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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Galley Wars: Unless the Chef’s Special is a Burrito….

As mentioned, I get special treatment on this rig. It’s awkward, uncomfortable and most notably, very unprofessional. The  real segregation between laypeople and VIP’s takes place in the galley. It is the after school play ground, where the rules don’t apply and you can be as mean and racist as you please. No teachers, no professional courtesy, no humanity. 

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This rig is small.The galley contains three long tables, and three small square tables. One of the long tables has a place mat and silverware laid out already at each chair. The commoners must get their own napkins and forks. I don’t sit at the VIP table, but opt to sit with my crew at the Filipino table. Each table is unofficially divided by race. The Filipinos have a table. The Indians have another table, and the Arabs have their own table.  The galley has a set menu for each meal. They lay out the food and everyone serves themselves. Except for one special dish, which they keep in the back and only offer to the VIP’s. I had no idea this is what was happening. I assumed that there was not enough space for all the food, and one dish is just kept in the back and was offered to everyone.

Usually, I come into the galley and go through the line. After I have served myself, one of the galley hands will lean over to me and say “We have Arabic chicken, ma’am”. I look down at my plate which is already full of food. “Uh, no thanks.” This keeps happening… “We have Arabic duck. ma’am”…. “We have grilled fish, ma’am.” Occasionally I take some if it sounds appetizing. I never turn down “Arabic spaghetti, ma’am”  Most of the VIP food is described by the little Indian cook as “Arabic”, though the foods are not specifically Arabic. For example, spaghetti is in no way an Arabic food. It’s just normal spaghetti! I realize one day, that not everyone gets to eat these special foods, and I am in the VIP category. I also realize, most of the VIPs are Arab, and of course the one token Scottish man.

While sitting with my crew, the head cook comes up to my table. “Hello. Where are you from?”

“USA”

“Oh, I thought you were Egyptian with Mexican Nationality. But you’re American nationality.” This explains why he tried to speak to me in Spanish earlier…. “Anyway, I’m the chef. If you want anything special, just let me know and I will make it for you. Do you like the food? I have special beef in the back.”

I say “no thanks” the the special beef and ask for chocolate milk. I hustle him for a 6 pack, which I later polish off in 20 minutes in my bed while watching Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated, because that’s what VIP’s do! 

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Back to the story…. What am I eating instead of the chef’s special beef?

Today the menu had “Chicken Mexican”. It hardly resembles fajita slices with some salsa, black beans and bell peppers, but I try to eat it anyway. In the corner of the galley behind the Indian’s table, there is a little rice cooker used to keep the naan warm. I feel like I’m crossing their turf as I squeeze by the man who chooses to sit directly in front of it. Rig naan is not like actual naan. It stays warm and soft for only a minute, and is rather flat. It actually resembles more closely a tortilla. I add some corn and onion from the salad bar, soft cheese from the fridge, and some spicy pickled Indian spread to the Chicken Mexican and create a burrito. My Filipino crew watches intently as the burrito is assembled. 

“Laila…… what are you doing?”

“I’m trying to make this ‘Chicken Mexican’ into a respectable Mexican meal!”

“Ohhh.” They turn to each other “It’s a modification!”  (In our line of work, different tools or equipment often call for technical ‘modifications’)

It’s no certified VIP meal, but a makeshift burrito beats the hell out of any chef’s special. …. unless the chef’s special is also a burrito.

Eid Sa3eed

My activity at work over the last week has been a blur. Unfortunately, I will never forget the events which have transpired, but hope they will mold me. Perhaps one day, I can reminisce and share in an epic rigtale. However, for the time being, it will be a story I keep to myself and share only in person. Next month, I have another round of training in Oklahoma. Today at the office, I see my Palestinian co worker who has just returned from training in the states.
“How is America?” I ask him.
“It’s good. It’s green. And trees everywhere, It was scary. You can’t pass through them or see in front of you!”

This week is the second holy day, Eid Al Adha. When I was young, we separated the holidays as “Big Eid” and “Little Eid”. This is the Big Eid. Of course, as an oilfield hand, I will be offshore, celebrating the holiday in my holy blue jump suit, gazing at the water and day dreaming of a simpler time.

It is not Monday yet, so I still have the weekend to preemptively celebrate alone before work takes over. I took myself to Red Lobster. I backed a little bag with my Kindle, a journal, Vogue magazine, sketch pad and pencils. I will celebrate the holiday by inspiring my creative side with a seafood feast.

I grab the first taxi I see and say “Take me to Red Lobster!” The cabbie does not know where Red Lobster is…. I have the web page open on my phone, and like two lost teenagers roaming the city, we set out to find the restaurant. After driving in circles, we pull over to ask a starbucks worker. Eventually, my carriage pulls up to Red Lobster and I skip up the stairs announcing to the hostess table, “A booth for one, please!”

Red Lobster

Reading my magazine and devouring an entire basket of cheese biscuits, I feel at peace and ease with all my life choices which have led me to this point. The Filipino waiter makes a concerned face as he takes my order.

Laila: I’ll have the Lobster tail, Scallops and shrimp. Instead of rice, may I have shrimp alfredo pasta. And a side of crab legs.

Waiter: This will cost extra.

Laila: Yeah, just bring it.

…20 minutes later…Food is on the table

Waiter: Do you need help cracking the crabs?

Laila: No, thanks.

*Waiter stands patiently by the computer and discreetly watches me clean three plates of food in less than 15 minutes*

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….”

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 First Time

Today was a long day. I stayed late at work for the second day in a row. Back in Houma, staying late was never a worth mentioning and certainly very routine. Here in Qatar, staying late requires a lot of planning and logistics. I have to have the shop foreman arrange a driver to take me home. He also has to arrange for operators to stay later with me. These events do not always happen, as seen tonight.

Eleanor Roosevelt and myself are embarking on an open hole project. She is a trainee from Columbia. She will be going through her break out job, while I will also be doing a “break out” of sorts on the new services I have to run. We had much preparing to do. At the end of the night, we looked up to see that we did not have an assigned ride home.

An operator kindly volunteered to drive us back to our apartments. He stopped by a gas station for us to grab some food before going home for the night. Eleanor walked to the sandwich counter in the back, while I lingered beside the glowing Dunkin Donuts cabinet. We each picked a small sandwhich and a donut. Standing in the middle of the gas station, Eleanor and I unabashedly ate our donuts without even paying first.

A local Qatari man stood behind us watching the gluttonous acts. He commented, “I don’t know how you can eat a donut.” He made a face. “Too sweet. I can’t even watch you.”

“Well, I’m sorry, but I’m enjoying this.” Eleanor replied quickly.  We  then waited for the gas station attendant to ring up our dinners. The Qatari man handed the attendant his credit card and insisted he ring up our purchase.

Thinking that was very nice of him… we walked out and to the car. “Sit, sit, sit, sit!!” our operator ordered as he drove the car away. We asked him what just happened.

“Qatari people just do that sometimes. If this guy was decent, he wouldn’t be at the gas station.”  Moral of the story: Decent people don’t go to gas stations. Also, Qatari people like to pay for things.