Well, Since You Asked

On this Monday, since I’m going to spending most of the day flying across the country toward my next two weeks of work, I thought I’d take the opportunity to clear up a few things. You see, I’m often asked about my job, my schedule, and the implications of being away from my daughter for two weeks at a time, amongst other things. So here’s a little Q & A on some of the most common inquiries.

What is it like out there in Northern Alberta, really?

Honestly, not as bad as you’re imagining. Yes, it’s incredibly cold in the winter and pretty hot in the summer. The air is also really dry, so people like me who have sinus problems on a good day tend to be stuffed up a lot and get regular nosebleeds. But it’s not an awful place to work. Now, mind you, a lot depends on the site you’re working at and where you’re living while working there. The site I’m on right now – Kearl Lake – has a lot of good points, including an excellent view of safety. The camp that most people at Kearl stay at is a perfectly fine one. It has its problems, like thin walls and a couple of odd rules, but it also has nice gyms in each building and pretty good food. There are definitely places you want to stay away from out in that area of the country, but I’ve been lucky so far.

Isn’t it weird being out there with all those men?

First of all, yes, I’m a woman in the trades, which is a male-dominated field. But that doesn’t mean that I’m, like, the only woman out there. There have been several other women on my crew, and there are lots of women out there in construction, not to mention all the ladies who are out there doing things like booking flights and running the camps. Yeah, I work overwhelmingly with men, but it’s not like I’m the only woman out there. Plus a lot of the camps have rules designed to make the women feel more comfortable. At the PTI camps (like Wapasu, which is where I used to be) they have rules stating that men and women do not share bathrooms. They mess up sometimes, but as long as you point out the mistake they’ll fix it.

All of that aside, even if I was the only woman on the crew and I did have to share a bathroom with a guy, it actually wouldn’t seem weird to me. I’ve always gotten along easier with guys than girls, so…*shrug*

Don’t you just want to die after so many straight days of work?

When I first went out West I really thought I’d lose my mind working for 14 days straight, all 12-hour shifts. But to be perfectly honest, it goes by much faster than you’d imagine. This likely depends on how much you like/hate your particular job, but for me it’s not too bad at all. I don’t love my job by any means, but the days go by pretty fast, and usually the second week of work just kinda slips by. Mind you, by day 14 I am SO READY TO GO HOME, and I can’t imagine having to do a longer shift than that, but the two weeks really isn’t as awful as it sounds.

Isn’t that kind of work hard? (*Imagine this question asked in a super-whiny female voice, or a super-condescending male voice.*)

I’m a woman. I’m not useless. Both sexes really need to stop assuming that because I’m physically small and genetically female, somehow I can’t do physical labor or anything dirty or requiring tools. Grow up, people. Geez.

Isn’t it just awful being away from your daughter for so long?

This is the one I get the most, particularly from my mother-friends who often follow up the question with phrases such as, “I could never do that,” and, “You’re so tough.” I do appreciate the sentiment, believe me, and when I first began to travel out West for work I really though it was going to result in an emotional breakdown. Surely being away from my daughter for two weeks out of every four would be just the worst thing ever, right? Well, yes…and no. I can’t honestly say that I don’t miss her a ton when I’m away, but the truth is that my schedule actually affords me more time with my daughter than a traditional work shift would. Some simple math explains how. If I were working a normal 9 to 5, the baby would barely be awake by the time I was leaving for work, and by the time I got home and we had supper and she had a bath, we’d have a grand total of between one and two hours together before it was time for bed. So during a normal four weeks we’d have approximately 136 hours of awake time together (10 hours a week throughout the week and approximately 24 hours each weekend), and during a lot of those hours I would be tired and stressed-out from work, so it wouldn’t all be fun, happy time. Alternatively, with the schedule I’m on now I get two straight weeks (minus approximately one day during which I’m flying), or 156 hours of awake time together, and that time is fatigue- and stress-free because when you leave your job on the other side of the country there is absolutely no reason to think about it while you’re home.

It’s not an ideal situation by any stretch of the imagination, and of course it sucks having 14 days in a row during which I don’t get to hug or kiss my baby girl, but it isn’t nearly as horrible as other people imagine it to be. Trust me, if I can do it, anyone can. I’m a huge wuss.

Conclusion!

All in all, when people find out that I work out West they make a lot of assumptions. They imagine that I must only be there out of desperation because they assume that every aspect of working out West is awful. And they imagine that I must have a heart of stone to be able to stand being in the middle of nowhere, far away from my family for so much time. Unfortunately this is the kind of attitude that keeps people from trying the whole “out West” deal. Like I said, it’s not ideal, and I can certainly understand why people choose not to do it, but it’s not nearly as terrible as the imagination makes it out to be. Not to mention, if it weren’t for my taking the plunge and trying it out, we would be significantly further behind in life than we are right now.

And the morals of the story are: don’t judge something before you’ve given it a shot, and never underestimate your ability to do big, scary things. A lot of the time it turns out to be not such a big deal after all, and can even change your life for the better.

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5 thoughts on “Well, Since You Asked

  1. Hi – I stumbled across your blog while searching for info about Wapasu. My husband started work out there this year – he’s a welder. We live in central Newfoundland – so it’s quite the travel ordeal. You have lots of great info about the camp and camp life and work life – and it’s nice to hear if from a woman’s point of view. Hubby is currently on a 14/7 schedule – which sucks – as time home is really only 5 days – as there is a travel day on each end of his day off. I see in some of your posts that you had a different schedule? I guess it depends on the exact job you do and who your employer is. Thanks for you posts – it’s nice to read positive comments about the camp. I have read some pretty awful comments on other blogs – like calling it “Camp Alcatraz”. Really – my husband feels it is an ok camp – food is decent – it’s quiet – he works nights – and nothing really bad to say about it. And he has lived in a few camps both in AB and in NL over the years. Some people – they must be living in quite the mansion with a maid and a cook and a butler – which I seriously doubt! Thanks again!

    • Thanks very much for taking the time to shoot off a comment!
      A lot of people out here are on the 14-7 schedule (my father is out here as well on that one). My company happens to be one of the few who do the 14-14, for which I am extremely grateful because you’re right…on the 14-7 you’re only REALLY getting 5 days at home. 😦

      People do complain a lot about “Wapatraz” but I really never found it so bad. Every now and then you’ll get a bad neighbor or a loud wing, but for the overwhelming part the camp has served its purpose, nothing more, nothing less, and really what can you expect? I think most people just like to complain. ^_~

      Anyway, thanks for the comment! It’s actually quite rare that I get POSITIVE comments when I’m talking about Kearl! 🙂

  2. Hi. I’ve been recently selected for a phone
    Interview with CADRE.
    Are you able to tell me what kinds of
    Questions that I should be prepared for?
    I very much want to get the HEO position
    at Kearl Lake and I basically want to be as prepared for
    it as much as I can.
    Thank you very very much

    • I apologize, Wade, but I don’t think I’m going to be able to help you much. My position at Kearl was an instrumentation one, commissioning new equipment, and I was hired through MMR, so I’m not really sure what kind of questions you might be asked for an HEO job. My best suggestion is to do a little bit of research on the Kearl Lake project (http://www.imperialoil.ca/Canada-English/operations_sands_kearl.aspx would be a good start) so that you know a little in case they ask you what you know about the process. You might also read up about IOL’s safety standards and beliefs, because that is a HUGE thing to them.

      Other than that I’m not really sure what kinds of questions you might be asked, but I wish you the best of luck. 🙂

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