28 February 2011

it's been a while, or: here are the highlights of my antarctic experience

Did you let your self out?  Did you let love in?  Did you take chances, while staying true to yourself?
- an excerpt of an email from myself, sent on 18 june 2010, received 17 february 2011 (my six month mark) through futureme.org

Yes, yes, and yes.  I sure did.

I last posted in November.  I had such earnest plans of posting often here, providing outsiders glimpses into this bizarre culture at the bottom of the world.  But alas, life here is demanding... you work 60 hours a week, play most of the rest, and sleep when possible.  I was supposed to leave on Wednesday, after 6 months and 6 days.  It's now Friday.  Maybe you've heard, but there was a 6.3 earthquake in Christchurch NZ that killed a lot of people.  About 600 ice people were in Christchurch at the time, but so far we've heard from almost all of them.  And I'm sure you didn't hear, but we had a huge storm down here that dumped a ton of snow, produced zero visibility, and broke up a lot of the ice shelf.  The road out to the ice runway is on the ice shelf... so that is also being figured out.  After a lot of deliberation, tears on my part, and a handful of all hands meetings, I'm scheduled to fly to Christchurch on Sunday at 4am, where I am not allowed to stay due to safety issues, so my parents are picking Kevin and I up and we're driving 5 hours north to a cabin they rented up there.  I will see plants!  kids!  animals!  fresh food!  and countless other things that I've been deprived of for over half a year.  But I'll also be saying goodbye to so much good down here. 

Don't get me wrong - I am absolutely ecstatic to get out of here, see the people I love and miss dearly, eat whatever I want, and have a break from working, but there is something inherently melancholy about leaving.  Different people will be here next year, and some of my favorites will be gone.  There's always a chance that you won't be able to return due to the rigorous physical qualifications and paperwork obstacles ahead.  There's always a moody depression being passed around right now, with everyone feeling intensely bittersweet about leaving in a few days.

Partially due to the need for some catharsis, but mostly due to guilt from completely neglecting this blog, I decided to put together a behemoth of a post… an entry of highlights if you will.  Here is the list I've compiled: the best of my Antarctic experiences.

1. Splurching
This is the act of sucking liquid off of something... it originated at the coffee house one night when somebody spilled some of their wine (because our friend Sue would pour us very full glasses of wine, resulting in a meniscus which would often spill over.  Not wanting to waste any wine, I told the person to splurch it, which of course is not an actual word, but it worked.  And the janos quickly took it to the next level - taking shots out of each other's belly buttons. 


2. Sharpie Tattoos
The janos were also known for their sharpie tattoos... mostly of the knuckle tat variety.  Our official jano shirts even have two fists on the front, the first knuckles saying "jano" and the second were left blank to fill in, so each person has their very own variation.  Mine says "jano hugs"... Kevin's says "jano hump"... some others are "jano mite" "jano life" "jano fun!" "jano love" etc.

3. Cuddle Puddles
These big cozy piles of people were another staple of the McMurdo janitors.  We took the opportunity to cuddle whenever possible, in different places from hallways to icebergs.

4. Jano Hut 10 Parties
About once a month, the janos got Hut 10, which is pretty much the only "normal" house on station, equipped with a kitchen, living room, bedroom, etc.  This is where Bill Clinton stayed when he came down to the ice.  Couples will rent out Hut 10 for little honeymoon getaways, but when janos had it, it was all about fun.  We had sock puppet parties, ugly cousin parties, etc.  We also spent Christmas day there, opening amazing handmade gifts from our bosses, snuggling, dancing, eating amazing nachos made by Kevin... it was lovely.

5. Holiday Festivities
Once mainbody starts (the main season... October-February), there's a holiday pretty much once a month, which made the time go by really fast.  We would all dress up and eat together, drink wine together, and then later dance.  The galley does an amazing job of putting together a lavish feast for holidays.

6. Dodgeball
The janos are hands-down the McMurdo champions of dodgeball.  Which is hilarious because we would usually show up drinking, in ridiculous costumes, and just have a blast, while other teams practiced and got really competitive.

7. Safety Band
The Safety Band is made up of 3 janos, and features our amazing boss Justin singing absolutely ridiculous songs about drugs, STDs, getting drunk at Christmas, etc.  They were supposed to play in NZ up in Takaka, but the earthquake thwarted the plans...

8. Being Able to Say I've Slept in an Ice Trench
There's something called Happy Camper, where you go out to a snow school on the ice shelf in order to learn how to survive on the ice.  Janos don't usually get the privilege of taking part in this school, but we had a really good boondoggle year.  Boondoggles are special trips that you get to take instead of working for a day.  Part of the school is spending the night in tents, or if you choose, an ice trench that you did yourself.  I chose the ice trench, because I felt like I kind of had to, since I had the opportunity, and let me just say that it was certainly not a highlight (you can see my face in the second picture and exactly how I felt about spending the night in a slushy sleepy bag), but being able to say that I did it certainly is. 

9. Snowmobiling
Another boondoggle was snowmobiling up to Room with a View, which is up on the slopes of Erebus and true to its namesake, provides amazing views.  I went on an overcast day, and couldn't see anything up there, but zooming along on a snowmobile with very low visibility, the new Kanye West album pounding in my ears felt so amazing... so very Antarctic.

11. Dancing with Travis
Mr. Travis Groh, or Big Daddy Dancer as we call him, is an amazing dancer and corralled a bunch of us into creating a dance crew with him.  I am not a fan of choreography, but somehow he got us all doing the same moves at the same time, with lots of attitude and costumes to boot.  It was such a blast.  We even won the the Halloween costume contest with our Lady Gaga costumes and dance to the song "Telephone" which scored us a day long trip to Cape Royds, an absolutely incredible place with Shackleton's hut and a penguin rookery.  We sat for hours just staring at Adelies and Emperors.

12. Women's Soiree
Travis also choreographed our dance for the women's soiree, for which we did a mock dance-off with the shuttles department, where my mom works.  It was so much fun dancing up on a stage in front of tons of people with my Mom.

13. Having My Parents Here
Experiencing Antarctica with my parents was amazing.  It was perfect because I came down at winfly (6 weeks earlier than most people), and really established myself and carved out my own place on the ice.  Then they came down and it was so fun running into them around town.  I didn't see them that much, but we would congregate for family dinners on Sundays and meet up for different town activities occasionally.  It made me feel even more at home.

14. Falling in Love with My Best Friend Here
Kevin and I flew down together on the same flight... I ran into him in New Zealand and had an awkward encounter at an Indian food restaurant.  We quickly became friends on the ice, and eventually he was my best friend who I was telling everything to, and we even were dubbed "ice siblings" by our friends.  Three months into our time on the ice, we transitioned into much more than that, and he went from being my ice brother to my boyfriend :)  We are traveling New Zealand and Asia together once we're off the ice and I can't wait to see where our wandering souls take us together next.

15. Six Months of Isolation Producing a New Community, a New Family, a New Home
I didn't know what to expect when I left for the ice.  I had a lot of fears about eating alone, being lonely, feeling trapped and isolated, but what I found absolutely blew my mind.  I ended up feeling like I lived in the most tight knit little neighborhood, where everywhere I went I knew everyone and laughed with them.  The janos became a second family, equipped with everything from adorable cousins to crazy drunk uncles.  And Antarctica became my home.  There's a quote from Walt Whitman that perfectly captures McMurdo Station: "A great city is that which has the greatest men or women.  If it be a few ragged huts, it is still the greatest city in the whole world."

16.  Becoming the Person I've Always Wanted to Be
Finally, Antarctica provided me the foundation to blossom into the person I have always strived to be.  And now I'm off to carry all the amazing experiences and people and sights I've gathered in my heart from the ice on with me to New Zealand...