Sunday, March 8, 2009

My Life in Turkmenistan (2006-2008)

I spent most of my time in Turkmenistan from year 2006 to 2008. Now that I have left the country for good, I realized that I've not written a single bit about my life in this country. So I decided to start a series here in my blog before my memory about this country faded away.

What? Where? Why? When? How?

1. What?

"What? Turkmenistan?" That's my question to the recruiter in one fine day in Oct 2006. Well, I knew Turkmenistan by name then because a couple of my friends in the university came from there. But really, I don't know where exactly it is. Anyway, I said yes to the recruiter because I wanted to see and experience something different when I am still young. And most importantly, I knew it was the plan of God to mould and train me.

2. Where?

Turkmenistan is located somewhere near to middle east. Although it is poor and under autocratic governance, Turkmenistan is a relatively peaceful country. Can you see where Turkmenistan is?

The place where I worked in Balkanabat, 6 hours bus ride from Ashgabat, the capital and gateway to Turkmenistan. Here is the picture of the map I took in Turkmenistan National Museum. Can you see where Balkanabat and Ashgabat is?

3. Why?

So why do I need to go there? I am recruited as international mobile (IM) staff so I was suppose to go to any other country to work except in my home country. When I was recruited, Turkmenistan needed an IM status field engineer in Reservoir Evaluation Wireline in which I was recruited to. My basic job is to run complicated equipments to identify and evaluate the hydrocarbon (oil or gas) zone. It took about a year for me to be able to run some of these equipments independently.

4. When?

I was there from December 2006 to November 2008. In between this period, I came home for about 1 month holiday every 2 to 3 months of work and went for training in Alexandria-Egypt, Livingston-Scotland and Baku-Azerbajian.

5. How?

You can go to Turkmenistan either by Turkish Airline or Lufthansa, both of which required long transit (about 16 hrs) in Istanbul or Frankfurt. I used to take Turkish Airline from Singapore (Turkish Airline does not stop in Malaysia). Upon reaching Ashgabat, I'll take the company bus to Balkananbat, the place where I worked. Here is a picture of me in the company bus. It looks big but sometime the A/C did not function well and the seat-belt requirement (company's rule) was a killer. Anyway, it was still a bearable journey. Adding together the time of waiting, car/bus ride and flight, I usually took 40 to 60 hours in each journey to get to the base or to get back home. So although it is not far geographically from Malaysia, travel to and fro to Balkanabat is definitely not a pleasant thing to do.

Scenery in Turkmenistan





Creatures you always see beside the road.

Normal vehicles on the road.

Some of the many old pumps that spread around the desert. They have been extracting oil from underground for at least 20 years.

Look, that's gas station!!

People's Lives in Turkmenistan

People here live a simple life.

The streets here.......

The houses here......

What they rear in vicinity of their homes....

The market (they call it Bazaar) - commoners buy daily necessities here....

The currency in Turkmenistan is called Turkmen Manat. The conversion was 1 USD = 24000 manat when I first came (Dec 2006) and 1 USD = 19500 just before I left Nov 2008). Below is about 200 USD worth of Turkmen Manat.

Life at the Base

Here is the place where I lived and worked in Turkmenistan - Balkanabat base.

This is our living quarter. I used to change room every time I went back to the base because I went back for holiday for about 1 month every 2 to 3 month of work. So I have lived in many of the rooms here before (except those that are designated for a particular person).

But this was the first and the last room (S3-9B) that I lived in Balkanabat base. It's a 缘分 (I don't know English translation for this word) with the room, isn't it?

Inside the room: the bed, heater, A/C, TV, bath room etc.....Small but well-equipped.

The place where I usually had my meal - DAMAC. The food was not bad. The cook would prepare special dinner every Friday night based on certain theme, like Chinese Night, Russian Night, Continental Night, Indian Night etc. Although not authentic and usually not really good, it was something to look forward to. :-)

The office...

At the workshop with operator and my colleagues Yang and Kamil. This is taken at 2006, I have just realized that I did not take picture in the workshop since then.

This is the recreational room with pool and ping pong to play and a small bar (we were celebrating Adam's birthday at the bar) and Karaoke. I only went there once in a blue moon because usually I'd stay in the room watching TV or reading books after office hours.

O ya, the cat...... We called it Ungka (a Russsian name). It is Jorge's (my manager's) cat, which I (or Yang) usually fed when he went back for holiday. Here is my picture with the cat the day I left the base....

Working on the Rig

As a field engineer, my life usually revolved around preparing for operations to be performed on the rig. So working on the rig is one of the most important time. I hardly took any photo of the rig, here are some of them.

This is the set-up that I usually worked at. Open hole (a newly drilled well), with a truck and at the land rig in the middle of the desert. I was in charge of running for operation (with many equipments) to evaluate what is in the well. Anywhere bearing oil or gas is called pay zone. The operation will be able to measure the properties of the well that can be interpreted further to find information like the type of fluid (water, oil or gas), the porosity (amount of void of the rock) , the permeability (how fast the fluid can flow), the mechanical properties of the rock etc. These information will enable our client to plan for further development of the well.

I seldom worked at this kind of set-up, only several times before I left the company. It's perforation (explosive) operation, making hole at the pay zone so the hydrocarbon can flow out of the cemented well (cased-hole). The pictures show the well-head before and after installation of wireline well-head equipment with crane. Looks simple, isn't it? But it actually not. At least for me.

I seldom go to offshore rigs, only a few times. Camera was not allowed. I got this pictures from my friend. Usually we would go by chopper or boat.

All in all, I think it is really difficult to work on the rig, especially for those who do physical work (well, not including me). Each barrel of oil does not come easily. Although I am sure that working in oil and gas is not the career of my life, two years in oil and gas industry has really widened my world view and taught me a lot of things. I am really thankful that God has brought me into such a different world, and indeed, after two years out of it. Haha. :-)

My Friends in Turkmenistan

There are too many pictures taken throughout the two years in different events with my colleagues and friends. I am too lazy to sort them out, so I only take the ones that I took on my last day here.

Pictures taken with my department (wireline)colleagues (from left) - Jorge, Yang, Me, Noureddine, Ehigie, Yu and Meriland. Due to public holiday and rotation, many of my other colleagues were not at the base. Here is fewer than 1/3 of them.

A picture with my best friend in Turkmenistan - Yang. We were very closed because we are both Chinese (she is from china) and we were the only two female engineers in wireline department.

Ashgabat - The Capital of Turkmenistan

Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, is a totally different place than any other area in the country. Here are some of pictures of Ashgabat. Isn't it different?

The street......
Road is wide and in good condition here. It is much less congested than in KL. The drivers here are as reckless if not more than the drivers in KL. There are many good restaurants around the city (although it is less than 1/5 of KL varieties) , including one Chinese restaurant that I usually went whenever I was in Ashgabat.

The bazaar......
This is one of the markets in Ashgabat. It is definitely better organized and more hygienic than the ones in Balkanabat. There is a shopping mall in Ashgabat too but I forgot to take a picture of it. It is about the size of hypermarket like Giant in Malaysia.

Something peculiar.....

This is the book written by the first president, Sapamurat Niyazov, who then became the president for life until his death in December 2006. It is the 'bible' for every Turkmen and is taught in all the schools. This is the display in the national museum (in Ashgabat) but it is widely available in many places in Turkmenistan. More interestingly, the months in the calender (not shown here) in Turkmenistan have also been renamed in honour of the family members of the late President Saparmurat.

This is one of the many billboards in the country with the current president's - Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov's picture. It was taken on the street of Ashgabat. There are many statues of both presidents erected all around the country too. It seems to me that Turkmenistan presidents like to be seen as more than mere human being.

Some Relaxing Moment in Turkmenistan

For many people in Turkmenistan, life is very simple. There was once I went for picnic with two of my Turkmen friends Nazim and Anton beside a river called Murgab. Everything there looked decades old and the water was not crystal clear, but we really enjoyed the time there.

Life sometimes can be very simple, as long as we don't complain and start appreciating the small but good things around us and enjoy them!

Murgab river.....

Playing in the water......

Where was I? I was taking picture for them. Hahaha.... I didn't go into the water, just reading books beside the river and enjoying the sun and breeze..... it was good and relax....

Enjoying the food.....

Nice and crispy grilled fishes, juicy watermelon and turkmen bread make good food for picnic!!

Three of them (Nazim, Anton and their friend) and I beside Murgab river.....

I have learned and see many things in the past 2 years living in Turkmenistan. There are many precious experience, good and bad, that I think I'll not forget for the rest of my life. Thank God that He has lead me through many temptations and trials. Thank God that He has brought me up when I was drowning in the sea of doubt and anxiety. Thank God that wherever I am, whether in the middle of the desert or in the middle of the sea, He has not left me, nor has He forsaken me.