On Monday, August 8th, I was contacted by a company and asked if I had any interest in leaving my offshore job in Louisiana and taking an offshore medic position based out of Bergen, Norway. As soon as they said "all travel is paid" I was in. After a couple days of paperwork, interviews on Skype, and contract review I was good to go. I just had to make a side trip to Dubai first to get a medical exam and a little bit of training on documentation procedures.
On the 12th I flew from Indianapolis to Dulles (DC) then on to Dubai, United Arab Emirates. It was about a 13hr flight which took us over Iceland, Ireland, Britain, most of Europe, Turkey, Iraq, Kuwait and the Persian Gulf.
When I saw we were over Iraq I took the chance to get up and use the bathroom. My hope was that the plane's toilet leaked and I was able to piss on Iraq from 30,000ft.
I got into Dubai around 7pm Saturday evening, local time. After wandering around the HUGE Dubai airport (I'd guess the main terminal is about 4,000,000 miles long) I finally found my bag and set about finding my ride. After about an hour of searching, a phone call to the hotel, and more searching I finally located him.
During the ride to the hotel I got a sudden reminder of how horribly people drive in foreign countries. ("Seatbelts, kids!") I'd also forgotten how balls hot it is in the Middle East. The last time I'd felt this kind of heat was when I had a 3 day pass to Doha, Qatar while deployed for Iraq. The UAE sits at just about the same latitude as Qatar, just across the Persian Gulf a bit to the east. Go ahead and look at a map…I’ll wait.
My driver dropped me relatively unscathed at The Layia Plaza Hotel and I checked in. Whilst doing so the desk clerk informed me that "Everything is covered by your company except the mini-bar in your room and alcoholic beverages. Unfortunately, if you're looking for a drink it will be hard to find as it is the holy month of Ramadan." Thus my dreams of grabbing a beer and going to bed were dashed. A steward carried my bag and escorted me to my room. Saying the hotel was nice doesn't even begin to describe it. And I’m not going to describe it either. If you’re lucky I’ll show you pictures sometime. Just imagine something real nice (Clark) until then.
At this point I was tired, confused about what time it was, and hungry.
So. Damn. Hungry.
I opened up the room service menu and soon found out that things at this hotel were not cheap. But since I was not paying for it I decided "screw it" and ordered a whole pepperoni pizza, a shrimp cocktail, and a coke with ice (you have to specify you want ice). About 20 minutes later a Filipino man appeared at my door, in a bright yellow coat and little bow tie, and carried a tray into my room. He then proceeded to lift the silver lids off of both dishes like he was goddamn Harry Houdini and he'd conjured that food out of thin air. Lastly he poured my coke into the glass of ice and darted to the door. I gave him $2, mostly because I only had a little cash on me for a tip, and partially because he hovered at the door waiting for it. Upon giving him a tip he handed me the bill to obtain my signature. As I signed it I noted the price of $94 USD. Holy shit, Batman. I'm really glad I didn't have to pay for that.
Even the worst pizza I've ever had, like a bad blowjob, was still pretty awesome. This was by far the worst pizza I've ever had. There is likely something lost in translation from the Italian cook book to the Filipino chef working the kitchen in hotel in Dubai. That being said; I devoured that motherfucker. The shrimp was supposedly locally caught and tasted pretty much like all other shrimp I've ever had, other than it might have been caught about 2 weeks prior to being served to me.
After updating all social media sources (facebook & twitter), that I was alive, I went to bed. I slept about 4hrs and then my biological clock decided I needed to wake up. I took the opportunity to get something to eat before the sun came up. During Ramadan the Muslims do not eat from sun up until sun down. Thus the United Arab Emirates, being predominantly Muslim, doesn't have a lot to offer in the way of food for Westerners during the day. Even if you do find something that is serving it is considered bad form to eat in front of Muslims as they're fasting. Also, no smoking. Water. Water is about your only option. I made my way downstairs and found a sizeable buffet set up.
I had the veal. Not because I necessarily wanted it, but solely because it was an option and I wasn't paying for it.
I then took a brief walk around the block and went to the ATM. Dubai is one of the cleanest city I've ever seen. Certainly a world of difference from the filth filled streets of Abu Ghraib village and the crowded, crazy streets of Baghdad.
Around 9am I had the front desk get me a taxi to the main offices of my new employer for "induction." The cab fare was around 12.5 Dirhams (Arabian Emirates Dirhams), which is roughly $4. I'd taken out $300 Dirhams from the ATM, so all I had were three 100 Dirham bills. The cabbie was aghast that I had no smaller notes and informed me that he had no change. I did still have $4 US so I gave him that. And that was REALLY the last US money I had.
I went upstairs and was met by my "handler." He arranges and tracks all of my travel and ensures that I have all the pertinent documentation to get in and out of whatever country I'm going to or coming from. He gave me a usual stuff to sign and read; Contracts, confidentiality notices, how to do my time sheet, how to turn in receipts for reimbursement, etc. Around 9:45 he called a cab to take me to the doctor for my pre-deployment medical exam.
So this cab takes me to the other side of the city of Dubai to the Dr. Sulaiman Al Habib Medical Center. It is located in an area called Dubai Healthcare City. And that is exactly what it was; a whole section of town full of hospitals, doctor's offices of every specialty, and radiology and cancer centers. I won't bore you with the medical exams and whatnot, but I do have one funny story about the first doctor that saw me. This particular doctor just so happened to have done her residency at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis. This got brought up when she saw my place of birth on my paperwork.
What follows are some of the funnier things she said:
-While palpating my stomach: "You're a little overweight, but I guess by Indiana standards you're probably 30lbs underweight."
-Small talk: "Is Wishard Hospital still a cesspool?"
-Upon noticing the tag on my shirt: "Medium in America is large or extra-large in most other countries."
-Small talk: "Does Indianapolis still have that basketball team, the Pacemakers?"
-And a closing pearl for me: "If anyone asks where you're from say America. The only thing people know about Indiana here is that you have a 500 mile race that people used to care about."
Brutal. Funny, but brutal.
I also obtained a vaccination for Yellow Fever and had my World Health Organization book stamped to reflect as such. So now I'm pretty much up on all vaccinations that I need to go to any malaria infested, shithole on Earth (Yay!).
After all testing was completed I hailed a cab and returned to the office. En route there I did manage to get a few pictures (from very far away) of the World's tallest building.
So I got that going for me, which is nice.
Back at the office I did more paperwork, had to sit through a PowerPoint about the history of the company, and about an hour of learning how their 24hr emergency call center works.
The last thing I did was have a meeting with one Dr. Beau Dees. Yes, his real name is Beau Dees. This is really fun to say. Even funnier when you talk to him and he sounds just like the Black Night from Monty Python and The Holy Grail. Dr. Dees quizzed me on many common clinical ailments and then over emergency treatments. Apparently he'd forgotten that he'd given me these exact same questions the previous Wednesday morning when we talked on Skype. Still, he was a pretty tough sell, but I managed. Once this was completed I returned to the hotel.
By this time it was nearly 7pm and I had not eaten. The sun was just starting to set and I decided to walk around the corner to a supermarket I'd seen earlier in the day. A can of coke in the mini-bar in my room cost about $8, so I decided to just go buy some at said store.
Mistake #1: Going to a grocery store in a foreign country.
Mistake #2: Going to a grocery store in a Muslim country, during Ramadan, just after sundown.
Do you remember that scene from Gremlins when they're in the movie theatre and going nuts in the popcorn machine and candy in the concession stand?
That's what Muslims look like in a supermarket at sundown during Ramadan. It was like going to Wal-Mart the morning after Thanksgiving.
Only everyone is really hungry.
And these people probably have more teeth.
And they weren't obese.
It was nothing like Wal-Mart.
Roving packs of youths and housewives, all of whom are grumpy, have low blood sugar, and are very hungry, just grabbing food at random. I managed to grab the last 2 liter of Coke and went to wait in line.
Take a moment and imagine me, pale and Irish-American me, standing in line with Arab men and women (both in dresses), their arms full of food, as a Pakistani check-out clerk rings everyone up as quickly as he can, and me...just as white and American as I can be with a giant bottle of Coca-Cola.
I tried to blend in...But then I started laughing at how absurd this whole situation was. People in front of me crowded forward as I laughed. People behind me backed up. I imagine at this point, like spiders, they were more afraid of me than I was of them. I got to the front of the line, paid roughly $3 for the bottle of coke, and got the hell out of there.
After dropping the Coke off in my room I returned to the hotel's buffet and had dinner (another $80). Then I headed back up to my room. And that's when boredom and a bathroom with a bidet turned into a terrible experience.
In case you are not familiar; a bidet is essentially a toilet with a water fountain built into it to spray water at your ass after you've made brown pickles. It is EXACTLY as horrible as it sounds. I have no idea what part of getting ice cold tap water sprayed into your bunghole has to do with a satisfying bathroom experience. What I do know is that I tried it so you guys never ever have to.
Shortly thereafter I was in bed because I had to be at the airport at 5am to make my 7:30am flight.
Total Time Spent in Dubai: 36hrs 35mins
On Monday I flew from Dubai to Munich, Germany on Lufthansa Airways. This flight was essentially uneventful aside from the fact that boarding a plane with a bunch of Germans might be the most frustrating thing in the world.
For quite a while I’ve marveled at the human beings’ ability to send a man to the moon, map our own genomes, and build things as great as, well, The Great Pyramids. Compared to those things I’ve always found it amazing that we have an innate inability to board a plane, quickly store our luggage in the overhead (or under the seat in front of you), and SIT THE FUCK DOWN.
Just sit down.
Sit. Sit. Sit. Sit down.
Sit the fuck down.
I’m going to strangle you, please, sit down.
It turns out our German friends are even worse at this game than Americans are. I shit you not, I was standing in the aisle for 15 minutes, not 3 rows from my seat, as 4 Germans argued and chattered over the magazine collection that was in the bin above their seats.
Upon arrival in Munich, Germany all the German passengers clapped, as if we’d somehow returned to the greatest place on Earth while simultaneously seeing one of those teaser bits with Samuel L. Jackson at the end of any of the new Marvel Comic Book movies.
Once I had deplaned I quickly found my way to a bar and got a couple drinks in me. Then it was on to Frankfurt, Germany. Sorta. We boarded…and waited…and waited. Because of this our plane was very late getting to Frankfurt and we actually got off of the plane on the tarmac, where an awaiting bus took those of us going to Norway straight to our gate.
I slept the whole 2 hour flight to Bergen, Norway and only woke up when the wheels hit the ground. What I wasn’t expecting was to wake up surrounded by mountains on nearly all sides of me. Norway is awesome.
What wasn’t so awesome was that due to my plane being delayed into Frankfurt my luggage had not made it to Norway. I was given an "Over-Nite" bag by the baggage claim attendant. This completely made everything okay because a small tube of toothpaste, a toothbrush, an XXL white undershirt, and a comb totally made up for them losing all my shit. I was assured by the airline that my bag would arrive around midnight and they would bring it to the hotel. Even less awesome was the fact that I could not find my ride to the hotel.
After a couple hours of waiting, calling, and more waiting I just went to the ATM, got out a couple hundred Norwegian Kroner, and got a cab to take me to my hotel. After grabbing a quick bite to eat at the hotel, and informing the desk clerk NOT to wake me up if my bag showed up, I went to bed.
The next morning I got up and made my way to the lobby. My bag had been delivered at some point during the night and I collected it from the front desk. Most of the crew of the seismic exploration vessel that I'm working on was already waiting in the lobby for our 7am bus ride to the port.
After a very scenic and twisting ride we arrived at the port and pulled into the dock. At this point I boarded and became familiar with the HUGE seismic exploration vessel called Asima. This is my new home/job.
So... As I write this we’re about 50 nautical miles northwest of the Shetland Islands. Or due North of Scotland somewhere. Whichever works for you. On board the conditions are very nice. There is a full gym (not interested), a sauna (kinda interested), and an entertainment room with Wiis and PS3s (pretty interested).
My day consist of waking up whatever time I damn well please, walking across the hall from my cabin to my office and surfing the internet. I have a handful of weekly reports (kitchen, eyewash stations, first aid kids, medical gases, etc.) that I have to file and that’s about it. Although the occasional sick person does come in and ruin my naps and time writing jokes about my poops on twitter. Of course I’m on call 24/7 for any emergencies, blah, blah, blah…
So there…now you guys know.
And knowing is half the battle.