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"Dash Me" A Year in the Life of a Cajun Boy Working in Nigeria, West Africa!
I worked as a mechanic at Hyster Forklift in New Orleans, LA. His name was “Deano Pablo Vincent Martini”. He was a character to say the least. He had a heavy Italian accent, was short and stocky, and came to the US when his submarine was captured when it surfaced in the Gulf of Mexico trying to buy fuel from a shrimp boat. Martini met his wife at Camp Plauche prison when she came to write him regular letters back home in Italy. He asked my boss “Pat” if he knew anyone interested in working on Derrick Barge #11 mostly offshore in Nigeria, West Africa.
I was single and in my early 20’s so I said yes! The company I worked for was called “Oceanic Contractors” on the door of a building located in downtown New Orleans, but the company I applied for was called “J Ray McDermott”. They are hugh, a perfectly run company worldwide. I had to go through an extensive local physical, a series of painful injections for my new international health card that came with my passport. The nurse said “take your weight off this leg” my left, and stuck a big needle in my butt, then she said “take your weight off the other leg” and stuck it in my other cheek and gave me the other half! It was a recording of “Gamma Globulin”. Man, was I glad it was over! They also gave me some pills that I had to take every day for a month before leaving to prevent me from getting malaria. I had to take a pill every day I was there from a big pill canister that was in the kitchen where we ate and we had to take them when we got home for 3 weeks.
It took them about seven weeks to reach Nigeria, they staged a military coup and killed the nation’s leader there. First, we flew into Charles DeGaulle Airport in Paris, France, and I scheduled a two-day layover to see the city. It was a fancy airport, they had these big tubes that transported people in several different directions. I went to the Meridian Hotel in Paris, I found a taxi driver at the reception who spoke a little English, and the lady at the reception told him a list of all the places I wanted to see in French! We spent half a day driving around to see all the sights and I ended up at the Eiffel Tower. I chose to walk up all the winding stairs to the large deck where everything could be seen for miles around. It was super fun! The next day I was walking in the mall near the hotel and I got real “fries” at McDonalds! Later I bumped into a blonde headed girl walking around the mall, her name was “Stephanie”, I started talking to her and she was a prostitute!! She took me to a small hotel with a French maid working one of those open metal cage elevators that took us up to our room. The room has these giant pink lips on the wall and a heart shaped bed. They had a B-day, and a toilet, we both washed up, and you can imagine the rest.
The next day I caught a flight to Nigeria, we had to land in Accra, Ghana, West Africa and wait a day to take off again and land in Nigeria. The airport was near Lagos, Nigeria. It was a mess, after getting off the plane everyone had to run to the Air Nigeria flight! Then I got lucky and caught a Widgeon Airplane for McDermott that took off from the land and then landed in the river near the yard in Warri, Nigeria. It had pontoons and landed in the water on the Warri River in J Ray McDermott’s yard. They took me to the hotel, it was shocking! They had a motel with key racks for all the rooms, they were all the same! The view out the window was a huge pile of trash in the central courtyard. When it got dark, all the electricity in the room went out, I found out why they had a candle in a bottle in the match room! That night I took the mattress off the bed and put it in the hall next to the room door and slept on it. Twice that night someone tried to steal all my things from my room, but I was sleeping on the mattress, they woke me up and I hit the door hard and they ran away. I’m glad the door opened from the inside!
The first time I went on a Derrick Barge (DB11), I got on a tug called “Gulf Wind” with a captain named “Captain Wally Hebert”. He had just arrived from the United States and was on his way to the coast of Barga near the country of Angola (formerly called the Belgian Congo). They fired at us over the bow of the tug and we were stopped by a Russian gunboat, with a Cuban crew! They boarded the ship and Captain Wally had a 22 caliber gun and they took it and left. I was seasick as a dog, I stayed in bed and I couldn’t wait to get off! I got on the Derrick Barge 11 (DB11), it was a relief or so I thought, I had to go up and down 14 steps all day unloading tools that were sent to the tug. We worked 18 hours a day and it was very hard. We finished laying the pipeline to the coast and headed north and then we heard that someone blew up the refinery! Working in these third world toilets anything can happen!
One day all the townspeople (local workers) boarded the tugboat Gulf Wind and rioted! They were fed up with the head of the camp (Lebanese) serving them bags of “Gary” (food that the locals eat) full of weevils. They took the ship back to the dock in Nigeria! They went back to work after it was fixed a few days later. I remember going out with the tug “Gulf Wind” to pick up barges of pipe we had laid and having to carry a large 12 volt battery and tools just in case I needed them to start the windlass and raise the anchor. I rode on the front of the barge watching the Dolphins in the crystal clear blue water play as we moved along! Most of the barges had hydraulic starters though. Sometimes the batteries would run out, yes, someone rowed all the way over there in their dugout to steal the batteries so they could have lights in their country cabin!
He was a doctor on DB11, he had a small portable house under the helipad. He had huge bottles of prescription drugs from abroad, mostly from England. We used to get: “Cement Pills” to bind you together and “Dynamite Pills” to restart you! The camp chief and the food was cheap and inferior! They still had hair on the bacon slices! There was nothing like working offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, they had great food there! The guy I worked with “Jerry” was hooked on “Darvon” pain pills. He had hundreds of them! Anything wrong with you, he’d say, “You want Darvon,” he was always out of it.
We returned to the McDermott yard in Nigeria for 2 months to change the slewing gear in the gantry crane from steam to electric. There were a few places we went to eat near Warri, one was a place that served delicious Escargot, I never thought I would enjoy snails but they were really delicious! Another time we were going back to the yard and they had a big gathering of people all walking up to this place where they executed people. The policeman said, “You never saw an execution?” We said no, and he took out his club and knocked all the people out of the way and led us straight ahead to watch! He said no pictures and we agreed with that. They killed a man and a woman whom they tied to two large poles with the Warri River in the background. They shot them both at the same time. One of them stole a watch and the other stole 8 Naira (8 Naira was about $12 at the time). Capital punishment is the name of the game. It was unreal. I used to say, “One more dollar today, one more Naira tonight”. The second time I was in a cab going back to the yard at night, got pulled over by the police (they wear camouflage with AR15s) I was arrested for killing a guy on the beach. I had $112.00 on me and it cost me to get out of it! If a taxi driver got into an accident, the police would take him out of the car and beat him right there on the spot! These are the most corrupt people I have ever seen!
Another time I walked into a local bar with other engineers and when we sat down, there were 4-5 girls on us immediately, all with different colored wigs, blondes, redheads, etc. They grabbed us all by the pants and tried to force us into the hotel with them! Unreal! There was a brothel just outside the McDermott gate called “The Block House” It was always open for visitors and there were plenty of girls there.
I went on a truck ride to this magnificent place for a swim. It was me, the fitter and the welder. We cut and shared fresh pineapple on the drive there. All the time I was singing to myself, “Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo We drove through rubber plantations! The river was a spring from which flowed fresh water that you could drink straight from the ground and flowed into a muddy river somewhere. We met the chief who owned the land when we were there, a really nice guy, I took pictures of him and a few times I took pictures of the place and some young locals were rowing in a little dugout. I have a picture of me paddling around a small dugout with a piece of wood for a paddle in crystal clear spring water!
When I first left Nigeria, there were guys at the airport where they take your luggage to the plane and the guy in my line says “Dash Me, Dash Me” that means they wanted a Naira tip or you’d never look at your luggage again! They say “Dash Me” everywhere in Nigeria. Hence the title of this story. After about 6 months I had to come home for a week and have their impacted wisdom teeth removed, I did it in the dentists chair and boy was I glad it was done! When we flew back overseas I made a funnel-shaped earpiece out of a pencil and piece of paper so I could listen to the movies that were playing so I wouldn’t have to pay for headphones. I just raised the armrest! When the jet landed, an elderly Cajun boat captain sitting next to me said, “Hold on, because the crap is hitting the fan”! The jet blew a tire when we landed and pieces of tire flew near the window! The pilot tilted the plane and we landed OK!
I caught a McDermott Widgeon in Lagos “the capital of Nigeria” to fly to the airstrip in the middle of nowhere, he dropped me off and said he would be back in a couple of hours, he had to refuel and do a few other things at the McDermott yard in Warri, he never did returned! I found out and saw the wrecked plane later, when the plane landed in the Warri River he forgot to inflate the landing wheels which were down and when the plane landed it immediately flipped, crashed and sank! No one was killed! Thank God he hit him hard. The plane was broken, he left me in the bushes, I only needed to spend the night with a sheet, a local brought it to me, that’s it. I fell asleep that night and when I woke up, the sheet was off my face, I was under it when I went to sleep. My face was covered with all kinds of bites and stings, mostly from mosquitoes, and I know that’s when I got malaria!!!!! It never hit me until after I was back home for good (more on that later) the next day I was picked up by a British helicopter “Bristow” to take me offshore to a heliport near DB11 where a boat could pick me up and take me to the Derrick Barge . When the helicopter took off the tail rotor, several of them came off and the helicopter slowly descended into the Atlantic Ocean!!!! The pilot got out OK, the Big Gantry Crane on DB11 picked up the very wet helicopter and put it on the helipad for later repairs I guess??
After completing my one year contract, I flew to Brussels, Belgium to pick up my bonus check on the way home. Interesting city! After I got home I fell in love with a local girl and we were on Lakeshore Drive at night in New Orleans and we were hanging out in my car and that’s when I got these terrible chills, I was freezing and shaking, then I would get hot, sweaty I knew I had malaria!!! It’s not fun. They admitted me to Mercy Hospital and they brought me 4 pills to take every 2 hours in a little white cup and I gave them a bottle of pills when I checked in! Someone at the hospital called the lawyer and told them about me I guess, because the lawyer called me while I was sitting in the hospital bed! We sued McDermott under the Jones Act. They gave me back the bottle of pills when I left the hospital.
This whole story is true and this one year contract with J Ray McDermott has been the most eventful, exciting journey I have ever been on! I really enjoyed it immensely!!!
Robert P Bertaut Sr.
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