I’m 22 when I land in Nigeria (see my previous articles). I leave the comfort of the student life to enter that of the expatriate life. Another kind of comfort, but still a comfort, since we’re taken care of outside of work.
I share a room in a house with three other engineers. For lunch and dinner, we eat a delicious meal prepared by the company cook. A housekeeper, hired by the company, often comes to clean the house. Let’s just say that Nigeria is not going to turn me into the perfect housewife, despite my genes, which should make the learning process easier.
In town, when going to work at the base, I’m the only woman, surrounded by engineers. It doesn’t change from my mechanical engineering school, where we were only 5% of women. But the heart of my work, the missions, take place on the rig, where I spend on average 20 days a month.
The apprenticeship of the job takes about ten months. We start with four months in the formation center in Italy, followed by six months where we work in pairs with an experienced engineer. The formation ends when we take a real life test to make sure that we’ve reached the autonomy necessary for us to be entrusted with the operations of a rig.
On each trip, I’m the first woman to set foot on the rig that we’re going to, and they’re never prepared. On my end, I’m jaded by the third rig.
Their reactions? Always the same…
At first, the surprise. Even if my name appears on the helicopter passenger list, they don’t necessarily identify as it being woman’s name – I had to include somewhere that we go to work in a helicopter – pretty cool, no?
Once the surprise is over, the questions begin. Of course, I can’t avoid the interrogation. I know it’s nice curiosity, but it’s a little tiring to systematically have to justify yourself (why a woman chooses to do this job… etc.).
And finally, after recovering from the shock, the customer freaks out at the idea that a woman may disrupt his well-oiled machine. However, I have never experienced the excuse of “juju”. Unlike boats, women don’t seem to be a sign of bad luck on a rig.
First issue, where is she going to sleep? The rigs didn’t have female quarters in my time. At first, they insist on finding me an individual room – either the infirmary or the VIP room – but I don’t like that much. I’m noticed enough to begin with, I don’t need to receive extra preferential treatment.
The standard rooms have four bunk beds. I find a way to create a little cocoon in one of the bottom bunks with extra hanging blankets. This solution not only avoids hassles and « normalizes » me a little, but above all it allows me to stay with my team. Sleeping is no longer a problem… even if I still have to bear with the men’s snoring. But we sleep so little that we tend to crawl into our beds, rocked by the permanent purring of the rig’s engines.
The main issue is the bathroom. Once again, no female bathroom. It doesn’t necessarily bother me to share it with men. The only problem is that they tend to forget that I’m here, so they often get out of the sower naked, as usual… Which could lead to pretty embarrassing moments for us all.
I quickly realize that there’s an individual bathroom – the boss’ one. During every mission, I manage to convince him to share it with me, which he does happily, until the day he finds himself surrounded my lingerie (the legend says he still hasn’t gotten over it).
This leads me to the last issue, the washing of my underwear… Apart from the fact that I don’t really trust the machine made to wash our blue jumpsuits, the rig employees categorically refuse to touch these « impious » objects… So I have to wash them by hand. Washing them is alright, but what about the drying? Putting my panties to dry in a room that I share with my team is not very tempting – so the bathroom it will be!
No life lesson today! Just some funny little stories, reflecting some of the small difficulties that a woman sometimes faces in a male environment. It seems pretty minor when told like this, but sometimes it doesn’t take a lot more to dissuade women from coming. Each of these little disturbances can give the impression that one doesn’t belong there.
Next week, a few more indiscretions about my life on the platform.