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"Dash Me" A Year in the Life of a Cajun Boy Working in Nigeria, West Africa!
I work as a mechanic at Hyster Forklift in New Orleans, Louisiana, and a friend of my boss “Mr. Pat Horn” came to visit him while he was on leave from offshore (mainly) and onshore work in Nigeria, West Africa. His name is “Deano Pablo Vincent Martini”. He is a character to say the least. With a thick Italian accent and a stocky build, he came to America when his submarine was captured while surfacing in the Gulf of Mexico and trying to buy fuel from a shrimp boat. Martini met his wife in Camp Plauche prison when she came to Italy regularly to write letters home for him. He asked my boss “Pat” if he knew of anyone interested in working aboard the Derrick Barge #11 which is primarily located offshore Nigeria in West Africa.
I’m single and in my early 20s, so I said yes! The company I worked for was called “Oceanic Contractors” on the door of the building in downtown New Orleans, but the company I signed up to was called “J Ray McDermott.” They are a company that works flawlessly around the world. I had to go to the local area for an extensive physical, injecting a series of painful photos for my new international medical records along with my passport. The nurse said “take your weight off my left leg” and she put a big needle in my buttocks and she said “take your weight off the other leg” and she put It stuck on my other cheek and gave me the other half! This is a “gamma globulin” injection. Man, I’m so glad it’s all over! They also gave me some pills that I had to take every day for a month before I left to prevent me from contracting malaria. When I was there, I had to take meds every day from a big pill jar in the kitchen where we ate, and when we got home for 3 weeks.
The flight to Nigeria took about seven weeks and they did a military coup and killed the leader of the country over there. We first flew to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, France, and I arranged a two-day layover to visit the city. It was a weird airport, and they had these big tubes that let people go in a few different directions. I went to the Meridian Hotel in Paris and found a taxi driver who spoke a little English at the front desk, and the lady at the front desk gave him a list of all the places I wanted to go in French! We spent half a day driving around seeing all the sights and I ended up at the Eiffel Tower. I chose to take all the winding stairs to the big deck where you can see everything for miles around. It’s very interesting! The next day I was walking in a mall near the hotel and had some real “french fries” at McDonald’s! Then, I met a blonde girl in the mall, her name was “Stephanie” and I started talking to her, she was a whore! ! She took me to a small hotel with a French maid who operated a bare metal cage elevator to take us upstairs to our room. The room had these giant pink lips on the wall, and a heart-shaped bed. They had a B day, and a toilet, we all washed and the rest you can imagine.
The next day I caught a flight to Nigeria, we had to land in Accra, Ghana, West Africa, wait until dawn to take off and land in Nigeria. The airport is close to Lagos, Nigeria. What a mess, everyone had to run to the Nigerian Airways flight after getting off the plane! Then I got lucky and caught a Widgeon for McDermott, which took off from land and landed in the river near Wari Yard, Nigeria. It has pontoons and lands in the water of the Warri River in J Ray McDermott’s yard. They took me to a hotel and it was shocking! They have a motel where all the rooms have a skeleton key and they are all the same! The view from the window is a huge pile of rubbish in the central courtyard. When it got dark all the power in the area went out and I found out why they put a candle and matches in a bottle in the room! That night, I took the mattress off the bed, put it in the hallway against the door of the room, and slept on it. Twice that night someone tried to steal everything in my room but I was sleeping on the mattress and they woke me up and I knocked hard on the door and they ran away. Glad the door opened to the inside!
The first time I went to Derrick Barge (DB11), I was on a tugboat called “Gulf Wind”, and the captain was called “Captain Wally Hebert”. It had just arrived from the US, on its way to a barge at sea near Angola (formerly known as the Belgian Congo). We were shot at in the bow of the tugboat, and by a Russian gunboat, Cuban crew! They boarded the ship, Captain Wally was holding a 22-caliber pistol, and they took it and went away. I’m sea sick like a dog, stuck in my bunk, can’t wait to get off the boat! I got on the Derek Barge 11 (DB11) which I thought was a relief from having to walk up and down 14 flights of stairs all day and unload tools sent out from the tugboat. We work 18 hours a day, which is very difficult. We finished laying the pipeline to the shore and we took off north and then we heard someone blew up the refinery! Working in these third world toilets, anything can happen!
One day, the nationals (local workers) all boarded the tugboat with the gulf wind, and they mutinied! They got tired of the camp owner (Lebanese) serving them bags of “gari” (food that the locals eat) full of weevils. They took the ships back to the docks in Nigeria! After straightening out a few days later, they were back to work. I remember being on the Gulf Wind tug to pick up the barge where we were laying the pipe and I had to bring a big 12 volt battery and tools in case I needed them to start the anchor winch and lift the anchor. I rode on the front of the barge and watched the dolphins play in the clear blue waters as we went! However, most barges have hydraulic starters. Sometimes the batteries die, and yes, there are people rowing all the way in their dugouts to steal batteries so they can light the lights in the village houses!
There is a medic on board the DB11 who has a small portable home under the helipad. He has large bottles of prescription drugs from overseas, mostly from the UK. We used to get: “cement pills” to plug you up, “dynamite pills” to start you over! The camp boss and food are cheap and poor quality! Their hair was still on the bacon slices! It’s nothing like working offshore in the gulf of mexico, where they have great food! A guy I worked with “Jerry” got hooked on “Darvon” painkillers. He has hundreds! Any question you have he’ll say, “You want some Darvon” He’s always out of it.
It took us 2 months to go back to the McDermott yard in Nigeria to change the gantry crane swing from steam driven to electric. There are a few places near Warri where we ate, one was the good Escargot, I didn’t think I’d like snails, but they were really good! Another time, we went back to the courtyard, and they gathered a large group of people, and they all came to this place where they executed people. The cop said, “You haven’t seen an execution?” We said no, and he pulled out his billy clubs, knocked everyone out of the way, and took us to the front to see! He said there were no photos and we agreed. They shot a man and a woman and they tied them to two large pillars with the Warri River in the background. They fired at them at the same time. One of them stole a watch and the other 8 naira (about 12 dollars at the time). Capital punishment is the name of the game. This is untrue. I used to say “another dollar today, another naira tonight”. Another time I took a taxi back to the yard at night and was stopped by the police (they were wearing camouflage with AR15s) and I was arrested for murdering a guy on the beach. I have $112.00 on me and that’s what I paid to get rid of it! If a taxi driver had an accident, the cops would drag him out of the car and beat him up on the spot! These are the craziest people I’ve ever seen!
Another time I went to a local bar with other engineers and as soon as we sat down we were immediately surrounded by 4 or 5 girls with different colored wigs, blondes, redheads, etc. They all grabbed our pants and tried to get us to leave and go to the hotel with them! illusory! There was a brothel outside McDermott’s door called “Brock House” that was always open to tourists and there were a lot of girls there.
I took a truck to this magnificent place for a swim. There’s me, a fitter and a welder. We chopped up a fresh pineapple on the way there. I kept saying to myself: “Oops, another rubber tree has been planted”! We drove through rubber tree plantations! The river is a spring, fresh drinkable water coming out of the ground, and somewhere it flows into a murky river. There we met the chief who owns the land, he was a real nice guy, I took his picture and a few pictures of the place, some young locals paddling past in a small bomb shelter . I have a picture of my little dugout paddling with a piece of wood in clear spring water!
When I first left Nigeria and someone was at the airport to bring your luggage to the plane, the guy I lined up said “Dash Me, Dash Me” which means they want naira tips otherwise you never will Saw your luggage again! They say “Dash Me” everywhere in Nigeria. Hense the name of the story. After about 6 months, I had to go home for a week to have my impacted wisdom teeth removed, I did it in the dentist chair and man, I’m so happy when it’s done! When we flew back overseas, I made a listening device out of a pen and a funnel of paper so I could listen to the movie they were playing, so I didn’t have to spend money on headphones. I just lifted the armrest! As the jet landed, an older Cajun captain sitting next to me said “Hold on, ’cause, shit hit the fan”! When we landed, one of the jet’s tires blew and pieces of the tire flew out the window! The pilot tilted the plane and we landed successfully!
I took a McDermott Widgeon to a deserted airstrip in Lagos, the “capital of Nigeria”, he let me off and said I would be back in a few hours, he had to refuel the plane and do a few Other things in McDermott’s yard in , he never came back! Later I found and saw the wrecked plane, when the plane landed in the warri river, he forgot to pump up the landing gear lowered, when the plane landed it immediately flipped, crashed and sank! No one was killed! Thank God he got hit badly. The plane broke down and he dumped me in the bushes, all I had to do was bring a sheet for the night, a local brought it to me, that’s all. I fell asleep that night and when I woke up the sheet had been removed from my face and I was under the sheet when I fell asleep. My face was covered in various bites and pups, mostly from mosquito bites, and I knew that was when I got malaria! ! ! ! ! ! I didn’t realize this until I was home for good, (more on that later) I was picked up the next day by a British ‘Bristol’ helicopter and flew me to the heliport near DB11 offshore, at There was a boat there that would pick me up and take me to the derrick barge. When the Chopper takes off, the tail rotor is closed slightly and the Chopper begins a slow downward spiral into the Atlantic Ocean! ! ! ! The pilot got off no problem, I guess the big gantry crane on the DB11 picked up the very wet Chopper and put it on the helipad for later repairs?
After I finished my one-year contract, I flew to Brussels, Belgium, to pick up my bonus check on the way home. A fun town! When I got home I fell in love with a local girl and we were on Lake Shore Drive in New Orleans at night and we made out in my car and that’s when I caught a cold and I was chilling and shivering and I would be Flushed and sweating, I knew I had malaria! ! ! It’s not fun. They put me in a charity hospital and they brought me 4 pills to take every 2 hours in a small white cup, I gave them the bottle of pills at check in! I guess someone in the hospital called the lawyer and told them about me because the lawyer called me while I was sitting on the hospital bed! We sued McDermott under the “Jones” Act. They gave me the bottle back when I left the hospital.
The whole story is true and this 1 year contract with J Ray McDermott has been the most informative and exciting trip I have ever been on! I really like it very much!
Robert P. Bertolt Sr.
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