Taking Care of Business

That thing I gotta do to pay bills.

Sleep, how I love thee

I’ve just set a new record. It’s my last day at work before heading home for a week and a bit, and I finished by 8:45 pm.

Holy Toledo, I still have time to hit the bar!

But I won’t. Instead I’ve come back to my room to do a little packing, a little sipping (red wine) and little explaining.

While most of the working world asks “Is it Friday yet?”, for eight years I’ve been working with folks who ask “How much time you got left?” or just “How much longer?” like we were prisoners serving a sentence.

I laughed when I first started here in northern Alberta a year ago. Twenty-one days? That’s nothing! Try ninety days or one hundred and fourteen.

Everything is relative of course. I still remember one of our travel coordinators in Kandahar who respectfully listened as one of our colleagues complained about how long he had left before heading back home for his month off.

“Two more months?” said Waqas. “How terrible for you.”

His tone was the perfect combination of polite and what-the-fuck-do-you-know-about-serving-time-you-privileged-twat. I think he still had seven months to go in his eleven month rotation.

So why do we do it? The quickest and most common answer might be money, but for me it’s more than that. It’s having big chunks of time off to do something. It’s unfortunate that it took me until now – when I only get one week off a month –  to have a real goal for my time off. Oh, how I long for the days when I could work for three months and get a whole month off to spend how I please, while earning a whole whack of Aeroplan points in paid travel which always started or terminated with a quick jaunt to Dubai – just long enough to shake out the dust or snow from my shoes.

Somehow making a pit stop at Walmart after landing in Fort Mac just isn’t the same.

Anyway, I do find the twenty-one days here harder. For one thing, no days off. It’s twenty-one days straight, minimum ten hours a day and I almost always work more than that. I could totally do this job for three months in a row if only I could have one day off a week, or at the very least one morning off. I am sooooo looking forward to sleeping in when I get home this time (“I miss you Sleep! I’ll be there soon!”).

And tonight I finished at 8:45. I didn’t get all my work done, not even close. But if I had stayed until midnight it still wouldn’t have gotten done and I’d be toast. Which I pretty much have been my last two weeks here. Between work and the revelation that writing on-line could be a good thing, I’ve had very little downtime. I’m even looking forward to the flight home – and that’s saying something when you’re flying economy on Air Canada, especially when you’ve booked Tango and can’t get your hands on any of those damn status miles! But I digress.

I’m a daydreamer and there are times I’m quite content doing absolutely nothing. Sure sometimes I get restless and want to mingle or maybe stumble into a massage, but my overactive imagination is always there to keep me company. Hmmm… I wonder if it’s time to take a time out?

Still, I’m glad I passed up on the bar. That glass of wine really hit me. I gotta tell ya, that little bed over there within’ arm’s reach looks mighty tempting.

“You come here often?”


Afghanistan to Alberta in 1500 Words

“As soon as I figure out how to add a banner image to my WordPress site, I’ll definitely start posting!”

That’s from SuzeMuse.com, Susan Murphy’s post “The Number One Thing Holding You Back From Creating Great Content“.

It was also my personal wake-up call at 4:30 this morning, because that’s exactly the excuse I used when I first setup a WordPress blog in 2009 while I was working in Afghanistan. I made exactly one entry which read something like “I wonder if anyone is going to read this,” and was never heard from again.

I thought blogging while I worked overseas would be a great idea. Lots of people would be interested in everyday life as a contractor in Kandahar. I was working in a part of the world most people back home only hear about on the news, so of course people would just be flocking to my posts.

Uh huh.

I had all sorts of reasons for not actually writing – too busy, too hard, could get into trouble for saying too much, but mostly – I wanted my blog to look JUST RIGHT. I spent a few hours working on a logo, but could never quite figure out how to upload it as a banner. Once in a while I would check back – yep , JudyOnTheGo is still there – and then get back to being busy again.

I worked in KAF (Kandahar Airfield) for four years. During my last six months there I was starting a new and interesting job (logistic support for unmanned aircraft), working on my second course towards my Masters in Education, volunteering one or two evenings a week teaching English to soldiers and contractors, coordinating volunteers for a small school on base which was open to Afghan boys on Saturdays and doing cross-fit training five days a week. I had a great roomie, my own little pink motorcycle which I adored driving and a good group of friends who always had something fun on the go.

But once the Canadian Forces left Kandahar, so did the funding for my position. I didn’t want to go. I was very fortunate that in the same phone call I lost my job I was also offered a new one in Canada. I did some scrambling looking for another position on base, and was lucky to stay on another six weeks as a security officer, but at almost half the pay and half the time off, I knew it was time to head back home.

I returned to Canada in September 2011. And ten days later I started working in northern Alberta.

Accommodation camps for oil field workers have a few things in common with Kandahar Airfield; men outnumber women about 10 to 1, we live in little containers outfitted to sleep in, we eat in cafeterias and we count down the days until we can go home. There are differences of course; the men and women here aren’t armed, no one has to share their sleeping quarters with a roomie, the food is better and I only count down 21 days before I go home instead of 90+. Oh, and no rocket attacks.

Sounds pretty good right?

I am very grateful for not having to deal with rockets (although I do still flinch when I hear almost any alarm), but I still missed my KAF life.

I dove into my new job which meant spending 10+ hours a day in front of a computer. Then I’d inhale supper and try to keep up on my readings and assignments for my third course. Maybe things would have turned out differently had that particular course not been about research… but I suspect not. I had real difficulty in not just understanding the articles, but in caring about them. I just didn’t care. Seriously, what was the point? I was in the middle of fucking oil fields – who or what was I going to teach? After ten or twelve hours working on a computer the last thing I wanted to do was online research.

Everything frustrated me. My research course, the workers bitching about having to go outside to get to the chow hall (awww, muffin), not having friends to hang out with after work, the guy eating a sandwich while on a stationary bike. All of it had me screaming on the inside. By the new year I dropped my course, quit the gym, ate lots of delicious desserts and in six months gained fifteen pounds. Maybe eighteen.

I tried to find things to look forward to. In May I talked my sister into going to Cuba with me for a week which was mostly nice (there’s a reason why most visitors stick to the pool in May – jellyfish season). In July I travelled to Texas as my Brit former-roomie married her Texan honey-bun (sometimes these overseas romances do work out!) for an emotional but enjoyable reunion with some of my KAF friends.

And in September 2012 I came back to work… and couldn’t figure out how I was going to do this job another three weeks. Was this all I had to look forward to? Entering data, printing paper, stamping paper, punching paper, mailing paper, passing out paper?

It was a rough couple of days and I didn’t get much sleep. I didn’t get much done either. I was a zombie. Could I just quit? Could I just walk away from a decent paying job and eleven years with this company? I don’t have anything lined up back in Ottawa, not even an apartment. I know Mom would be thrilled to have me stay (really, she would), but could I handle that much time at home? Seriously, 41 years-old and living with my mother? Oh God, I really don’t want another 9 to 5 job and an apartment to furnish and bills to pay and bus rides to work filled with people just counting down to the weekend. How am I ever going to save enough money to build on the land Dad left us in Newfoundland if I’m paying rent again? If only I knew how to build a house. A tiny little house just to get me started or maybe to give to Mom. She might be happier on the Island. If only I could build a tiny little house…

If only.

And somewhere between Day-2 and Day-3 of my 21-day rotation, in my dreadful zombiefied state I decided to learn how to build a small house. And not just any small house. A tiny house on wheels. A House-to-Go from Tumbleweed Houses.

See that? House-to-go. Judy on the go.

That’s Karma baby. Or destiny. Ok, it’s something.

Unfortunately when I went looking for my deserted WordPress blog, there was no trace of it. I guess after three years of neglect JudyOnTheGo slinked off to that place abandoned blogs go to die. Or the automatic renewal for my account didn’t work because of the $1800 worth of fraudulent charges on my credit card.

No more blog. Oh well.

I didn’t really give it much more thought I until I followed a link on facebook two days ago to SuzeMuse.com and her post “How to Stop Being Too Busy’’. Hmmmm. Well. I see. Maybe she has a point.

And around 4:30 this morning when I still couldn’t get back to sleep I checked out Suze’s blog again and BAM!

As soon as I figure out how to add a banner image to my WordPress site, I’ll definitely start posting!

Well, FINE.

The real reason I didn’t write my blog in 2009 was fear. Perfection is just an excuse and an enemy to creativity.

Point. Taken.

I have to get up in an hour anyway so let’s get ‘er done!

I almost got trapped when I started looking for that perfect theme.

Oh no you don’t!

I picked a free one and vowed I wouldn’t tinker with it until I had ten posts. Well, except that colour has to go. And I wonder where I could find a nice polka-dot background. Or maybe some paisley…

There’s lots more to write – what happened after I gave my notice at work, who I’ve enlisted to help me build this tiny home, and all the work I’m going to have to do (and what I’ve already done) to learn to live with less.

But for now, I just wanted to say thank-you Susan. Karma, coincidence – I don’t know – but your posts couldn’t have come at a better time. And by the way, I’m not going to let you see this for a week or until I have five posts – whichever comes first.



p.s. Has anyone else noticed a proliferation of BAM!s on the net? Overused perhaps?

p.p.s. If you’re looking for a good, funny blog about Kandahar Airfield (and who isn’t?) I highly recommend the irreverent and sometimes raunchy “Just DFACS Ma’am”. DFACs is short for Dining Facilities and it’s what we call the cafeterias in KAF. The title is a play on “Just the facts Ma’am” and the cheeky M. does a great job of dishing on the chow being served up to 30,000 KAF diners… with a few staff misadventures thrown in. It’s funny stuff, especially if you’ve ever been there or know someone who has. And I’m not just saying that because I used to work for M. and he might be looking for a replacement if my former roomie gets knocked up. Seriously. Funny stuff.