Thursday, February 23, 2006

Driller David Writes From India

One of my best friends in Australia is a driller -- he drills for oil, methane, any old fucked-up thing that God has hidden from mankind under miles of dirt and rock. He's working as a foreman on a rig in India right now, and sent this letter during some R&R time in Perth:

Jeff,

I have been back in Perth just over a week and am heading back to India tomorrow. After staying long enough to see a glimmer of hope that things can get better, I’m giving it another go. It was fucking hard. Man.

India is certainly a different place to Cottesloe. If you're observant, you can pick up subtle differences between the two places, such as...

- It’s ok for men to walk down the street here holding hands or to stand around with their arms over each other’s shoulder at places other than the pub at closing time. Public displays of affection towards women seem non-existent so far.

- You don't need to wear a seatbelt while driving. You do, however, need to weave your way in and out of the traffic at the maximum speed possible. The term "traffic" here refers to cars, buses, trucks, chickens, goats, pigs, rickshaws, auto rickshaws, sleeping dogs, holy cows, children brushing their teeth, tractors, men holding hands and street vendors pushing their carts. The main form of passenger protection comes from beeping your horn as loudly as possible. Have not seen one single incidence of road rage.

Our first day on the rig involved a two-hour blessing of the project by a priest. This ceremony took place about three metres from the mast while we were still madly trying to set up so that the minister for energy could perform the official starting of the rig in front of a crowd of about 100. It then appeared that there was a protest outside the gate as a group of people started yelling and waving flags. This was actually a rent-a-crowd organised to show support for the minister.

Rig Blessing Ceremony

The real protest took place the next night. We had to shut the rig down as the locals were threatening violence if certain demands weren't met. The following day three of them had jobs with us. I reckon if they fight as hard as they work, we could have taken on the whole village.

Rig at Night

The rig at night. The crew are standing there discussing how many things they can discuss before Mr. David comes over there and tells them to do some fucking work.

The work itself has so far been extremely frustrating as we've been given a machine that no-one has more than four weeks experience on, an Italian supervisor whose inability to speak English is surpassed only by his inability to speak Hindi, crews that not only can't understand a word I’m saying but assume that I probably meant something like "put yourself in harms way as often as possible" and a lack of some pretty fundamental equipment.

For example, the "mixer" on our mixing tank is actually the three villagers standing atop the tank and stirring with pieces of bamboo. The Indian work ethic is not a combination of words that even belong together.

On the positive side, the food is wicked and there are some pretty good people to work with.

What does India look like, you ask?

Filthy is the one, overriding word I would use. There is not a rubbish bin to be found anywhere and so all garbage is simply dropped in the street. No water or sewage systems either, which means the morning ritual upon waking is walking out the door of your house, shitting on the ground while you brush your teeth, walking a few more steps to the local water source be it tap, creek or dam and washing yourself with your clothes on. We pass this scene every day on our way to or from work.

The trucks are the colourful clunkers you imagine. The tinsel hanging off the bumpers, the Hindu idols on the dash and Christmas lights around the windows are all there, followed by a thick plume of black smoke as they rattle by. So many of the classic, national geographic images are all here. Graceful sari-clad women walking with their loads balanced on there heads, overloaded motorcycles, etc. great photo ops, but need to feel like less of an intruder before I’m comfortable taking some of these shots. Being able to share with the subject the finished result instantly on the screen of a digital camera seems a bit of a winner, I reckon.

Here’s a few more pics:

Armed and Luminous

I asked the security guard for his shotgun. So he gave it to me. And some ammo.

David and Rajiv at Breakfast

The caste system dictates that the better people (like me and my mate Rajiv) are given more food than they can eat. The lesser people, who obviously led evil past lives, have their meals served to them on TV dinner trays. I secretly think those trays are pretty cool but am too afraid to ask for one as it may dishonor the chef, whose bottom lip started to quiver the last time I asked for "just toast" for breakfast.

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