What I’m Doing

These days blur together. I sleep on the couch (I have a bed, I prefer the couch) in front of my laptop perpetually playing Breaking Bad. Fading in and out of sleep, my neck develops what feels like marbles along the right side of my spine. The days pass. Every other night I don’t sleep at all, but rather spend the hours trying my eyelids with the subtle glow of a computer screen, flickering updates on log curves, foot by foot. The humming of the generator and engine outside remind me how precious true silence can be. Daylight happens. 20150128_075818[1]The job ends during the daylight; we pack up our equipment and at some point, my weary body makes its way back to the couch. Breaking Bad engages, and time goes on.

Every other couch-rig-couch combination is linked by one day, completing the cycle. This is a day begins when my phone buzzes, alarm or phone call. I stay on the couch, rolling into position to check or send emails. I do the paperless paper work for the next rig job from the comfort of my couch. I play some music. I watch TV shows while I hydrate. Sometimes I do laundry, mostly I lounge. I will take myself running in the sunny weather. I follow up with some jump roping and lunges in my apartment. I take a shower and eat. These days are the best. They pass quickly despite my minimalist activity.

The day screeches to a halt when its time to pack up the laptop and take it to the rig. It’s a blur when the day ends and the night begins. My neck is stiff and my thoughts are aloof.

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.

sexism-770x398

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

Rocks in Cans

Having just finished a hitch in the desert, I’m riding shot gun next to Snoopy in his flatbed trailer back to Doha. I ask him to turn on the radio. We sway to the songs and bounce along the road in the dark. Moments like this, I love that this is part of my job.

image

It’s dark and it’s windy, stirring the sand into the air. The grains tap the window like rain and create a sandy fog in the air. Snoopy clears the windshield twice. In the middle of an actual desert  storm, it feels like a rainy winter night.

I’m trying to place more emphasis on enjoying the small daily occurrences which can get the better of my nerves if I let them. Everyone communicates in their own way. I like to talk with my hands. At McDonald’s the other day, I placed my order of “a little double cheeseburger and a giant coke”, surly indicating the height of my drink between my hands. The McDonald’s worker promptly filled a normal sized cup with Diet Coke. Realizing that “giant” can sound like “diet” and no one describes their drinks as giant, I had to laugh. Touchè McDonald’s…

image

The last job I did, I worked the night shift with a Pakistani engineer. Discussing accents, he so perfectly summarized how some Indians speak…. “It’s as if you put some rocks in a can. And then shake the can”

image

Over Weight and Under Dressed

I threw myself onto the floor between my desk and the wall. “Please don’t make me go!” I cried out to my co worker. My manager had just called to tell me I am going back to the rig which I was kicked off of a few months ago. Déjà vu, I’m also running the same service as the previous time. All the things I’d rather do come to mind. As most are rather graphic, I’ll spare you, dearest readers.

Tantrum

This morning, I go to the heliport, armed with two dozen chocolate truffles and a turkey sandwich to calm my nerves. My trusty operator and I check in for the flight. Each of our bags is well over the allowed weight. Typically, this is not a problem, and the guy at the counter will let it slide…. not today.

“Your bag is too heavy.” He said with the utmost unsympathetic focus.

“Okay…” The poker-faced staring contest begins.

He raises, “What will you to do?”

Nothing, I think to myself. “Do you want me to unpack right here and you tell me what to leave?”  A rather taunting dare.

“The limit is 30 pounds.” Ol’ PokerFace is not budging this morning.

It should be mentioned that my bag(s) is 45 lbs. I carry two laptops with associated accessories and cables (both for work), steel toed boots, hard hat, 2 t-shirts, a handful of dirty undergarments to be washed once I get to the rig, 2 coveralls, an unknown and mysterious quantity of socks, a handful of toiletries, and one jump rope. “I can’t leave anything behind.” I say, wishing I had chosen another time to wear my bright red “Comedy Barn” t shirt. After years of experience, I finally succumb to the sad reality- people let you get away with things when you dress nicely and wash your face. I dust off residual turkey sandwich crumbs from the rooster on my t shirt and try to flash a cheeky grin. Femininity eludes me this morning.

hot mess cat

We were relegated to the second chopper of the day, arriving to the rig around 2 pm. I get here to a crew who has been on board for a day. I bust out my chocolates and get ready for whatever will transpire over the next few days.

All the Kings Horses

Immediately after writing my dramatically boring post, I received news that I would be leaving the rig the following morning. And so, I fled the rig, returning from whence I came. That is, first I took a boat to a neighboring rig to catch the chopper from there. Instead of being lifted to that rig via the personnel basket, the boat just backed up to a grated platform with some stairs leading to what is called a “jacket”.

jackettransfer

I jumped from the boat to the platform, climbed all the stairs to the jacket, took another set of very precariously placed stairs suspended above the water and beneath the rig floor from the jacket to the rig and trekked across the deck and up another four flight of stairs to the helicopter briefing room.

RopeSwing

It felt like I should be receiving some sort of participants trophy, but I suppose the weekend in town is reward enough.

I made it into Doha just in time to go to dinner with friends, and to Dukhan the next day for more jobs. I finished a job in Dukhan in just in time to go back to Doha for dinner and offshore the next day.

When joining a group of people who have been stranded offshore, it is customary to come baring gifts. The crew requested cigarettes. I went to the gas station to buy an assortment of cigarettes. Whilst in line to pay for my assortment, a man approached me,

Man, in Arabic- “Do you speak Arabic”

Me- …..sure?

Man, still in Arabic- “Where are you from?”

Me-…USA

Man- You said you were Arab?

Me- ..*Annoyed, ‘leave me to buy all these cancer sticks in peace’ face*…

Man- What’s you’re name?

Me- Laila

Man- That’s an Arabic name.

Me- Yes, it is.

Man- And you have a very Arabic face.

Me- Yes, I do.  *exit gas station*

Oddly, and much to my extreme annoyance and frustration, these conversations have become routine in my life. No one asked you to approach me. Furthermore, I have NO problem talking to strangers (I love meeting strangers), but why argue with a stranger over a personal question you asked them uninvited and clearly unwelcomed? The answer is INCONCLUSIVE as to WHAT is the obsession with where you’re from and whether or not you are Arab.

Alas, I am back on the rig, Al-Zubarah, having bypassed all the standby time.

Bread in Captivity

The sun comes up, I guess. Only the particular ache in my back which comes after laying in this bed for ten hours serves as an indication of any time passing. This is the destructive type of standby time. Standby for an indefinite time and no anticipation drains all the excitement and enthusiasm from my mind. I’ve lost all will to do anything but lay in bed, hoping to fall asleep for an hour or two at a time, watching TV series over and over. I dream about it being tomorrow. Tomorrow, I will dream about it being the next day.

CagedTiger

Yet, I’m exhausted. It’s an emotional drain to simply refrain from walking into the company man’s office and throwing an absolute f#$@ing tantrum, because if I was an uninhibited animal with free will, that’s what I’d do. I’d pick up plates and bowls in the galley and smash them on the floor. I’d run a muck, pick fights with anyone who looks in my direction, sing loudly in the shower… I’d run onto the helideck as soon as the next chopper lands, snatch a seat and never give it up, demanding to be lifted off this rig.

Alas, a tamed beast sits idly in her room. I get out of bed only when my co worker knocks on my door to tell me to eat. I wonder about all the many things I could be doing with my life. One of those tomorrows, I’ll get off this rig and move my body around. It will feel like the first time, and I will roam the city with the fervor of a child whose grounding sentence just expired.

Covert Operations

A few months ago, I was banned from Qatar Petroleum offshore jobs. It was a relief and I felt accomplished in a way, as if being banned is a right of passage in the life of a field engineer. Yesterday, my manager informed me he would be “sneaking” me to QP offshore to help a fellow engineer friend with his job. I am pretending to be a spy, having penetrated the organization illegally. I’m hiding out inside the wireline unit, and letting my colleague deal with all the headache.

Together, we arrived at the heliport and received an Ebola screening. On the symptoms part of the questionnaire, I indicated:

[YES] Lethargy

[Yes] Other: sadness

Clearly, no one reads the questionnaire…. I had my temperature taken and proceeded through the check in and helicopter briefing process like any other day. We flew to one rig, waited for about 30 minutes there, then took a boat over to the next rig. This is the first time since 2012 I have taken a personnel basket on and off of a rig. Having snuck my phone offshore, I commemorated the occasion with some photos.

20141009_124937

This is the QP rig which I have infiltrated.

20141009_131003

The personnel basket to lift us to the rig. It seems that I am not able to rotate images which are sideways on my phone…In any case, it is a nice day in the Persian Gulf.