The Feminine Beast

Since taking this job, I’ve been hearing various feedback and comments from friends and relatives along the lines of “Isn’t that hard as a woman?”, or “That’s kinda a man’s field”. I usually field these concerns with a shrug and, “Its a tough job for anyone” or “There are some women in the field.” It’s time to come clean- it IS hard as a women, specifically. And it IS  a man’s field. And since moving to the Middle East, I have to be honest, I feel it everyday.

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It is tricky to articulate the subtleties of a culture. You can not pin point something which is just “in the air”. I’m also reminded that perspective make all the difference. When people collectively think one way- you can not point out something obvious which they just don’t see.

Last week, I went to lunch with a group of co-workers. These are not only gentlemen I work with, they are people I watch the sun rise and set with the majority of the time. These are people I live with, people I depend on. Over the lunchtime banter, one co worker matter of factly stated, “That’s the only time I wish I was a woman. In Whataberger, woman can do whatever they want. Even if they f*ck up, they won’t get fired.” Hearing this from someone I consider an ally in the trenches- I had to speak up.

My opposition to his comment was met with furious denial from all parties at the table. I simply stated, “its difficult to go to work everyday knowing everyone you interact with thinks that about you, merely because you’re a woman”. I immediately wished I hadn’t said anything- because again- they just didn’t get it. No one even saw anything wrong with the frame of mind. They all challenged me to name examples of why they personally treated me badly. How do you explain- its not that you treat me badly- its how you all, collectively think? It is a mentality so entrenched in the culture that you can not even point it out to very level headed, mature and progressive members of the culture.

These last couple weeks- I’m facing the subtleties of sexism here as I’ve had a couple rig jobs go awry. Everyone has mistakes on jobs, and from the very early stages of my training, I can still hear Dave in Elk City telling me, “You’re going to f*ck up. Everyone does. Just know it when it happens and accept it.”  The difference here, is the reaction from my supervisors and managers, they approach me as if I am the only one who f*cks up. I’ve been patronized and my competency questioned over simple things I’ve been doing for the last three plus years.

I wonder, am I seeing it correctly? Or am I just seeing the nature of the beast?

Enlightened Sexism

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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.

Sophia and the Girls

I spent twelve days on this rig contemplating what have I done in my lifetime to end up here, at this moment, and all the surrounding moments making up my twelve day existence on Al Doha rig. Then, I went to work for 6 glorious hours. After completing my labors, I headed inside to my room. A guy stopped me on the stairs.

guy: Hello. Are you Egyptian? 

Laila: Well.. yes. I’m American, but my family is Egyptian.

We then exchanged names. His was “ass-hat”

Ass-hat: I’ve wanted to talk to you, but you look like you’re ready to back-hand everyone who talks to you.

Laila: Yeah, I’m at my job. I don’t mean to be cold, but I’m here to work and feel really uncomfortable when people try to give me special treatment.

A-H: Oh. Give me that bag. Don’t carry that up the stairs.

Laila: This is exactly the shit I’m talking about. This makes me uncomfortable. Please do not carry any of my things.

A-H: Okay. Can I ask you one question?

Laila: ….ok. *turns and starts walking up the stairs*

A-H: *follows Laila up the stairs* Are you married?

Laila: No

A-H: Can I ask you two questions?

Laila: …ok

A-H: Are you engaged?

Laila: No

A-H: Can I ask you three questions? Is it appropriate, or inappropriate? 

Laila:… sure *I’m thinking…;. If you have to ask…this is inappropriate. It’s also why I look like I want to backhand every one of you.*

A-H: Can I have your phone number?

Laila: hahahahahahahahahaha…. No

Ass-hat: I’m sorry. *walks away*

 I felt badly that he apologized, as if I had embarrassed him. I quickly realized that he’s apologizing because he knew he was out of line and I explicitly told him how uncomfortable I am on rigs when people don’t treat me like I’m at my job. I don’t feel badly any more. 

So concluded episode one, and the Whataberger crew was released from the rig! I did everything my heart desired in the 48 hour period before returning here, again. 

What did my heart desire?:

  • A Red Lobster feast, where I sat alone in a booth stuffing my face with shrimp scampi, lobster tail, crab legs, lobster bisque, cheese biscuits, and lobster and shrimp macaroni and cheese, followed by some mellow tea drinking and journal writing.
  • Bath time. Lately, I take baths. This time, I added tea candles into my bath, which is already fragrant and full of glitter, from my LUSH bath bomb.
  • Mild indoor exercise. After nearly two weeks of extremely minimal movements, I started a little workout routine inside my room.
  • Office. Two weeks in the field means I’ve missed a lot of office duties. Time to catch up. My manager says to me, “If anyone asks, you were on ‘days off’ today.”… Great. 
  • Laundry. I can wash whatever I please without the anxiety of having my underwears stolen. I ended up just washing everything in my offshore bag. No time to get to my other laundry.
  • Shooting range with my buddy! One very sore and bruised shoulder, and 75 shot gun shells later, I’m ready to take on the world again.
  • Food with my buddy! Four appetizers, a Space Jam rant and NFL team personal ranking debate later, and its time for Laila to go to bed.

Now I’m back offshore, but this time prepared for the boredom. I decided “to hell with the creepy people on the rig. If I want to jump rope and run around on the helipad, then that’s what I’ll do.” I packed my kindle, jump rope, and art supplies. 

Most importantly, I’m excited to spend some more quality time watching the Golden Girls on YouTube. Please check out this blog. I had intended for this post to be my reflection on a clever, healthy, positive, and all around hilarious television series. Alas, Sophia and the Girls will be another post for another day. Rest assured, dear readers, my current status is: still offshore, but enjoying the company of four really awesome ladies.

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A Sailor’s Life

AlZubarahThe sugar team returned from offshore after a series of mini disasters. Upon returning, I booked a ticket to hop over the gulf and visit my aunt in Bahrain.

In 30 minutes, my plane landed in Manama and I spent 36 hours among family. This little excursion reminds me that home is never too far away. While work is conusming and hardly allows for time off, I hardly need time off when my family is so close. Flying to Bahrain from Qatar requires far less effort than going anywhere from my previous station in Houma.

Saturday, I came back to Doha to tackle the post job and begin prepartions for the next trip to the Rowan California. My focus train was cut short, as MightyMouse had other plans. I left Monday to come offshore and stand-by for a possible tubing cutting. This job was promised to last one day. Per usual, it has not. Rather, I am trapped on this rig and using the time to read and study the new tools I will be running.

Cell phones are strictly prohibited offshore. They seize them at the heliport. I have found a way to smuggle mine. I quite simply tuck the phone into my pants and hide it there until I reach the rig. The metal detector always chimes as I walk through, but no one will ask or search me. In this instance, I don’t mind taking advantage of being female in a society where everyone is afraid of females…. When you treat people with different rules, they abide by different rules.

This is the door to my room on this rig:

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This photo was snapped illegally with a contraband cell phone.
I also spent some time today staring at the calm sea. I watched schools of fish swim in a line circling the rig. Occasionally, they would all flock to a point, and turn around to their place in line. No fish dwells on that spot, but they all go look at it for a second. I wonder what they are doing. Every once and while, a fish will jump out of the water.

I snap another illegal photo…

AlZubarah

The fish can be seen clearly with the naked eye. However, the cell phone does not capture the fish as clearly. Please note the red circle directing your attention to one of the fish.

This rig is operated by Qatar Petroleum. There is another Qatar Petroleum rig nearby. A fellow Whataberger crew is occupying that rig. Last night, we attempted to see each other by standing on our respective helidecks. It is just too far away to see a person. I am going to procure binoculars as part of a basic maritime kit for all the engineers so we can communicate offshore when our rigs are close by.

If I Were A Boy

I’m offshore for the second time in the Persian Gulf. The humidity blurs the horizon line, creating a different look entirely from the Gulf of Mexico. The water looks like a foreign country. The rigs are different too, mainly, the rig CREWS are different. The working class is predominantly Indian and Filipino, while the supervisors are a mix of Europeans, Americans, Arabs and few Indians. (More on the cultural break down later..) The rig crews are terrified of me, to say the least.

A girl on the rig

I’ve been in a supervisors meeting in the company man’s office. The office is large, with a couch along one wall and a row of desks and chairs along the other. I enter the office a few minutes prior to the meeting and sit on one end of the couch. Gradually, service hands file into the room and systematically bypass the couch to stand along the adjacent wall. I sat lonely on the couch. The company man, a Scottish fellow, turned to the crowd and said “She doesn’t bite, I’ve been told.”

On a smaller scale, rig hands seem to freeze in their tracks when they see me on the rig. Every corner I turn, I catch deer in the headlights. While walking down the narrow stairwell, if someone sees me, they will just top moving. This is meant out of politeness, however, they just end up standing in my way. When I walk into the galley, people will freeze, often blocking the doorway, or more importantly, the soda fridge.

When arriving to a rig, everyone recieves an orientation. During these meetings, I often get some one on one time with the rig safety officer. He will come up to me specifically and explain all the safety rules, as if I have never been offshore before. It’s sweet, but also a little patronizing.

Today, I was walking up the stairs to my room and saw a man in the doorway on the second floor. He saw me through the window and abruptly aborted his plan to also enter the stairwell. As I walked passed, I saw he was shirtless. Needless to say, I was appreciative of his shame. Simultaneously, I feel like I’m invading someone’s home. Where that man used to walk shirtless, he can no longer. To me, a rig is a place of work. To me, it is the last place I would walk shirtless, pantless, shoeless, or even sockless. To these men, it’s a home.

If I were a boy, no one would give a damn about me being on this rig. No one would pay careful attention to what I’m eating, where I’m walking, or whether I understood the safety rules. I often brainstorm things I could do to shake their alien behavior towards me. It would have to be something drastic…..

What if I just used the bathroom like the rest of the crews…
There is a community bathrooom/locker room on this rig. The crews go in there to shower after shifts, or use the restroom while on shift without having to change to go into the living quarters. It is not allowed to wear your dirty coveralls in the living quarters. It is allowed for me. I can go anywhere. I also have to go to my room to use the restroom while on shift. I dream about marching into this locker room, and just using a stall. The door to the locker room has a glass window- it’s not a private space.

The Time I Realized

I realized I do not actually know what makes me feel the way I do about this certain behavior. The behavior is common to all Arab societies.

 

It is called “chivalry”. And I hate it.

Going to Egypt to visit family over the summers, my sister and I always felt awkward having someone carry our backpacks. “You don’t need to do that…?” or “I can carry it myself.” We would say in protest. In my day to day life, it is a shame if I can not carry my own bag. It is embarrassing, and it means I am lazy.

Here in Qatar, I am experiencing this on another level, my professional life. There is much upheaval anytime I lift a finger. I find it frustrating and at times, insulting. Operators will say things like “Laila, no. You may hurt yourself.” or worse, “Lady must not lift anything.” I understand not lifting something which is too heavy.  The nature of my job is both technical and involves physical labor. When I want to get something done, I like to help in lifting, carrying, and assembling pieces. Doing simple work here tends to take more time, as we will wait for someone else to come lift something in my place. In Houma, I carried my bags offshore. I lifted tools with my crew members. I did a fair, though never excessive, amount of physical labor. I did it because it taught me about what my crew has to do. As the supervisor of the job, I must know what my crew is doing and HOW they are doing it, even if I don’t have to do their work all the time. Additionally, it shows them my support and builds a bond between us.

 

My new friend in Qatar, Eleanor Roosevelt! She is Colombian. We are here to conquer the oilfield!

I am noticing some oddities in everything here. For example, I went out to eat with five co workers. Our server wrote down our orders, placing a number assignment beside orders indicating their seat position. Next to my order was not a number, but rather just the word “lady”. It’s as if the number may have been confusing and the food runner would think…. Why does the lady have a number assignment? Is this not actually her food…? Though this is my instant reaction, I know the reality is that my order is marked “lady” so that they bring me my food first, which they did.

 I really dislike being treated differently than my co workers because I am female. It means less work for me- I equate this to respect. I resent having my food served first because I am female. It just doesn’t make any sense. I hate having someone carry something as simple as my back pack. I packed it myself; I have the straps adjusted so that it fits my back perfectly. It’s all very intimate and I feel like someone is forcing me to let them carry my sweatshirt even though I’m cold and I want to wear it.

All feelings have a reason. I tried to pin point what makes me so uncomfortable with the chivalrous society here.   

 

On the surface, it is easy to assume my feelings are a testament to how Americanized I am compared to my heritage; but that can’t be it. I think it has everything to do with MY heritage. I come from a family of strong, independent women (throw your hands up at me…) I won’t elaborate too much on these amazing women, but just an idea…

My mother’s family immigrated to the United States from Egypt when my mother was a young girl. While both my grandparents were doctors, it was my grandmother who moved the family to the US for her to pursue her career. She published several papers, has a brick in the UT Southwestern Medical Center library, opened her own practice in East Texas, and was still very well respected in her field when she died in 2007.

 

 Like my grandmother, my mother is also a lady of science. She is a professor of chemistry and worked to support our family while I was growing up. She taught me and my sister to be independent, productive, and respectful people. Most like my grandmother, my sister is pursuing a PhD in medicine. She attends UT Southwestern Medical Center, and makes all of us very proud every day. My sister was the muscle in the family. No physical task was carried out without her blessing. I remember an occasion with the whole family moving a refrigerator from the kitchen, out the front door, across the law, around the back and into the garage- all with my sister doing the bulk of the pushing.

I could go on blog post after blog post about the impressive strong women in my family. The point is:

 I wonder if it is my actually my family which makes me hate the chivalry of our Arab origins, or does that feeling come from growing up American? Maybe it’s both….

 

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.