Sabotage

The first time I went skiing was with a bunch of friends from Arizona State. We stayed in a cabin together and played a card game called “Sabotage”.

One time playing backgamon with my mother, I rolled the dice something I didn’t quite know what to do with. She advised me of a risky, but most likely rewarding move. Her next roll, she defeated me. I looked up at her and said sadly, “You sabotaged me!”.

These are examples of Sabotage on a superficial level.

Yesterday, I woke on the rig, ready for another day of job preparation. We are out here to perform a few different services. One of which is borehole seismic. In short, we have some sensors attached to wireline cable which we lower into the well. Then, we have air guns which are pressurized and fired, initiating waves to travel through the ground and be picked up by the sensors in the well. It is very cool, a little high tech, and also a ‘special service’. The basic equipment which is needed for this operation are: sensors in the well, called shuttles; air guns; computer which communicates commands to the air guns; air compressors which pressurize the guns.

Today, we will be focusing on these air compressors. These are very large containers weighing over 10,000 pounds with an engine inside. We bring two, one for the job, and an additional one in case it fails. On yesterday’s agenda, we were to function test these compressors and make sure everything is working. At roughly 10 am, my mechanic pulled me aside and explained to me,

“uuh…. okay. I started the engine, it run for a few minutes and shut down. I start again. It run for a minute and shut down. I see shut down because ‘low oil pressure’. Okay. I go inside and open the oil. Inside there is sugar.”

I become livid. “WHAT?! ARE YOU F*CKING SERIOUS?”

“Laila, come look. I tasted it. It is sugar.”

“I believe you. But….f****ck.” I start strategizing. “Okay, call the cheif mechanic. Let him know. I will call MightyMouse and let him know. If you need any parts, get them to the boat. And if you can’t get it to work, start looking at the back up.”

I am outraged. I discreetly borrow a camera from the coman, and start documenting this horrendous scenario.

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This is a photo of some sugar scooped out of the engine. I tasted it. It is most definitely sugar. Now it seems that all the lines in the engine of our brand new compressor are contaminated with sugar. We call town to make some requests for more oil and filters.

A few hours pass. I have documented the sugar in the engine, made a report, called my boss, and made a fuss (a professional fuss, of course.) We are moving right along, with some crew working on the air compressor, some working on the cable, and myself working on the computer making templates and reviewing the program for the logging job. The other engineer, Leonardo, a very seasoned and kind engineer from Argentina, comes into the logging cab. I turn to look at him and he says to me, “We’re f*cked.”

“What?” I didn’t hear through the sounds of the rig and his thick accent.

“We’re f*cked.” He states again. “The backup also has sugar in it.”

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This time, I laugh. Leonardo calls MightyMouse. “It’s a complete sabotage!” He says. I giggle in the background everytime I hear him say “sugar” and “engine” in the same breath.

We work all day to clean out the engine, to no avail. We thought maybe the gauge which causes the shut down can be bypassed, allowing the engine to run and clean out the remaining sugar. No such luck. By the end of the day, We decide we have to have a third compressor sent from town. It is checked and found to be clean of sugar, salt, flour, or any other baking supplies.

We decide it is time to tell the company man we need another compressor. Some deliberation takes place as to what exactly to tell our client. On the one hand, its embarrassing that our machinery is full of sugar. On the other hand, we didn’t do anything wrong. Everyone agrees that honesty is the best policy.

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Arriba!

It is Wednesday. Today I went into the galley to pass the time for lunch. I was met with a steaming buffet full of grilled onions, chicken strips, rice, tortillas, ground beef, taco shells, and refried beans.

 

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It’s Mexican food day!! I stacked my plate with the aforementioned foods and sat in the corner to enjoy my feast. One by one, my new friends (the biker guys from the various southern states..) walked in chanting “Arriba Arriba!!”

The rig electrician, from Alabama, sat across from me at the table and shouted, “It’s Taco Bell!! My favorite restaurant!”

“Arriba!!” Yelled another man walking up to the buffet.

“La Casa!!” Exclaimed a portly man as he grabbed a jar of salsa.

We laughed together and got nostalgic about Taco Bell. I told them how I stream TV online and always see the latest Taco Bell commercials. As the Mexican food excitement died down and we stuffed our faces, I heard one guy say quietly, “These aren’t real refried beans….. They don’t even use lard over here….”

Cow and Chicken

This week, we find ourselves offshore on the Rowan California-42. Rowan is an American drilling company. Back in Houma, we worked on Rowan rigs quite often. My “break out” job for my promotion was on the Rowan Louisiana. I was very excited to come aboard and see how Rowan works over seas. There are a few noticeable differences between the Rowan California and it’s neighboring rigs in the Persian Gulf.

1) The familiar logo is patched onto the coveralls of their supervisors. They hail from all over the southeast United States. Their sweet southern accents are music to my homesick ears. Anyone I need to talk to out here speaks English.
2)The Galley: This topic has not really been addressed much since coming to Qatar, but on most rigs, the food is Indian, Arab, or Filipino. In fact, on some days, the food is separated into easy take- away boxes with labels: Indian, Arab, or Filipino. The Rowan California goes more or less by Gulf of Mexico galley rules. This means steak on Tuesday/Saturday, donuts for breakfast, meatballs and pasta, Rice Krispies cereal, and baked beans.

My first day on the rig, I sat in the galley near a group of Americans. Towards the end of lunch, I leaned over and asked “Where are y’all from?” A large man with jagged teeth looked up at me and stared sarcastically, “Uhh…. Amm-eerrr-i-kuuuh”. He said this as if this was an exotic far away land, which I may or may not have heard of. I took this in stride, and said, “Yes, I know that. Where are you from? I’m from America too.” It dawned on me that he probably didn’t notice that I am American. Working overseas, he assumed I was Arab and didn’t know anything about the United States. “Well, I’m from Alabama.” He introduced his friends one by one and where they were from. Much to my delight, several of the guys on this rig are from Louisiana, and a few are from Houma.

CowsandHorses

One man from Houma, Baxter, wears a bandana with a skull and cross bones on it. He talked to me about the Harley Davidson dealership in Houma. These folk work a 4/4 schedule and travel the globe. Despite their seemingly ignorant and bigoted ways, they have been to countless places. Baxter rents motorcycles in Nepal and rides the country side. One time, he rode all the way to the Tibet border, but they wouldn’t let him in, so he turned around and rode back. On one of Baxter’s adventures, he was staying at a small motel. He decided he wanted fried chicken. He asked the land lady where to get fried chicken. She instructed him to go to the market, buy the chicken, and she would make fried chicken for him.

“So I rode my bike down to the market. There were a bunch of chickens in a pin. I asked the guy for a chicken. He pointed at one. I said, ‘yeah, that chicken is fine.’ Then he picked up the chicken and went to the back. Couple minutes later, he came and handed me a bag with a hole in it, and the chicken’s head sticking out. It was still alive. Well, I held that sack and rode back to the motel with a live chicken in my hand. I gave the bag to the lady, and 20 minutes later… I had fried chicken!”

Fried chicken

Hotshot Mission

I woke up this morning with the sun coming through my window: another typical day in Doha.

On my way to work, I realize I may have forgotten to apply deodorant. I check to verify: yep, forgot to apply deodorant. Also on the way to work, we all notice an overwhelming presence of low flying planes. These are US military planes, getting ready for whatever is going to take place in Syria: not a typical day in Doha.

I went to the base this morning and began working on my assigned project: another typical day in Doha.

Whilst sitting and working diligently, Mighty Mouse came up to my desk;

“What are you working on today?”, MMouse asks very specifically. He already knows what I am working on, so I am curious what he wants from me. “Just the Rowan California load out?” He answers his own question.

“Yes, the load out.” I confirm. “Why?”

“Because I may need you to go to Dubai.”

Trying to conceal my excitement, “When?”

“Now.”…… Not a typical day in Doha

I do no hesitate to change out of my coveralls and into my street clothes, await my booking and get a quick briefing on my mission. In Louisiana, when we needed equipment sent from another district or rushed to the dock to send offshore, we called this a “hotshot”. A hotshot usually consisted of you going to the base, finding something, calling a trucking company, and putting that equipment on a truck. Or, coming to the base, and receiving something off a truck. In Doha, a hotshot is not so simple.

The only land border is with Saudi Arabia. Any equipment needed has to go through customs and a more intensive shipping process. One crew was in desperate need of a piece of equipment to repair something on their job. The nearest available one is in….DUBAI. The easiest way to get it here is…. by plane carried by a passenger…..enter: the passenger. The power of the US passport strikes again. It is likely I was chosen as I seemed to the be the least busy person (this is by design). It is more likely I was chosen because I have a passport likely to cause the least amount of issues.

I go home to get my prized US passport, apply deodorant, and head to the airport. I had about 6 hours in Dubai between flights. This was enough time for me to go to the mall, walk around, buy things, get tired, have lunch with an old friend from college, and get back to the airport in time to meet some guy who handed me a heavy cardboard box with two parts in it.  The Dubai mall is the largest mall I can imagine. While megatropolis cities often have a collection of “everything” in the giant malls, Dubai mall seemed to be in another league. There was every store I had ever seen in any country, all piled into this place. There was even a Rainforest Café. There is a full blown aquarium in this mall. There is a section of the mall called “Shoe Level”, selling only shoes. There was this amazing structure, which is calligraphy and the artists interpretation of the phases of the moon:

All in all, another atypical day in the oilfield.

 

 

My Slice of Home

An old fashioned soul, I am learning to do things on my own as if it was the first time. Rather than utilize the internet or phone book, I use classical advertising to point me where to go. During a run along the bay, I saw a truck drive by on the road baring a familiar logo. The trailer had a friendly familiar face holding a pizza and a phone number in large lettering. “44 24 PAPA” it read. I know what I will be eating for dinner/breakfast/lunch for the next several days- Papa John’s. After I got home, I dialed this number, ordered my pizza in my most perfect Qatari dialect and waited patiently with 50 Riyals in my hand.

The bland, yet fluffy crust tasted like home. It soaked in the garlic dipping sauce just like I remember. The sauce-crust interface melded like a pleasant dream from my childhood. I closed my eyes and passed through a blue mist, into another time and place…. back to Lewisville, on a special night when mom and dad let us order pizza. God Bless Papa John’s.

Living in a world surrounded by aliens, food is often the only familiarity linking my previous and current lives. I have found a Chipoltle- like shawirma place in the mall called “Wrap It”. When the mood strikes, I go there and eat alone at the counter:

 

 

Since arrival, my life has been desperately missing bagels. Today, the quest was resolved. I decided to take myself actual grocery shopping. Lo and behold, the grocery store has bagels and cream cheese. The “Kid’s” section of the refrigerated aisle contained a packet hauntingly similar to stringed cheese. All these items and more have been procured and are in storage in my mini fridge.

Whilst grocery shopping, I met an American civil engineer who recommended a bagel bakery and a burrito place. Surly these places will become the stable of my existence.

The Official Language

In the summer of 2003, my sister and I spent 5 weeks in Egypt. It was during this unforgettable trip where we first visited the Junior Jet Lounge in the Amsterdam airport.  It was also the summer I became aware of how terrifying it can be to not have proper command of a language. I was strolling in a store in the mall when a shopkeeper asked me if I needed anything or wanted to buy what I was looking at. I was flustered and could not find the simple words to just say “no thanks” or “just looking” or even “leave me alone!” I remember writing a detailed description about the experience in my journal. I thought about how language is not something you do in your head. It is more than reading and writing and memorizing vocabulary. You have to listen, process, formulate a response, and have the confidence to speak it back almost instantaneously. Frankly, language is hard work.

 

The Official Language of Qatar

 

My 4 months here in Doha has been a bombardment of language barriers. This time, I am on the other end, asking questions and staring blankly at the panicked responders, or leaning a little closer and feeling my ear hairs growing to achieve better resolution of the broken accents. I feel for the fourteen year old Laila. I feel for the kind shopkeeper. Upon first arriving, I had a tremendously difficult time being understood. This was strange, as I speak PERFECT English. I am mastering my craft of learning the local language, a version of English Mrs. Elliott and the gang back at Highland Villiage Elementary would be disgusted to hear me speak. Let us dissect a few phrases and exchanges and examine the language rules.

Today I left work early. Arriving home to my apartment, I took a taxi from the lobby. A we rode to the mall nearby, the cab driver struck up a conversation with me:

“You no work today?”, he inquired about my life. While the concept is easy to grasp, the communication barrier glares at me. To fully understand anyone here, you must strip down the language. The friendly cab driver could have meant any of the following sentences:

-Did you not have to work today?

-Did you ditch work today?

-Did your office burn down?

I smiled and said, “I go work today. I leave early.” This is the official language of Qatar, broken English. If I had responded with “I went to work today, but left early”, he may not have understood. In the Qatari language, “go” and “come” replace most other verbs. Any verb, noun, or basically all parts of speech are stripped down to their most naked state. For example, all verbs are reduced to their active simple present form, or sometimes simply eliminated all together.  (Here’s some quick and dirty grammar examples.) You can never say any verb beyond the first line in this example. All past, passive, perfect, future, progressive or continuous forms of a verb are too confusing.

I have started saying such phrases as “No need like this”, while pointing at the specific action which no need. “No need” is a very powerful phrase. It can mean any of the following, and even more:

-Is not needed

-Stop

– You don’t have to…

-Do not do…

-I don’t want to do what you said to do.

Another powerful phrase is the timeless “like this”. It has one meaning, and that is literally “like this”. I enjoy the phrase because of it’s vague nature and yet, very specific function. Crew members will expose each other’s mistakes by yelling “Why like this!” They will curse the sky and complain, “Why like this?”Any dissention in the ranks is brought to my attention by a question of my methods, “Why like this!?” An angry man will challenge my authority by taking it a step further and declaring “no need.” My response is simple, “YES NEED.”

Contractions: just say no. The use of contractions is frivolous and a little bit conceded. If you really want to get your point across, avoid adding extra subtle syllables into your words. Here are some examples of how to change your sentences to do away with contractions:

I’m going to lunch. >>> Eat lunch now.

I’m not feeling well. >>> I no feel good. or I sick.

We’re coming back to Doha. >> We come now Doha.

Don’t stick a wire into that socket. >>> No need.

Why can’t we try it my way? >>> Why like this?