place closer to the bus stop. Off to the side, there is a gang of young men dressed in beach attire and decorated with full sleeve tattoos. A lanky blonde bloke with a Mohawk styled haircut seems to be their leader. They stand out among the brown sea of business casually dressed people with close toed shoes. I had the pleasure of sharing an elevator with the tall blonde fellow. I told him I was from the United States and had been in Doha for only a few days. He told me he and his friends would be going out to dinner at 7pm if I wanted to join. Having yet to eat outside of the Whataberger base, I accompanied a band of native English speakers from England, Scotland, and Australia. These fellows work for the Whateberger segment knows as “Slickline”. Though the slickliners dress in tank tops, caps, soccer shorts and flip flops for going to the office, they were dressed in polo shirts and slacks for dinner. I learned that some Ezdan towers are actually quite nice and home to the Qatari national basketball team. We theorized that tower 3 must be the slums, after the other towers used up all the funding. I do love my room. I have everything I need and I don’t even pay to live here. However, the tiles on the stairway are loose, and the steps are uneven. Though we should have a nice view from the 20+th floor, we can’t see because our windows are dirty! The company pays 1000Riyal a night for our rooms, roughly 330 USD. I wonder how much it costs to stay in a room with a view polished by the third world window washers.

Manic Sunday

In Qatar, the work week is Sunday-Thursday. However, I intend to still label my task week Monday-Friday and continue to not know what day or time it is.

Yesterday was my first weekday in the office. I met my new manager and many of my new co workers. They are a lively bunch from all over the world: Latin America, Egypt, India, Ireland, Malaysia, Sudan, Philippines, Kazakhstan, Syria, Iraq, China….Literally all over the world. I have a long list of tasks to accomplish to become integrated into the system and ready to make jobs. My fellow engineers advised me to take my time and delay getting these things, to maximize my fun time in Doha.

“Monday” morning came early for me. I woke at 2 am and stared out my window until 6 am, when I started getting ready. Though I was completely exhausted, jet lag won out the battle. I arrived on the bus, attended a morning meeting with my manager, let’s call him Mighty Mouse. MM is a tall Iraqi man, who speaks in an Egyptian dialect of Arabic. We discussed our expectations of me and he assigned me the aforementioned list of tasks.

The office administrator has been helping me through my list of tasks. She is an Indian woman who calls me daughter, let’s call her Master Shifu after Dustin Hoffman’s character in Kung Fu Panda.

Master Shifu

Master Shifu wears a sari and moves slowly. She has much power in this office.

Office Boy is another beloved character in this saga. This is a young man whom everyone refers to as simply “Office Boy”. He asks you if you want coffee or tea every morning. Today, I made my own coffee and he watched me, then asking, “You drink your coffee black?”. Office Boy routinely brings everyone an apple and banana around 10-10:30 every day. He is quiet and polite and very nice. No one really says much to Office Boy. I feel weird having someone make coffee for me and bring me fruit. I should be bringing my bosses fruit. Today I had a little conversation with Office Boy and discovered his name is Flip Flop.

Yesterday afternoon I had H2S training, which is mandatory for working in Qatar. The training facility is called Venture Gulf and is located next door to the Whataberger base. I walked over there after lunch. The course is administered by non english speakers and for non english speakers. Feeling extremely fatigued, I chose a seat in the back of the room. I fell asleep almost immediately. My slumber was stirred roughly 10 minutes later by the instructor apparently asking me a question.

“Do you hurt me?” he asks.
“Excuse me?” A groggy Laila responds.
“Do you hear me?” he asks.
“Yes, I can hear you!”
“No, Do you HELP me.” He pushes through his accent to convey the question.
“…..” I have a puzzled face.
“I asked everyone a question. Individually.” He seems to be mocking me.
“I’m sorry, can you repeat your question?”
“If you are working with a partner, and there is an H2S leak and I collapse, do you help me?” I am now up to speed and extremely embarrassed for being SO asleep that I had no earthly idea what he was talking about.

Day One

A full tour of my new living quarters may be coming in a post soon.

As mentioned before, the flight from Dallas to Dubai included no children. The many times I have flown over seas, gaggles of children made the journey with me. They were being carried by their parents to far away lands to visit their ancestors. They went begrudgingly and cried for many hours, transforming the entire plane into an army of fellow begrudgers. DFW>DXB is another animal. This flight is not for the squeamish and you must be 60″ to get on the plane. I slept; I watched whole seasons of shows; I walked around; I listened to playlist on playlist; I ate three meals; I counted minutes. Somehow, 14 hours went by. As the youngest person on that plane, I wanted to scream and cry.

The second flight was under one hour. Arriving in Doha at 2:15pm on Friday, I had officially  jumped forward a day in time. This post is brought to you from the future.

I walked through border patrol. I handed the man my passport and work visa. He spoke to me in Arabic, though my passport is American. I feel cool. I also don’t stutter to answer. He lets me into the country. I collect my trusty luggage and wheel my cart through customs without being stopped. An Indian man holding a sign simply reading “Whataberger” sees I am also wearing a Whataberger T shirt. We nod at each other and he jerks his head as if to say “meet me outside”. It’s hot as balls. It’s only April. The driver tells me in the summer, the weather will reach 50-54 degrees C. I am not sure what this number means…. but it is only 32C right now. We leave the airport. I see this:

Leaving the Airport

This city looks amazing. There are sidewalks, which is an instant upgrade from Houma. There are people, including women, running and exercising on the sidewalks. I am excited. The driver explains to me that a bus takes me from my apartment to the base and home everyday. Since there is a bus, everyone leaves by 5. Work is over by 5. This concept echos in my head in a sweet, sweet tune. Of course, there will be occasional late nights and the inevitable going offshore…. but still!

My building is Ezdan tower 3. It is behind all of the towers in the picture. I am on the 23rd floor. I can see all the towers and the water from my room.  I ask the man at the front desk when the Whataberger bus will be there in the morning. He says “It’s a weekend…. so 8 or 8:30, I think.”  This morning I woke up, showered and was so excited, I walked downstairs at 7:45. The bus was loaded and left by 8.

The Whataberger base in Doha is what we call an “OFS” base, meaning it houses all segments: wireline, well services, drilling and measurements… It is rather large. In fact, just the wireline area is larger than my previous home in Houma. It is a weekend, but I decided to come in any way and familiarize myself with where to go so that tomorrow I don’t look completely lost.

I met an engineer named Russel. He is Egyptian American, very friendly and down to earth. He gave me a quick tour of the base. I learned that there are beaches where people spend the day, there is a shooting range, and plenty of other activities in the city to occupy myself while not working.

Russell

Long Day

Twas a stormy night as Laila tossed and turned. One o’clock, two o’clock, three o’clock, and four. The hours slowly pass until it’s time to wake up.

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My Luggage Fleet

I wake before my alarms. I shower. Mom drives us to the airport. It’s cold and raining. She comes inside with me and makes sure I get checked in. We eat breakfast at the airport. We say goodbye before I cross security.

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There’s something fundamentally raw about leaving or saying goodbye to your mother.You felt it on that first day of kindergarten, when you left for college, and now as you drag your violin and laptops through the airport. You smile as if to say “Look at me, mom! I’m doing it!” You wait until she’s out of sight and let tears pool up to the threshold of your vision. You sit by the gate, crying silently to yourself like a total weirdo. Everyone here looks old and seasoned; they’ve made this flight dozens of times. You, on the contrary, are full of energy and
excitement. The TSA agent who checked your boarding pass looked at you and chuckled, saying “You have a long day ahead of you!”

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Book Two

I received my final documents for my visa. My new management booked my trip for Thursday, April 18. After months of anticipation and anxiety, the day is finally here!

Thursday, my dad and I will go to the airport together, as he as a flight in the morning as well. My mom cancelled her class tomorrow to hang out with me. I’m sure her students are excited.

I’m packed. I’m ready.

So concludes Book One of rigtales. I feel there is not much to say at the moment. My thoughts are reserved for my arrival in Doha on Friday. Rest assured, there will be several paragraphs of my first impressions.

Farewell: Gulf of Mexico, HMOS engineers, Jerome (has gone to live with Noelle), Ricky at the shooting range, Buffalo Wild Wings, Hurricanes, parades, mom, dad, sister, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandpa, my trusty bicycle and roller skates. We will meet again.

 

This is a photo of a poster sent to me by Spike Panda on his last trek offshore to the rig, Discoverer Deep Seas. I find this poster terrifying and demotivating to the crew. It sends the message: You live on a tiny boat which could be lost in the abyss of the ocean or swallowed by a dragon at any moment now.

I wonder what propaganda I will see in the Persian Gulf.