Life here reads like Ecclesiastes 3 in the bible. There’s a time for everything. A time to come onboard and a time to go home. A time to come on shift and a time to close. A time to eat and a time to sleep. A time for tea breaks and a time for barbecue. Consequently, today’s message is aptly titled ‘Time’. Can I get a “Ride on, pastor!” from someone at the front? I must say that asking a pastor to ride on sounds all shades of wrong to me, especially when it’s coming from someone at the front.
Pardon me, I just digressed.
Time governs this place strictly like a tyrannical ruler. There are four meals served here daily.
Why four times? Well, here’s the catch. Work here never stops. 24 hours, 7 days a week, and all 365 days in a year! There’s nothing like Christmas or weekend or public holiday or New Yam festivals or any other excuse for work to stop. So while you’re out there in town Thanking God It’s Friday, great men are toiling through the night over here. While you’re over at Bae’s place for the weekend or out with family enjoying Christmas chicken, men are out here drilling. There are no days or nights. No weekends or holidays. No excuse for work to stop. The aluta goes on 24 hours, 365 days, non-stop. Working here shows you that life really goes on, with or without you. This notion was reinforced when somebody died on the rig, on a Sunday, around noon, and by Monday, a replacement was put in place and work literally continued. His department’s job on the rig didn’t stall, there was no mourning period, just a general admonishment for everyone to manage their grief, take things easy and remember to continue working safely, as life is for the living.
For every 24-hour day, you work a 12-hour shift – 6am–6pm, 6pm–6am, 12 noon–12 midnight or 12 midnight–12 noon. With this arrangement, everyone gets three meals a day. It doesn’t matter exactly what hours constitute your day. Hence, it is actually very proper to see someone at 6pm and greet good morning, because like our ancestors say, whenever a man wakes up is his morning. (And here you were thinking they lacked sagacity.)
So let’s say you work the 6pm-6am shift, your breakfast is the 5-7pm meal. Lunch is the 11pm-1am meal while dinner is the 5-7am meal. You live the world entirely in reverse. Can you eat the four meals? Oh yes please. If you want to wake up and also eat the 11am-1pm meal, you’re very welcome. Food no na obianuju. I’ll try and dedicate a whole entry to food because the food we get here is God’s will for those who believe and trust in him. So let me not do the longer throat now.
I mentioned tea time, right? This is one of my favorite times on the rig. There are also four tea times – 9am, 3pm, 9pm and 3am, each lasting approximately 30 minutes if you’re not too busy. Most guys go for 15 minutes and then another person in their unit takes the other 15 minutes, seeing as everyone cannot completely abandon their posts for tea. Why do I like tea time? This is the place you come to hear it all. All the sweet gist, escapades, arguments, advice, business talk, Buhari wahala and all round getting together are done at this time, seeing as at the end of a shift, most people are so exhausted and topmost on their agenda is to sleep. Most expats just come into the tea room, get their snacks and leave because they cannot understand why the Nigerians are shouting. But after a while, the penny drops and they comprehend that what is being had is a friendly banter-full conversation or argument, even if it’s done in very high decibels.
There’s a term here used to refer to people who have stayed very long onboard, and that is ‘Filipino’. Most service hands are usually the subject of such banter involving this word, seeing as they do not have a set rotation like others and stay for as long as the job requires, sometimes too long. Actually, anyone in general who stays more than their allotted time due to unforeseen circumstances is referred to as Filipino. So sometimes, you get someone, who is on a 2-week rotation, go home and return to work, and you’re still on board. First thing out of the returnee’s mouth would be, “Oh boy, you don turn Filipino o!” It isn’t derogatory. I think it comes from the fact that back in the day, onboard most sailing ships like cargo ships or cruise ships, who spend months and months on end at sea, most of the kitchen and room boys on them were Filipinos. These people spent – no kidding – almost 14 months onboard! The longer they stayed, the more their usually meager pay. Plus they preferred to be onboard with free food et al, making money which is usually sent home to cater for their families. I once heard the story of one who was crying when asked to go home. When queried on why he was crying, he said, “Me only stay 22 months. 22 and they ask me go. Why? Why?” he bawled.
Time here on some days takes on the form of a snail, passing painfully slowly on the journey to your day of exit. Some hitches feel like someone sneaked in extra hours and made a day longer than 24 hours. Most people spend time here counting down to the day they’d go home, even if it’s just two weeks – which passes quickly like lightning back at home. There is a limit to how long you can stay onboard for safety and sanity sakes, usually about 6 weeks for those of us deep sea. But as with everything else in life, certain circumstances stretch the elasticity of that time constraint and some extra weeks are fit into the space now created.
Do not think for a second that we do not enjoy being here. Free food, free laundry, free accommodation, spending nothing while working isn’t something a lot of us will trade in a heartbeat for the familiar comfort of being home with family. A man’s gotta do what a man gotta do
My name is Uncle Stephen. And this is my Diary.