Tomato Potato

I sing songs about Texas. I sing them often, as if she were some old lover I used to know. I wish I could follow them back to the homeland every time I hear one on my radio.

The homesickness always sets in as I sink in my office chair for another round of logging. Tonight, I’m back in Dukhan with my favorite crew chief, Mr Arcenio Hall.  20140927_175353

We sing together and he shows me pictures of his family. I unsuccessfully try to rotate that photo. He cackles when he asks me “Do you have many followers on that blog?” and I answer, “Just my mom.”

Today, the sky behind the rig looks like this:

20140927_172556So as I sit here, slightly hungry, singing and alternating my focus from the sky to my computer screen(s) I just count the similarities.

Texas looks like oilfields and pink clouds. Hunger feels the same. My music sounds just as sweet. The sky fades to black. We yawn knowing the operation will probably continue for another twelve hours.

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Black Eyed Beans

The bag of peanuts almost got stuck in the vending machine. We had been waiting in the heliport for over two hours now and I was hungry. Today, I flew offshore to a Chinese rig. The oil company is Chinese, as is the drilling company. I’d heard many stories from my colleagues who previously visited this rig. From trainee engineers to veterans, the feedback seemed the same, “That rig is a mess.”

I haven’t been this curious or excited to make an offshore job in a while. Some of my preconceived ideas before I got here were…

  • What if they joke about America’s debt? I don’t think I’d know how to handle that…
  • Everything will be crappy and break.
  • Maybe I will see a robot.
  • I should be on the look-out for knock-off safety gear.
  • I hope the rig is colored red.
  • There’s going to be authentic Chinese food!

Some myth busters about the peculiar Chinese rig…

  • No one gives a shit that I’m American. And they certainly do not ‘joke’
  • The Chinese are SO nice.
  • One’s level of English can be noted by how hard he does or does not squint while listening to you. Speak to the poker faces.
  • No robots.
  • What they call “Fish” is ACTUALLY “Calamari”
  • The menu item “Black Eyed Beans” is neither black eyed peas nor black beans, but rather peas and carrots.
  • The drilling company wears red. The oil company wears yellow.

The daily supervisors meeting takes place in the evenings after dinner. The meeting room looks more or less like this:

ChineseMeetingBut instead of Mr Obama, Madam Clinton and friends on the left, there are a bunch of oilfield service hands. On the right, it pretty much looks the same except they are wearing yellow. We go through the room one by one, with each person addressing their upcoming activities and needs or concerns with anyone else on the rig. Once it comes time for the client supervisors to speak, they all turn and talk to each other in Mandarin. After a few minutes, the meeting is dismissed. They know all our concerns, yet we know none of theirs. Everyone smiles and stands, thanking each other as they walk out of the room.

Not A Medical Term

Some aspects of my job involve working with radiation. In addition to company policies, trainings and certifications, Whataberger employees are subject to other trainings and certifications in whatever country we are operating. After nearly 1.5 years working in Qatar, I am being sent to the radiation safety course for this country. The course meets from 5-8pm for one week. I won’t elaborate on my feelings towards this schedule. I don’t like it.

The instructor is an Iraqi man named Ari. Ari likes to speak in an accent and say “Beeta” instead of Beta. Also, “Picklerel” instead of Becquerel. Ari is a cool guy and doesn’t mind if we sleep in class. Today he told a drowsy Ginny Weasely, “Do you want to sleep? I know. Always Whataberger engineers attend this course and need to sleep. Go ahead.” The room is warm and though the AC indicates it is cooling to 18C, the sweat accumulating at my hairline suggests otherwise.

half life

We try to stay awake. Sometimes I relabel the half life graph in my notebook to reflect the X-Axis as “Burgers” and the Y-Axis as “Happiness”. Sometimes I sleep. In between these states, I tried to pay attention for a few minutes while Ari explained how radiation affects different parts of the “buddy” (body). In this time, I caught Ari gesturing to his abdomen and saying “lungs”. Ginny and I exchanged confused looks. Immediately following, he displayed a chart on the projector listing body parts and their sensitivity to radiation. Ginny and I glanced at the board together for a second, just long enough to catch the first word.

GONADS

I immediately buried my face into my hands, shaking with suppressed laughter. Without daring to look at Ginny, I felt her also heaving with a serious case of the giggles. Tears poured from both eyes. Ginny and I sat giggling without looking at each other for twenty minutes until the class ended. We convened after the lecture, “Gonads? Really?” ….”There’s no way that’s a medical term!!”….”Someone must have tricked them into thinking that was a medical term to put in the slides!”…”Gonads???”

As the internet and a few credible sources would have it, it turns out GONADS IS, in fact, a medical term, and not slang. Meanwhile, we’re the uneducated ones laughing like jackasses in the middle of an professional industry course.

oops

Hawaiian Pizza

The night shift begins just as the sun begins to descend on the desert. The last few days, I’ve been in Dukhan double teaming a sampling job with Leonardo. Basically, we have a big awesome tool which takes pressure readings from the formation and can pump, analyze and take samples of fluid from the formations. Leo has taught me some pointers and mainly sat back while I run the job asking questions occasionally.  The night shift looks more or less like this,

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While a sampling job is fun and interesting and certainly more complex than most of the jobs which have at this point become routine to me, I can’t help but gaze over the computer screens and think that, really, they all look the same from an outsider perspective. 

I work the night shift with my mentor. I take some notes. I take notes of things I should study and take more notes on. The next several weeks will be full of much note-taking. I examine the numbers and colors flickering on the computer screens. I start to fall asleep in my seat. 

Leonardo wakes me up, “Go walk around.”

There’s only another hour left on the night shift. I do as he says. The sun rises over the desert. Deliriously, I walk around outside the rig, stomping in piles of soft powdery sand and watching the dust fly up and around my boots. Stacks of pipe are strewn about the desert. I consider climbing inside one of the larger pieces and wonder how long I could sleep there before someone finds me.  

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You see I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name. It felt good to be out of the rain. 

Take Back the Night

Change is a brewing over in the Middle East. This statement may be applied in all contexts; today it applies to me. After almost a year and a half of bottled up frustration with my building maintenance and housekeeping services, one puzzle destroyed by water damage and a stolen set of water-proof headphones, I took matters into my own hands. 

 

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So far, it’s working. I’ve happily washed [or not washed, my choice] my own towels and sheets for a couple months now. The mess is always left intact upon my returns from lengthy trips to the rigs and days off.

“Is that sign for real?” ask my friends.

“Yeah, it’s f*#$ing for real. Do you know when they clean my room, they close the curtains that I keep open. Why!? Why would they do that? I’m the one living here, I obviously like the curtains open!”

Among many lessons, I’ve learned that small things like positioning my curtains and not having my headphones jacked play a key role in my daily energy and disposition. I’m not happy when people are closing my blinds and I don’t even live with them to retaliate by salting their coffee. Because I’m not above salting your coffee. I’m not above it at all.

There’s a particular skip to my step these days. Long term and diligent readers, close friends and observers of human character, you may notice the last year or so has been tough on a one Laila. So I’d like to be honest. For all the internal anguish I’ve bogged myself down with- suddenly my memory is clear. Instead of being sad for months at a time, laying in bed silencing my phone night after night, I remember that I was growing and appreciating details about myself I’d never known. I was understanding what things in life not to take for granted- what things to forget about. I was travelling. I was putting time and space and music and literal distance between my former and current selves. I was coming back to my room with closed curtains and things not where I left them. And I was laughing about it

Shrimp Skimpy

Lunch time ends at 1 pm. As we’re working, Arcenio called the galley to reserve us some food. We waltz in there at 2 pm to four prepared meals and a plate of friend shrimp. Heads down, Arcenio and I mowed down the plate whilst our other two crew looked on frightened.

 “Do you think the shrimp is really good, or we are just hungry?”, Arcenio tilts his head asking. 

Breakfast

I lift up my chin and take a deep breath, cracking a smile through my fatigued face. “I think its great!” I pop another shrimp into my mouth. “Did we eat breakfast this morning. or was that yesterday?” Arcenio looks at me with wide eyes, “I don’t remember…..”

Together, we brainstorm and determine the last meal we ate was at 6:30 the previous evening. The last 72 hours are a blur. Typically we come offshore and have at least a couple days of standby to check equipment and get settled. On this tour, we arrived and started working right away, sleeping only 2 or 3 hours. The rest of the time was spent in close quarters working. I have two Filipino crew chiefs and an Indian junior operator. Arcenio and Knox teach Chuck the ways of wireline. As I work, I overhear them singing the gospels of operator life, indoctrinating young Chuck into our little cult.

Arcenio: You know why they call us ‘operator’? Because, you do the operation. Sometimes your engineer is busy…… or on Facebook. You always bring them coffee. 

….

Knox: When will you get married? Are you sure? No refunds, no exchange. No expiration on marriage certification. Not like rig up gear. 

….

Arcenio: It can become bad. And your operator no respect you. As a crew chief, you have to be hard sometimes. 

….

Knox: Chuck, you don’t want to be a donkey operator, only connecting tools. You have to study and know what is happening on the rig. 

….

Arcenio: How long have you been in Doha, Chuck? Do you have a girlfriend? Why not, are you gay?