Friday, 4 January 2008

New Year In Trinidad

Hello, and Happy New Year from the perpetual night of Trinidad.

I arrived here a week ago, plunged into a succulence of colour: natural greens abound and cars and homes in every possible shade, though I've not seen "Aberdeen Classic Grey" yet, I admit. Driven along a fairly modern highway upon arrival, to the somewhat ghost-like "Royal Hotel" of oil town San Fernando, I was immediately impressed not just by the vibrancy and relaxed charm normally associated with the Caribbean nations, but by a relative affluence I've not observed in most of my trips of 2007 (Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Mauritania, even Brazil). Traffic and cars are often a sign of the progress of a nation, and here the cars were modern, the traffic was pretty well-behaved, and there wasn't a burnt out husk littering the side of the road in sight.

The sun was high and bright in this tropical paradise, and the sky blue. Though not by the beach, my hotel was aloft a gentle hill, boasting a charming swimming pool with the option of a poolside beer (I opted for a barside beer, but that's neither here nor there). Yet Trinidad, unlike most of the holiday-soaked nations of the Caribbean, is not dependent upon bloated, self-pitying, whiny tourism for its meal-ticket; that Dark Master of All that is oil has been keeping Trinidad self-sufficient for decades. And so my presence in this hotel resort, in this nation, as ever has not been for a spot of sun-bathing and tender holiday romance: oh God, no. I am here, yet once again, for work, for some hard, bitter grind; filthy, industrial, thankless graft so that the likes of you, my dear reader, can drive to the shops and buy guacamole, and enjoy warm showers daily.

And so it is because of my sacrifice that I find myself plunged back into perpetual night. For the theme of the first twenty-one days of December is repeated, as I work night-shift offshore, 6pm to 6am, and find my waking hours surrounded by darkness, lit only by the garish glaring of rig lighting.

In fact, it's not been bad at all here. I arrived in Trinidad on the 27th December, and was offshore on the 29th. Fortune was on my side however, as my arrival offshore was just in time to avoid all the hard work. Of the two types of job my company do, this is the "big" job, the rigging up of which can be days of hard and sometimes intricate labour. But as I'm here to replace a colleague, whose visa had expired, I managed to miss all that and find myself plunged into days of data monitoring (i.e. coffee drinking). So far my biggest achievement is to have read one book (something by... Michael Collins) and am halfway through a giant yellow book determined to give Chairman Mao the diss every page. It's called, rather prosaically, "Mao", but should really be called "Naughty, Naughty Mao: Bad Deeds - God, I Hate Him".

Thus my last week has been spent in an air-conditioned cabin, watching a green line go up and down and up and down. There's also a red line, but it doesn't do very much and nobody seems to care much about it, even when it started doing crazy stuff a few days ago. There's been a few moments of action, such as when I had to find some tape for someone, and occasionally I have to put all the data on a memory stick, but otherwise it's been calm. Music, coffee, books, chat: it's like some meeting for the Women's Institute. Except, of course, set to an incessant backdrop of clanking, furious mechanics, helplessly adrift in the sea, with no viable means of escape.

The rig itself is old and tired, but good-spirited. The Trinidadians ("Trinnies/Trinis" they call themselves) are very friendly, and help create an easy-going atmosphere. There's also the usual international mix of Americans, Canadians, Scots, English, Dutch, Brazilians, and some Venezuelans, Nigerians and likely others thrown in. The good atmosphere is exemplified by the turn of the New Year. Last year (i.e. 2006-2007), this was spent offshore Nigeria, and while the Nigerian crew were good banter, the regular crew of the actual rig were a bunch of dour Scots, and the turn of the year passed without incident. But this year, as I sat back with a non-alcoholic beer and some biscuits, there was about ten minutes of rig PA announcements from various departments, all wishing everyone a Happy New Year. A nice touch.

Otherwise, the rig's the usual mix of good and bad: spacious two-man rooms (good), at-best uninspired food (bad), decent internet access (good), vacuum system for toilets down for 12 hours yesterday (definitely bad). Best of all, from a professional perspective, is that the job, for my company, is going very smoothly, and although I've not exactly been stretched, as the lead night-shift engineer this reflects well for when I march into the annual review and demand a pay-rise.

So, a couple days more of data monitoring, then it's all hands-on-deck as we pull out of hole and rig all our equipment down. Then back onshore, to reality, for a beer or two. Depending on circumstances, I may have a few days in Trinidad, and my boss gave the go-ahead to take a few days' leave in neighbouring Tobago if I want. But these decisions are for the future, still seemingly distant during my current day-to-day existence; for now, my only decision is: "should I have another coffee?" To which the answer, as it should only ever be, is "yes".

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