4 weeks on, 4 weeks off
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The Comfort of Airports

I write to you from the plane, champagne in hand. Ethiopian Airlines, a short layover in Addis Ababa and then Dubai-bound. I am on day three of time off, but only just leaving Libreville, the capital city of Gabon, because of a hand-over day and then a cancelled flight.

Upon arriving at at Libreville airport, I am told by the check-in guard that there is no flight to Addis Ababa today. WHAT? I cannot describe the feeling of being told you cannot leave after four straight weeks of work; long hours, orange coveralls and very questionable drinking water, with a wedding event to attend upon arrival, and a plane to catch 48 hours later.

Upon investigation, it turns out the flight has indeed been cancelled, but I was not informed but I’m now re-booked for the following day. Back to the Park Inn Hotel it is. Oh well, no wedding for me and only 24 hours in Dubai before I am back on a plane and heading to a ski trip. From 30 degrees C and 90% humidity, to a wonderland of winter and snow! A very cool geographical experience I frequently have.

Lara-EK

Back at the hotel, I debate sleeping, maybe working out and potentially Keeping Up with the Kardashians, but finally decide to head to the nearby spa that I have heard a lot about, but never had the chance to visit. This is the unfortunate paradox of working rotation; once you have completed your hitch, you want nothing more than to get ‘out’, but there is so much to see in Gabon and I don’t want to miss it. Having worked here for a year and a half, I have not explored nearly enough. I plan to spend some time off here next year, visiting the national parks; camping, fishing and general jungling. (You are all welcome to join me!)

Back to the spa… the massage is great, the mani-pedi, not so much. To further complicate my story, my boyfriend is crew-changing the day after me, so an extra night in Libreville means I will get to see him! Although we work for the same company, and live in the same country, we are separated by a 45 minute drive. He works the night-shift, and because of the the dedicated nature of the job, i.e. leave your personal life at home when you come to work, it’s not always easy. So, ironically, without the cancelled flight mishap, the next place we would have seen each other is Zurich airport. Funnily enough, he has his own adventures getting from the rig-site in Rabi, our field location, to Libreville. The pickup driver takes a wrong turn during the four-hour drive, narrowly avoids getting stuck in the mud, helps a much larger truck that does get stuck in the mud, then finally arrives at the lagoon only to see that the fast boat that would have carried him across has already long departed. After much logistical maneuvering, he finally makes it to a flight with 15 minutes to spare. Never a dull moment in Africa!

I work in Oil and Gas, in Well Engineering, and specifically, Completions and Well Interventions. It is a step in between the more self-explanatory Drilling and Production phases, involving operations on the wells themselves. My current assignment is field-based, in Gabon, Central West Africa. Gabon is a former French colony. It is a small and peaceful country, with a population of just over one million people and 70% of its land covered by jungle rainforest. There are two seasons; dry and rainy. You might see elephants every day in the remote areas and can always find a baguette or croissant to eat. My rotation schedule, as you have likely gleaned, is ‘four weeks on and four weeks off’. As one of our senior engineers puts it ‘If you plan to die, get married, or have a baby, plan to do it during your time off’. The schedule is sacred, and it must be adhered to with great discipline, or else the whole model falls apart. This means lots of free time for travel and adventure, but it also means often having to miss important events that fall during time ‘on’, like weddings, birthdays, and Christmas. To clarify, the four weeks off does not feel like a vacation, it feels like a very long weekend. That is the best way I can describe rotation; a very long work week followed by a long weekend.

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During my time off, I usually head to Dubai for some R&R, see family and friends, and then set head off on a trip, either to see friends or engage in some form of sporting activity — ideally both.

In 2015, I went skiing in Zermatt, Japan and Norway. I visited my sister in Calgary and hosted a bachelorette party in Dubai. I’ve done some ‘city’ trips to Beirut, Holland, London and Vienna.

I am very, very comfortable in airports.

It’s amazing fun, but definitely tiring.

However, I am wholly committed to enjoying this phase, as undoubtedly, it will not last forever.
In this column I endeavor to share with you some of my experiences and the more unique challenges of navigating a career in the oilfield, while balancing a personal life reserved exclusively for 50% of the year. I hope you enjoy it!

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Experienced and shared by Lara Bekhazi, storyteller, engineer, adventurer and friend.

She is the author of 4 weeks on, 4 weeks off, and will be sharing her unique experiences for A-Coterie.

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