Tuesday, September 25, 2012

tuesdays in turkmenistan: deportation (not me)

Don't worry, or worry the same amount you had previously, for I am not one of the few being deported (and neither are any of my coworkers). Perhaps that is an outcome some of you slightly hope for, presumably only because you want me to come home and not because you would like to see me spend 15 days in jail before coming home. This is the outcome, or seems to be the likely outcome, for some individuals currently in the clink. Two weeks ago, there was an industry event attended by at least one of the major operators and many service companies. Post-event, there were post-events that evidently took on an adult theme. The word is that four people, a mix of operator and service company employees, are being deported as a result of the evening's "festivities" as I shall so discretely call them.

This is the real deal. This is why newly arrived expats get the lecture about being on good behavior and not metaphorically or literally screwing around. This is why we have an informal 11pm curfew. We get well compensated for being here and it is not because it is dangerous or there is some pervasive risk of malaria. It is because when you are here, it's not that there is no freedom, but there is a distinct decrease in the amount to which I am accustomed. It would sound much more dramatic if I could boldly proclaim that that there is no freedom here, but that would not be true.

What they have is much more watching. Sure, I can walk around the street and, if I am by myself and dressed discretely, I can blend in and won't attract a second look. Well, only if a walk suitably slow enough. My typical fast and purposeful walk seems to draw quite a bit of attention since fast-walking was evidently banned. However, in any sort of expat group, our English and everyone else's appearance will out us very quickly as foreigners. That's not really a problem, but it simply means you cannot lose yourself in a sea of anonymity. People will look, some will stare. Most of the ones who stare are likely staring at the arm sleeve of tattoos belonging to a colleague. I have no doubts that the security guards at the base make a note of every time I/we exit the base and return to the base in the evenings. My presence (and that of every expat) here must be registered. If we go somewhere else like Ashgabat or one of the port cities to go offshore, then that move must be registered. I am being watched. It is not sophisticated. In fact, it is rather clumsy at times. But being in a country with very few foreigners leads to a pervasive sense of always sticking out and attracting attention, not for what you are doing, but for simply existing in this place.

I will have to take solace in the knowledge that at least I am not a spy, because this would make it terrible to do my job. Maybe.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

natural gas, working through the overhang

Natural gas storage is almost off the record high levels that have persisted since November of last year. You can see pretty clearly here or here that storage levels are nearly back to the previous highs set in the last two years. It is not so much that production has declined (because it has not as seen here, though it did decline a bit late last year before rebounding early this year) but that the market is starting to stabilize when it comes to demand and the import/export market. With domestic production up (even with fewer rigs drilling for gas), it should be no surprise that net imports are down to their lowest levels in almost 20 years.

(Many of the rigs no longer drilling for natural gas have moved to liquid, read: oil, plays. Perhaps more on this later.)

What does any of this mean? To the consumer, will you spend more or less on heating gas this winter? To the investor, how can you invest into (or out of) these changes? To the voter, are you really basing your electoral decision on this single issue?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

tuesdays in turkmenistan: a slow recovery

Been back nearly a week and I am still not quite fully adjusted. The hectic pace of my time back in the U.S. left me with a mild cold that persisted through the trip back. Flights seem to drag out an illness, however minor it may seem. One day becomes four days. The sore throat doesn't disappear. And you're always tired.

Everything here is the same, more or less. Work is work, people are people. Same in the sense that a certain degree of change is to be expected. Activity, clients, people, projects, etc. As boring as it may seem, the mundane is needed at times. Routine is part of progress. Even the weather is mundane, finally. We are done with Summer's 40+ degC days and Winter's icy touch is not yet here. Perfect weather to go for walk's in the evening, out on some Sunday Sundae strolls in our quests to get ice cream. In a country that is seemingly unpredictable, the sameness offers a bit of calm. A calm before the storm.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

tuesdays not in turkmenistan: that was fast

Two weeks went fast. Well, not even two weeks, more like 13 days. I'm hitting the road again today, on my way back to work. Some of the statistics from the last two weeks:
* 6 different beds slept in
* 1 wedding attended
* 650 miles driven
* 2 rental cars
* 5 airports visited
* 3 flights taken
* 2 upgraded seats
* 6 states touched
* 1 driveway resurfaced (partially)
* and 1 very cute nephew played with

Back in six weeks this time.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

tuesdays not in turkmenistan: labor law

This is the first in several back-dated entries. I started penning this entry during my last rotation and had intended to publish while I was at home. However, my busy home schedule precluded finalizing my thoughts on the subject. Additionally, it skirts along some potentially sensitive work topics that I am generally reluctant to avoid so my comments will be couched and somewhat vague as I will not discuss specifics about work. As always, my opinions are my own or those of my sponsors.

We have been rolling through some changes for local staff at work related to local labor law compliance. The issue is relatively straightforward in a broad sense. Work has a general compensation philosophy. There are certain ways we wish to pay people given the nature of the work (ie: field work, offshore, remote, etc) and to stay competitive with other employers in the industry. At the same time, there are certain ways we must compensate local employees according to the local law. Of course, local law trumps the company's general compensation practices. Furthermore, anytime you change how people are paid (not how much they are paid, but the nature of the way time is tracked, procedures, etc), they can become very defensive. I have seen this at two previous locations when somewhat similar changes were made. Even if you demonstrate to people that their overall pay will be either the same or higher, there is still a great deal of skepticism. This is normal, even expected, and taking the time to explain this to people is part of the job.

However, what has surprised me the most is who some of the most resistant employees have been during this process. I have certain expectations for our engineer population, both in terms of their work performance, but also what I would broadly call their world view. They work for a large, international company and are in a small and provincial (in relative terms) country. They could conceivably be working for local company, but they chose to work here instead. Working here is nothing short of an excellent springboard to get outside of the country. This includes the training opportunities that are afforded to them in other parts of the world as well as the chance for an international assignment. I like to view working here as an an excellent opportunity to "get out" for a local engineer. By this, I mean a chance to see, work, and live in other parts of the world. Some may want to do that for the rest of their careers and some may want to get out for a while, make more money, and then come back home. Either way, they have opportunities here. However, they only have those opportunities if they invest the time, effort, and have a decent view of the long-term. I expect the engineers here to have that long-term view, or at least a conceptual understanding of why it is important. Perhaps they have a hard time letting go of home, or don't really want to take an assignment outside of Turkmenistan. That is understandable, but they should comprehend why that will limit their opportunities in the company.