FIFOExpat by Andy Mayer
Fly in Fly Out. 4 little words that I had never heard of until 3 years ago. I remember going to school with girls whose fathers worked in Papua New Guinea and Mt Isa back in the 80’s , their dads were home some of the time but disappeared for weeks on end to work away from home.
That expression FIFO must have been industry speak only. Those in the know used it. It meant nothing to me.
I met FIFO wives properly for the first time when living in Mongolia. It amazed me that most of their married lives these women had spent time separated from their husbands for 2-8 weeks at a stretch (at regular intervals). I watched as they lived in one of the toughest cities, pretty much solo, doing everything on their own. I also thought about the fact they could eat toast for dinner, sleep sideways in bed, fart in bed, pick their nose (possibly in bed) or wear ugly pyjamas. I also imagined a house with no TV on.
I have met men and women who work in the same company as my husband who are FIFO. They are paramedics or doctors and clinic managers who fly into remote countries and work for up to 12 weeks in really harsh locations, often on call 24/7, they then fly “home” to relax and hang out with friends or family or the travel. They do not work when they fly home , most are paid off rotation. Something I completely respect and understand.
My husband is not in mining or oil and gas, he works in a medical services company that “services” those industries. He will spend 12 days in Basra, 12 days in Dubai and then 12 days in Erbil on a relatively inconsistant rotation. The difference with his job is that when he is in all 3 locations he works. There is no going home to not work. His time off is Fridays in Iraq & Fri /Sat in Dubai or when he takes annual leave, pretty much like most full time employees. The point of my story is this is all new to us as a family and has had deep impacts.
I have found myself feeling resentful at times both of the work and of the people he works with. You see when he is away he lives in share house with the staff. They eat all their meals together, they work together and they hang out on the day off together. They are work colleague flat -mates. In Basra they rarely leave the villa they share and work in as it is an unsafe environment outside.When we talk on the phone I often hear one of them asking a question, talking to each other or watching TV in the background. In Erbil they can go outside freely but due to the workload most don’t. It is intense for them and it is a deeply bonding experience. I will most likely never meet most of his coworkers even though I feel I have a good understanding of who they are.
You see when a spouse returns they talk about the experience, they talk about the conversations and they tell stories about what their colleagues have done in their life. I listen and occasionally my mind drifts to the missed football games, the birthday parties,dinner conversations, interactions with friends and the life we live when he is away and mostly how much of a gap he leaves in our life. We miss him very much.
I had a conversation with a girlfriend who also has a husband working half in Dubai and half out. Hers happens to work in Sudan (an equally shitty destination) and Uganda ( not so bad). We were complaining about how when our husbands come back the routines go flying out the window. The children stay up later, dinner gets pushed back, rules are broken and we are pushed aside like an annoying hair in your face!
“Oh nice one Andy, you sit by the pool, have coffee, lunch and facials with friends, you visit beach clubs and pretty much do what you want, your life is charmed.” I hear you thinking.
Yes it is . My husband works really hard; we have money in the bank, a safe car to drive, well adjusted children, a good house to live in and most importantly I get the bed to myself oh I do love that. Ohhh I also have no TV on when he is gone.
Ultimately sharing life is what we are about and to live in a city that has everything on tap and provides us a chance of many diverse experiences. Not sharing it with the person you love makes it not so great a city after all. It all just looks like distraction.