Thursday, April 22, 2010

good/bad news (nothing too serious)

Good news: It’s not malaria. Bad news: Probably food poisoning. Good news: Already feeling better. Bad news: It was pretty bad. Good news: At least I didn’t throw up. See what I did there? Sandwiched in the bad things between the good things like a personnel review. Bad news: Some personnel reviews are almost nothing but bad news. Good news: You usually don’t have to do those reviews the next year.

2x bills

I find the 2000 CFA bills annoying. If they didn’t exist, I would get more change in 1000 CFA bills which is how much taxi rides are. This needs to be about me of course. We ditched the $2 bill a long time ago in normal usage and it’s been sunshine and rainbows ever since. Right?
Why I will never play Farmville and neither should you.

Monday, April 19, 2010

on home

I should say this because maybe it’s never clear, but being back in the Bay Area last month was awesome. I say this as I juxtapose my recollection of my time at home with the recent quitting of young field engineer here (not in my segment) who I got to know for about 2 days before his departure. I’ll discuss why in a moment.

Being home (the only real home I have ever known and the closest thing to home I still have as determined by the IRS) is always great. Perhaps it does not show since I do not go often. When I was still in the States, time was always the limiting factor with other place(s) I had compelling reasons to visit. Last year in Hungary was a bit of a one-off since I came back stateside three other times, but never to California. Now here in Congo, it’s hard to say if I’ll be back more often. It’s as ‘easy’ as ever to get to Paris (assuming air travel will one day resume), but there are plenty of places to go from there. Nonetheless, home is peaceful in a certain sense, though skewed since I am always on vacation when there.

People are always good to see. Family, extended family, friends, strangers, whoever. There’s diversity to the Bay Area that is achieved in few other places. Even Farmington, New Mexico and Victoria, Texas had diversity in their own ways. And everyone spoke English. Mostly. But coming from a year in Hungary, where diversity is less pronounced for all the obvious demographic and historical reasons and far fewer speak English, being back in the Bay Area was a delight of familiarity in all the ways it is so different from itself. Also appreciated were the fond reminiscences of all the oft-visited places and even the apparent familiarity of what was new in town. (Still intrigued by the mutant Carls Jr./Green Burrito place I saw on El Camino since I didn’t go inside).

As great as home is and how I might extol upon its virtues, there is also certain interest in not being there. An interest in roaming a bit freer keeps me out here for the time being. For some people, when they go to balance out their interests, some things weigh more than others. For the young engineer who quit last week, he had just come back from his own vacation home. He was back here less than two weeks before he decided to call it quits and head back. He told me that many of his friends and family didn’t want him to come back here. That’s his life and that’s his choice. The sooner he makes a decision like this, the better off he is. It’s not for me, not now at least. I appreciate that my friends and family respect my decisions enough to not extensively lobby me to make a permanent return. I like to presume it is out of some level of respect for personal freedom though I have not entirely ruled out that some people are tickled pink to have me gone. I’ll always be back though, possibly for good one day.

iraq re-entry

There was an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal last Friday about SLB’s re-etry into Iraq. They briefly had it available on their website, but now it requires a subscription. If anyone is interested in reading it, let me know and I can e-mail it to you since I copied the source file and have the full text of the article.

Edit: It looks like it might be up again. Try this link.


I played some epic beach volleyball with some co-workers yesterday. [Epic = a bunch of engineers who never played organized volleyball]. Not having played organized volleyball since 8th grade, it was good to run about in the sand and generally sweat like a pig as I am prone to do. There’s also a Saturday soccer (football everywhere else) game people play, though I’m told it’s taken rather seriously. I’ll be getting into that too since I miss playing. And I have World Cup fever. Or maybe it’s yellow fever. No, not really. Don’t worry mom, I got the vaccination.

medical clearance

I had a physical last Tuesday. Sort of. It was basically a medical clearance exam for a couple of our clients so I’m allowed on their locations. They did also draw blood and I know there’s no way that analysis is done, but I already have my clearance. Anyway, it is such a waste of valuable medical resources. I already have medical clearance from my employer. Client insistence on doing it over takes away from what people here need.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

offshore training is pretty sweet

Last week, I was sent to do some offshore training as this is my first location that does offshore work and there was a client request (read: insistence) that I be present on location during the jobs. It was fun. Perhaps the classroom sections were a bit droll at times since I've gone through basic first aid and CPR before but there was plenty of worthwhie information in sea survival. However, the best day was Thursday when we spent the morning fighting fires and the afternoon in the water (a pool not the actual ocean).

Yes, we got to use real bona fide fire extinguishers in training. I think it's the first time I've ever actually used a fire extinguisher. It's as much fun as you would imagine assuming your imagination works like mine. Though the fun-ness is undoubtesly increased by the knowledge that they are controlled fires and can be contained quite quickly. We also got to stumble through a dark shipping container trying to find the exit in simulated smoke. Well, the smoke was not simulated. It was real, though it was alleged to be the same non-toxic kind as nightclub smoke machine smoke though the concentration was ratcheted up by several levels.

The afternoon was spent in a pool going through the basics of surviving in the water, staying warm, helping an injured person, preserving your energy, how to climb into a life raft (not that easy on these type sof rafts), how to get out, how to right the raft if it inflated upside down for some reason, and the icing on the cake was escaping from a mock helicopter while upside down in the water. Yes, it's as much fun as it sounds depending on your idea of fun.

two weeks into pointe-noire

Oh man, I just need to get back to blogging and what's going on and what I've been up to. I'e now been in Pointe-Noire for a bit more than two weeks and it's been as expected as anything could be expected so far. What that really means is that since I first started working back when I was in New Mexico, my expectations of a place and people have been pretty fluid. With each new location, I've known more about what things are supposed to be like and what people, equipment, systems we should have in place, but that's well balanced by the realities of a limited supply world. Sorry all, this is no Sim City world where you can just raze entire blocks at a time and rebuild in whatever image you see fit.

I've been moderately busy since I arrived. It has been a blend of the usual new location processes as I am getting up to speed with the overall situation at work, getting slowly familiar with the city, and getting physically adjusted to the new environment. All three have been significantly different than in any of my previous moves.

Work is weird. That was my protracted initial reaction, but that's not an accurate statement or sentiment. It is simply different in almost all areas. Schedule, job roles, field operations, equipment, business processes, etc. However, in the end, the only meaningful long-term business quesiton is if there is enough activity to sustain what we are doing here? I would say yes, though my understanding of the larger picture is still developing. If anything, there is a great deal of potential here ut so many obstacles in the way for developing both the industry and the country.

Pointe-Noire is the largest single city I have ever lived in though Silicon Valley connectedness is larger in a sprawling sort of way. To assuage certain concerns, I'll say right now that the security situation is good. Movement is unrestricted though it comes with the caveat that there are some neighborhoods to avoid at night and that travelling alone is not recommended. Nonetheless, I walk by myself at night (mostly to get dinner since I'm in a hotel for now), and don't get harassed much except near this one club where some ladies of the night ply their wares. For the most part, my typical walking posture probably helps a great deal which is to walk fast and not smile. There are a lot of expats here, almost all in the oil and gas industry so people generally know what your business is and what that means.

My physical adjustment has taken longer this time around than ever before and is still ongoing. Maybe it's the hotel living and/or the anti-malarial medicine I have been taking, but it's been a long adjustment. My clock is finally synched up with both the local time and the slightly earlier work hours. (I'm not historically a morning person, so this is a bit of a change for me). I've also made an adjustment with my room at night so combined with getting used to the time change, I've been sleeping much better and waking up feeling moderately refreshed. The last thing is to figure out why it feels like I perpetually have something in my eyes. I've been waking up feeling like there's been something in my eyes most mornings. Maybe eye drops are all I need, but this has also been getting slowly better so like with so much perhaps time will tell.

More to come, hopefully not three weeks from now.