Full Boxes Empty Offices

Flights booked, shipping arranged, and visa cancelled. I’m free. I’m staring at customs paperwork for my shipment and thumbing through my passport pages. It’s seen my tears at the airport. It’s felt my tight grip signalling caution while getting onto subway trains and into taxi cabs. It’s been warmed some  winter nights as I smothered it with my pillow while we slept. It’s heard foreign languages and looked at me confused. I never thought so much of my identity was wrapped up in being American, but that resonates among the lesson books of experience written from my two years spent in Qatar. I always imagined leaving Qatar- and certainly leaving Schlumberger- I would be working to get back to my former self, a happier version I was in college or before the grind of rig life began to fragment my spirit. However, I’m sitting in my room, basking in the sunlight that comes through this window every morning. I’m looking past the suitcases and boxes in my room and staring into the empty office building across the street. I’ve stared at these vacant floors for years. I’m thinking I won’t be working towards “finding myself again” or trying to undo the years like they never happened. They happened, and I learned.

El-Ashmawy_Visacopy

Be kind to each other. Kindness goes farther than street smarts or book smarts or brute force. You never know who really needs it. Often times, smiling or saying thank you is the kindest gesture someone will receive that day- so simple, and so instrumental. Be kind to each other.

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands. Express yourself and most importantly, express gratitude for those around you. I’m used to being the most expressive person in a room….or a 50 mile radius. When I’m excited, everyone knows. When I’m upset, everyone knows. People who care always respond. Help yourself by being expressive. Help others by caring for their expression.

Defend yourself. I refuse to play by rules that don’t make sense. This got me into trouble sometimes in Qatar, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Friends can be like family. I spent countless nights singing and dancing around with friends, totally unguarded, like a child. We often slept over in each other’s beds, falling asleep watching TV series and eating. There was a night spent jumping on the bed. We supported each other, confided in each other, and advised each other. When your family isn’t there- your friends can be like family. For me, my friends were also my colleagues- talk about blurred lines.

However, no one is truly family like your family is family. I had the brilliant opportunity to get to know my actual family better, with an Aunt just across the border in the Kingdom of Bahrain. I would sneak away from work for 24 hours or so, have dinner, play with my nieces and nephew, and sit with my Aunt. This is a part of my family I’d only briefly interacted with, and always surrounded by dozens of other family members. These days, though few in number, were simply invaluable.

I

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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.

2014: You Can’t Handle Me

It’s been a rigtale tradition to compile a year end summary highlighting significant events in my life. I started 2014 with no real goals, and a lot of angst. I finished the year with clear goals and peace of mind. So here’s the highly anticipated year end report! Enjoy. 

1. In a fit of rage, I kicked and shattered a mirror in the staff house elevator in Doha. I had a meeting with HR about it. It was embarrassing. Soon after, they installed cameras in the elevators of my building.  

2.I got kicked off a rig, and subsequently banned from Qatar Petroleum offshore jobs. [A tremendous blessing.]

3. I boarded over 25 plane flights.

4. I had my passport stamped in 8 different countries.

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5. I visited Robben Island.

6. I got my PADI open water, advanced open water and enriched air diver certifications. 

7. I’ve been SCUBA diving in 3 different countries. 

The Fish

8. I spent more than a full calendar year without returning home. 

9. I got a speeding ticket in France, which my father intercepted in the mail. My father intercepts all my post.

10. I had a psychologist. She helped me.

11. I started playing soccer again.

12. I tore a muscle. For the first time. I felt so old. 

13. I went over a full year without hugging or even seeing my parents. It changed me. 

14. I really struggled at work. I also really thrived at work. Sometimes, I didn’t know the difference. 

15. I made new friends. 

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16. I approved and signed someone’s promotion.

17. I spotted three grey hairs on my head. I felt so old. 

18. I moved rooms to have roommates. We do roommate things. 

19. I swam on both sides of the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, the Arabian Gulf, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Great Australian Bight

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20. I saw the southern hemisphere for the first and second times.

21. I went to sleep many nights thinking to myself, “My mom is the only person who really understands me.”

22. I held a Koala. It held me back.

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23. I got athletes foot on a rig. I cried from disgust at myself.

24. I won a highly competitive industry challenge with my co workers and teammates. (see maerskoilandqpchallenge.com)

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25. I didn’t sweat the small stuff. I didn’t loose sleep.

26. I let go of not letting go.

27. I ended the year by seeing my parents. I now really know the meaning when “nothing changes”

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Lucky ’13

This year has been one extreme with highs and lows. In a word, it was dynamic. Everyday feels uncomfortable, because everyday- so much is changing. I’ve been humbled. I’ve seen pain. I’ve been elated at the sight of stacks of work to pilot my mind away from myself. I’ve been lost. I’ve been grateful. I’ve been in a prison of thoughts and expectations. I’ve defined my values. On the whole, I’ve grown more than any other time I can think of. This year was a lot less about:

Climb a tree

and much more about:

In the FACE

^^ facing the real world. There were the occasional moments of:

The Rowan California

and

Green Pearls

But let’s organize a list which can never fully capture, but maybe give some perspective to the last year minus 8 days.

1. I’ve had my passport stamped in seven countries.
2. I laid on my couch while professional movers packed up everything I own.
3. I totaled my Ford Ranger on a rainy 6 lane highway in Dallas.
Danger Ranger
4. I met my childhood hero.
Heros

5. I was told I look 30.
6. I mentored seven interns/junior engineers.
7. I got a promotion.
8. I left work early (very early… like… noon-early) every day for a week just to sleep.
9. I was a victim of sabotage, the aftermath of which escalated to an attempted coup and unraveling of several able- minded people.
10. A modern day slave wishes me a good morning and brings me apples on a daily basis.
11. I’ve truly lost friends. Not in the sense that people drift apart, but in the sense that sometimes- people were never meant to be friends.
12. I’ve cried at my job. A LOT. Sometimes for no reason.
13. I visited the US embassy.
14. I’ve said goodbye to six different co workers who resigned within a few months of each other.
15. I saw a piece of pressure equipment explode.
16. This:

17. I’ve been crushed.
18. I was stung by a jellyfish.
19. I’ve been offshore in two different countries.
20. I’m a stranger in my home.

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.

Things I Held Sacred

I’ve been experiencing blogger’s block. I try to keep this space as positive as possible. I experience gaps in writing when I’m too busy enjoying life to pause for a post, or the opposite. Nothing strikes me anymore. I miss my family. I miss my friends. I miss my home. I miss myself. I used to think the world is my home, and I can make any place my community. This is completely misguided. Home is where there is a Best Buy and a Chick Fil A. Home is where my mom is.  I spent the last month indulging in a passionate love affair with the USA. I drove around in my car. I ate at chick fil a often. I ate in general often. I pondered the meaning of life. If work is a means to an end…. where does it end?

 

The following is a list of things I didn’t think I would miss as much as I did.

1. Cowboy Boots. I wore them everywhere.

2. Scarves. I brought them back with me.

3. CD’s. I bought new ones at Best Buy as the soundtrack to my vacation.

4. Jukeboxes.

5. Target. It’s the simple things.

 

I left the USA with plenty of happy moments and memories to keep me going for a while. Below is a snapshot of my family Thanksgiving:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FpToCpW5sAQ

 

 

Two days before my return to Doha, I became very sick. I coughed up snot and once sneezed out what looked like an egg yoke. My parents pumped me full of medication and took me to the airport. Though the journey took over 24 hours, and I had sleeping medication, I slept not a moment. Just sat in a foggy daze, travelling through time and space to arrive in Doha. I unpacked my bags and stayed awake all night wishing I was anywhere else. At 4 am, I drifted off to sleep. I woke at 6pm and am feeling just as lonely. Most of my friends in Doha have moved on, either transferred or resigned.

I am alone in the desert, and it feels like a new chapter for me in Doha. The age of the hermit is upon us. (Not like the time in college when I ordered pants and printer ink off the internet to avoid leaving my apartment, but a more deep and contemplative hermit) I polish off the mini loaf of zucchini bread my mom made for me and work on my puzzle (also given to me by my mother) in the corner of the room.

Today Is the Greatest

Over the past several weeks, I’ve had many an idea for a new blog post, but once in front of a computer, the inspiration eluded me.

I wanted to tell the tales of Arcenio Hall

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The faithful crew chief who has made me both laugh and cringe as he talked about his affinity for cock fighting.
“I am so tired. Haven’t been sleeping.”
“Why aren’t you sleeping, Arcenio?”
“Up all night. Watching videos. Of cock fighting.” Arcenio proceeds to show me a youtube video of a cock fight.
“This is terrible, Arcenio! This is illegal!! Big trouble for doing this!”
“NAH!! In YOUR country, maybe. But in Phillipines, is very popular.”
The video starts and my body spazes. Without seeing a second of actual cock fighting, I jump from my seat shouting uncontrollably, “I can not watch this. Please don’t ever show me again!”
This was not my expected reaction.

I wanted to dedicate a post to the latest job offshore I completed, where I felt very much like a junior engineer again, perched on the edge of a counter for days watching other engineers run a sampling tool.

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I drafted a post briefing the fast paced life in Doha and my day at the RedBull FlugTag competition.

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Or the pet section at the local market where colored chicks are sold.

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Alas, I post from the airport, where I am about to fly back across the ocean for another training course in Oklahoma and brief vacation visiting family afterwards. Frankly, the last several months of excitement and adventure could not compare to my feeling today.

Today is the greatest. Today marks the longest stretch of time I’ve been away from home, a dynamic place which meaning is expanding all the time.