Book Three

RoadTrip

Gas prices are down, so I’m going to drive. I’m going to drive myself to all the places I love and some that I’ve never been. I’ll pack my RAV4 and get on the road. I’m coming home because two days ago, my world finally caught up to my level and turned itself upside down.

It’s no surprise. It’s no heartbreak. It’s only good. For the last year or more, I’ve been fantasizing and deliberating. I’ve been stewing in thought between bouts of vacations and adventures. I’ve thought things like, How many years of my life is this stress taking off? and I straight up don’t want to do this anymore. I’ve used my company computer to look up vacations and travels and graduate schools and even other jobs. I’ve used the ladies bathroom at work to take extended mid-day naps to compensate for staying out all night with my friends.

For those who don’t know me well, I’m indecisive. If you haven’t had the privilege of engaging me in a discussion regarding what we can do today, allow me to summarize: We can go to the zoo, or we can take a nap, or we can do anything else. Those are the ONLY options.

Nothing is more relieving for someone like me than for the decision to me made for you. Two days ago, I went to the office. I spent all day studying for my next promotion. At about 4 pm I was summoned upstairs by the Operations Manager. I was guided into a room with the Qatar Geomarket HR manager, the Operations Manager and an HR representative. The following conversation took place, more or less:

OM: Do you know why you’re here?
Me: I have a few ideas.
OM: There’s no easy way to say this, effective today….. your employment with Schlumberger is terminated. It’s nothing personal. I’m sure you know the company is downsizing and the oil and gas market is down, its happening world wide and its happening here. This letter details your benefits…..
Me: May I read it. *I take the letter*
HR Mngr: When the market picks back up, we do call people again, and Schlumberger thanks you for your work the last few years……

I don’t remember exactly what else was said. I left the room holding my letter. I was in shock. I was relieved. I was emotional, but I had no feelings. I called my parents. I sent some emails. I told some friends.

The response from friends and family was overwhelmingly positive. Those who know how I’ve been feeling- are elated. Those who are unsure, gauge the waters and ask if I’m okay and how I’m holding up.

Here’s why I’m sad—- At one point, this job meant the world to me. I’ve been disenchanted and lost a lot of passion. I really believe this is being in the wrong place at the wrong time. By that, I mean I did not enjoy living and working in the Middle East. No surprise 😉

Here’s why I’m happy—- For the first time, I really and truly, can do whatever I want. I have savings. I have compensation coming. I have support from my family. I have everything. I can go home and keep my vow to NEVER return to Doha again. It’s been 15 months since I last was in the USA. I am going to eat all the Chick Fil A and all the Barbecue. I am going to speak English without censoring good grammar and abandoning sentence structure. I am going to read books and eat vegetables. I’m going to spend some quality time with my family.

I appreciate suggestions for things to see on my upcoming adventures. Gas prices are down, and I just lost my oil and gas job. It’s perfect timing- I don’t have to wonder anymore what life is like on the other side.

What will happen to rigtales? I hope you all like to travel. If not, you can look forward to stories about living with my parents. In my opinion, the rigtales are about to get a hell of a lot more interesting.

The Sun and the Snow

I’m thinking about all the Thanksgivings when my uncle would proudly declare, “Every day is Thanksgiving!” In my family- Thanksgiving is sacred. We didn’t always make turkey. We were always together. Sometimes we were fasting. Other times we were flying kites, lighting fireworks, or seeing movies. I remember being taught that ‘you should be thankful everyday’. We were.

TurkeyI’m thinking about the Thanksgivings with my college roommate, Rabbit and her family. We would stuff our faces and eat outside in sunny November weather in Arizona. We would watch football and nap. We would go shopping at midnight and have breakfast before the sun came up.

I’m thinking about the Thanksgivings spent eating store bought dinners. Sometimes in hotel rooms with my dad during soccer tournaments. Other times in my friends apartment while dancing around to YouTube videos in my sweatpants.

I’m thinking about Thanksgiving 2008, when my sister, close friend and myself drove to Dallas from Phoenix, acquiring two speeding tickets in one night out in west Texas. The police officer said to us, “You hit a deer going 96 in this tin can, and you’re dead.”

I’m thinking about Thanksgiving 2011, when Albert and Edwin hiked the Grand Canyon with a pie and a can of baked beans during our first few months of employment. We spent the night in Albuquerque and hiked in the snow. I’m thinking about my only Thanksgiving in Louisiana, when we had a pot luck and fried a turkey by the pool. I made stuffing and baked brie.

Let us not forget last year’s Thanksgiving, as it is the last time I was home and saw my family. It has been my first and only trip back to the US since moving abroad. We made this video while frying turkeys, perhaps you’ve seen  it.

I’m thinking about all these things as I sit at work surrounded by the bustle of another busy day in the oilfield. It’s sunny outside, like Arizona. I feel cold inside, like New Mexico. I’m thinking about how much Thanksgiving really means to me. It’s a time I’ve always been surrounded by family and friends. It’s a time I’ve always been home- that dynamic place.

This is the first year that Thanksgiving is just a day. The truth is, any day is Thanksgiving. I’m thankful for them all.

Thanksgiving

The Chronicles of Post Vacation Life

After several very tough months, I have re-constructed my mindset and compartmentalized my life. I live from vacation to vacation. The space in between is just that– SPACE. This is a post chronicling some of the space.

I set my alarm an hour before I actually need to wake up just to lay in bed without moving. The day kicks off with some unfiltered “space”. The sun is bright, magnified by my window. It used to be my prison cell of a room. Now, I am an animal laying in the intensified sunlight with one hour of space before getting up to shower.

Lately, I’ve been mentoring some incoming engineers. Three, to be exact. I take them with me to jobs and bribe them with pizza to do all my work while I enjoy some space. I read the news, send some emails, research some vacations.

MentorLife

I think about Lynn, my mentor from Louisiana. If she could see me now, I imagine she’d be proud of how far I’ve come.

Lately, I’ve been enjoying my space away from work. With the flux of new people and sudden availability of old friends around Doha, I’m finding myself indulging in many after work and weekend activities while not on the rig.

This weekend, there was an International Food Festival in Doha. I went. I ate. Until I hated myself. Then we walked about 7k to get home. I felt better. I took this picture of Doha.

Doha_FoodFestival

A week prior…. I found myself in da club.

Encounter in da club:
A stranger approaches me excitedly, “I LOVE YOUR DRESS”.
I smile sheepishly “Thank you!”
Several moments later, he found me again “I really love that dress. Where did you get it?”
I sense he is interested in a similar one. Extremely sheepishly, I say “… I got it at H&M….. it was like $10”.
His face told me he was very unimpressed. “You should make something up.”
Conversation adjourned.
Elevator_RedDress

The fun is over. Back to work. Alas- Laila comes down with some sort of cold. I’m sick in the desert. Help me, Mom!

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Acid in the Body

The rigs have been frenzied with activity. The desert has been frenzied with hooligans starting fires in the sand. After completing a job and driving back home, we passed two Land Cruisers parked on the wrong side of the road. A handful of young men stood outside. As we passed, they ran into their cars and drove away, leaving behind this little fire. We pulled over and put it out with sand.

 

Today, I am offshore on Al Doha, a QP rig. I wasn’t looking forward to coming out here, but suppose its time to just bite the bullet and get back to work. Sitting waiting for the helicopter, I wrapped myself in a concentrated getaway daydream and fell asleep with my chin on my chest. What I would do to escape this place… What is the worst that could happen if I just left to go home? Left my crew and my job, no warning, no excuse… When I was in college, I used to drive between Dallas and Phoenix on summer and winter breaks. Once or twice a year, I would get into my car, and spend 1200 quality miles and 16 unruffled hours alone with the I-10/ I-20. Always before leaving, I felt the compulsion to go. It would wake me at night, the restlessness dragging me out of the door and onto the road sometimes before 4 am. It felt like a migration. How do birds know when to fly? They just do. They get restless and the compulsion makes them know they have to fly away on that particular day. I feel a similar urge. I just want to leave. Suppressing this impulse, I sleep as often as I can. I sleep at 7 pm, I nap in the heliport… I dream about flying away….

 

I went to see the company man upon arriving. He sat facing his computer, with the back of his chair shielding his body from me. A man informed him, “The Whataberger engineer is here to see you.” Without turning in his chair, he called out to me, “How are you, Miss Laila?” I could tell from his voice he was an older man. “I am well. How are you?” I replied. “Very good. You are Egyptian?” He asked.

Here we go again, I thought to myself. Lately, company men pry about my ethnic background. They insist we speak in Arabic, and they insist we speak about politics. This has resulted in me talking as little as possible, mean mugging every person I see on a rig, refusing to speak in Arabic, and straight up leaving the room when someone begins to talk politics. At their best, these exchanges make me uncomfortable. At their worst, they are insulting and completely unprofessional. They ask about your religion, they ask how much you pray, they ask why your parents allow you to work in the oilfield, they ask a lot of things….. I’ve started ignoring these men. On one occasion- I looked at one and said, “What are you trying to accomplish by this conversation? This just seems completely pointless, If you need me for something relevant, I’ll be outside working.” I digress…

“Yes, I am originally from Egypt, but was born and raised in the States.” This can never be overstated. If I could, I would erase any feature of my name or face which makes everyone ask if I am Egyptian. It is a point of pride, but has also become a point of contention. Someone will notice I am Egyptian before they will notice anything else about me. It’s misleading. 

“I see. Welcome. We’re glad to have you on board. Do you like your room?” The chair turns to reveal an old man with glasses. He stands and shakes my hand. “Just give me five minutes, dear. Have you eaten?”

“I ate before I came. I suppose I can eat again. Shall I eat and come back?”

“That will be perfect. If anyone bothers you, you just let me know.” The company man seemed very nice, a clear veteran of the oilfield.

I returned and he talked to me about my job and my co workers he knows. He described Mighty Mouse as an unripened mango.

 

 

A Branch

Gray and brown, she swims around in a trauma he can’t comprehend.

Be with me or I’ll be free- the walls of her isolation cell.

Mix and match, oh how to catch the love I saw swimming in the sea?

Rhythm and time, I’m trying to find an order to impose on how I feel.

Climb out of the water and into the woods, it’s thick and it’s dark; the leaves obscure any path.

The path I had dreamed, leaded to the tree, standing strong and tall. It’s beauty will pacify my pain.

It’s leaves have fallen, trunk has hollowed, and roots shallow now exposed.

Worms inhabit the soil, still rich with color.

Why have you hollowed? What bugs have swallowed the life right out of your beam?

I’ll plant gray and brown leaves in supple ground to nurture and water every day.

I’ll clear the brush and show them the light. Sit patiently on my hollow trunk.

Fill it with my secrets, my fears and hopes, decorate it with scents and scarves.

To show you I’m still here, though my greatest fear- you’ll see it and quietly walk away.

And I’m watering dead leaves and filling dead trees- the only receptacle in which to bare my soul.

Cabin Fever

A week on standby offshore can be very exciting. You have a lot of time to think, study for your upcoming promotion, study about your job in general, read up on operating procedures for the service you’re about to perform, read books, do little projects, work on your novel, start and finish a new TV series, craft poetry or practice sewing.

I have spent the last week re-watching the same TV shows, deliberately not studying, ignoring e mails, being angry over e mails, chatting with friends and family back in the states, facebooking my friends and family, day dreaming about seeing my friends and family, looking at my kindle thinking “reading will make me tired”, searching for fish in the water, watching a plastic bottle float across the Gulf, challenging myself to stay in bed for as long as possible, and challenging myself to not eat 4 packages of RITZ crackers every day. I usually fail at this.

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Of course, there are a few moments a day I spend in the sad sad state of sharing a putrid jack up rig bathroom with 7 men. Squatting in disappointment, limiting inhalation as this air could very well be toxic, bundling my clothes in my hand so they don’t touch the wet floor, I wonder to myself-where is my life headed. I look at my watch to see the 8th month of the year is coming to an end. I’ve been at this job for nearly two years. I have accomplished…. enough to get me in this bathroom, fearing to touch anything and legitimately praying to God that whatever liquid is covering the floor does not touch my clothes or splatter onto my feet.

This bleak scene is a reality, but really a metaphor for the life style. After having my femininity stripped, I walk outside to my wireline unit, my little office. In there is a phone. Anytime I encounter a phone, the first thing I do is attempt to call out of the country. I call my mom. I call my sister. I hear the phone make sounds, “I’m confused” the receiver says to me in a series of beeps. This is a satellite phone- it has no excuse to not call the USA. I also find it offensive since most personnel on this rig hail from other nations. I wonder what is going on with my folks today. What concoction of tuna salad and leftovers did my dad make…. I bet it’s delicious. Certainly better than the food I’m stuffing my face with while withering my youth away on this tiny metal island. They serve Indian food for breakfast. Spicy potatoes and other trays that look like a curry of sorts. There are some meats which look like long Vienna sausages and chicken burgers. I opt for oatmeal and dress it with honey.

Its a rat race. A hamster wheel. Chasing carrots. It’s cabin fever, because once I get back to Doha, I leave the tiny metal island behind.

Oh Beautiful

I dreamed of fireworks after completely falling asleep during a job. I used to think going offshore was the ultimate in challenges, but am learning that different styles of work are meant to test a variety of your skills. I completed my first open hole job in a real well.

There is a series of “water wells” being drilled here in the desert. They are not drilled for drinking water, but rather for injecting into other wells (called injection wells). I was chosen to go on these series of jobs, as they will be good for practicing, and a lot of repetition. Mighty Mouse also decided that I should take two junior engineers and one college intern with me on my first open hole job. Needless to say, I was very nervous and tense.

Many open hole tools require radioactive sources. I don’t care for working with radiation, its scary. However, I do my job and follow all the safety rules and conduct safety meetings on the rig where I yell at the rig crew about staying the hell away from our sources. I’ve worked with explosives quite a bit, and they don’t scare me, as if something goes wrong, you know it. With radiation…. there’s no way to know how much you’ll be affected.

After my safety meetings, I was asking the driller about where people are working on the rig, since one of our sources is a directional source, meaning it’s concentrated and points in one direction. He kindly motioned to the flag and told me “downwind is that way.”

Sugar Soup

My sister and I used to be picky eaters. I like to think about what we would say now if we saw former versions of ourselves sitting at the dinner table for seemingly endless hours finically picking at and complaining about the food we had to eat.

We would be scolded for being so ungrateful. My mother always took matters of food and nourishment very seriously, a passion both my sister and I have come to share with her.

On one occasion, mom had made a soup. My sister and I sat at the table on a hunger strike, pleading for better food.

“I hate this food!” Sister and I would cry.

Though offended on several levels, mother was patient and explained, “You can not say you hate the food. Food is a blessing from God’.” She would leave us to sit and finish. The only way to escape was to literally eat our way out of the kitchen table prison.

“This is the devil’s blessing…” My sister said softly once mom was out of earshot. I snickered. We really were brats. These brats decided to take the soup into their own hands. What can we put in this to make it edible? After about 2 seconds of intense brainstorming, we came up with a brilliant solution. What makes everything taste good? SUGAR.

Stealthily moving from the kitchen table to the pantry, my sister reached into the giant bin of sugar kept on the floor. In the bin was a cup used for scooping out sugar. We looked at each other and signaled with our eyes the common thought: Perfect. With a healthy several lumps of sugar added to our bowls, we decided to spare other poor souls by dumping some sugar into the main pot, still being heated on the stove. Grinning silently, we proudly picked up our spoons and eagerly sampled the new and improved soup.

 

 

The soup was now actually nasty. Sister and I made faces across the table as we suddenly became aware of what a horrible deed we committed. We called it Sugar Soup, and we decided to dispose of our portions and never tell….. Maybe we put them back into the main pot… I don’t remember. 

I wish the story ends here, with us ruining my mother’s soup and our dinner, as mom and dad had eaten already. However, a guest came to the house a short while later. This was a red haired man who worked as a soccer coach with my father. I don’t remember his nationality, perhaps he was Irish. I remember he had an accent. Mom insisted he eat.

Sister and I sat at a distance, hiding in the hallway behind the dining room table. “Oh no!” we whispered to each other in terror, “He’s going to eat the sugar soup!!!” We felt awful for three reasons. First, PossiblyIrishMan made a face as soon as he put the soup to his lips. We saw him. We caused this man serious discomfort. He tried to be polite, but the soup was really, really bad. Secondly, my mother is a great cook. We did her a disservice, compromising her reputation. Lastly, we were so embarrassed and ashamed, we never told. We were not that embarrassed at the time. I remember giggling uncontrollably throughout the entire operation. I’m dying now reliving the night of sugar soup.

 

I’m sorry mom for ruining your soup. I’m also sorry for possibly contaminating it by pouring back my portion after eating from it. I realize how disgusting that is. I’m sorry sister, for telling this secret. I’m sure you had forgotten anyway.

 

Keep On Keepin On

At it’s pinnacle, life as a wireline engineer for Whataberger is grueling. On a less than average day, the small details of the job and heavy responsibilities can wipe you out, much like a fly being swatted totally unaware. Keeping up the pace is exhausting. Keeping up your energy is even harder. I have a few simple tricks.

 

I’ve been making jobs in the desert. The town is owned by Qatar Petroleum. There’s a market, and a few restaurants. We go to McDonalds in the morning before heading to the rig. This is the breakfast menu. Please note the options are: Sausage McMuffin, Egg McMuffin, Sausage Egg McMuffin, and pancakes. For drinks, there is coffee and orange juice.

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While I get to indulge in the pork free meats served here in Qatar, I have to miss out on iced coffee. I ask the man to fill a cup with ice, and pour the coffee over it. He does his best, but I usually get a soggy soda cup full of tepid coffee, sans ice.

Instead of being groggy and pissed off at the lack of a chicken McGriddle, fruit and oatmeal, or iced coffee, I pretend I am at McDonalds 25 years ago. McDonalds is the newest diner opening up in this desert oilfiled town. It was opened by a man name “Makhmoud McDonald”. No one has heard of it. Not only that, no one has heard of iced coffee. I take a picture with Ronald McDonald and think I can’t wait to tell me friends about this new place I just discovered. It’s going to revolutionize fast food. Just WAIT until the American’s hear about this!!

 

I enjoy the moments I have to myself. Today, my three operators and I rode back to Doha in the little pickup truck. The drive is roughly 1.5 hours on bumpy roads. I stare out the window at the desert while the buzz of the Filipino’s speaking to each other in their language provides a backdrop to my thoughts. It’s desolate. It’s lonely outside. Little life scatters the arid scorching sand. Everything here is covered in dirt. The dust in the air actually causes you to have more boogers. I did extensive research on this, as I felt I have more boogers than usual. I wonder how this country looked before they discovered oil and all the foreigners flocked to find work in the growing economy. I wonder if there are any critters hiding in plain sight in the desert. I wonder if I really just wondered that and if I am becoming my mother. I eat a whole bag of carrots and stare out the window. I even eat this one that looks like Gonzo the Muppet Baby…

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The truck bounces over the road and I think about going to my grandparents house. We used to beg my mom to take a short cut by using the “bumpy road”. We used to chant, BUMP-EE ROAD! BUMP-EE ROAD!! I close my eyes and pretend I’m in east Texas. The vast desert disappears as I paint tall pine trees and red dirt on my eyelids. Every place is what you make of it. Small moments driving to and from the field keep me going.

How Far Into Memphis, Son?

I’m finally back in Houma, after two months of vacation, training, and personal time. Today, I received my official transfer letter to Doha, Qatar. I sat in Dennis the Menace’s office, holding the stack of papers and staring blankly at the wall. I’ve had over a month to process this, but I’m feeling a little overwhelmed.

“Are you nervous?” Dennis asks me. I nod my head. I am beyond nervous. I think back on just the last two months and how completely splendid they have been. The night before I came back to Houma sums it all up:

I had the chance to meet one of my heroes. Mary Chapin Carpenter and Shawn Colvin (LOOK THEM UP!!) were playing a show in Lafayette, LA. My dad used to make me copies of his Mary Chapin cassette tapes, to eliminate risk of me destroying his. I memorized all her songs, and as I get older I am finding new meaning in them all the time. This was an important show to attend. I decided not only that I had to go, but I had to take my dad. Not only did I have to take my dad, we had to get VIP tickets and meet them backstage. I let the compulsion consume me. Work be damned; I have dreams to fulfil!

A Celebration of Friendship and Music

A Celebration of Friendship and Music

I tactfully played hookey from work for three days, prolonging my training in Oklahoma so that I could drive back to Louisiana on Wednesday, instead of Monday. My dad and I drove south all day Wednesday, sharing funny stories and new perspectives. We stopped for a crawfish pie on the way.

The meeting backstage was simply magical. A few years ago, I waited in line pissed off for 4 hours to meet the Disney princesses at Disneyland and left giggling and smiling. This experience was nothing like that. I drove 6 hours happy as a clam, did not wait in a line, and left a ball of floating energy, with not a care in the world. Shawn Colvin introduced herself and asked my name. My dad introduced himself by saying “I’m her father”, which makes me laugh. Mary Chapin Carpenter held out her hand and asked my name. I then asked “May I give you a hug?” I then found myself being embraced by her. WOW!

Dad and I then had our picture taken, watched the concert, and drove to New Orleans, where we stayed the night before he had to leave and I had to come back to work. We walked down Bourbon Street to eat some classic New Orleans dishes. Walking back to our hotel, my dad said “We should get a hot dog too.”

One of many New Orleans traditions

One of many New Orleans traditions

I split a lucky dog with my dad on Bourbon, after meeting Mary Chapin Carpenter and watching a PHENOMENAL live acoustic performance with her and Shawn Colvin. The world stopped for that moment. Dad and I stood on this filthy street, in the cool dark night, eating a hot dog. THIS is living, I think to myself.

Today I sat in Dennis’s office, gripping a stack of pages detailing my near future (which I will, in turn, detail in a post soon). I stare blankly at the wall and think about all the amazing people in my life.

MCC and Shawn sang a cover of this song. It’s been in my head.