Obviously, it’s cold and dry. But it isn’t always easy to anticipate all the ways that will affect what you’re doing, in big ways and small. For example, doing inventory or pulling food from frozen storage for the coming week in the Logistics Arch/Office (L.O.), you shouldn’t even bother using a pen: it stops working immediately. For this reason, pencils (especially mechanical pencils) are a hot commodity. Also, there are natural refrigerators everywhere: on the floor, in the windows, on the cargo decks. Meat and ice cream sit out on shelves and on the floor in the L.O. The galley can freeze leftovers on the deck outside. When you work out in the gym in Summer Camp and then walk over to the bathrooms, your whole body steams, hands, feet, armpits, the top of your head. When you shower and walk back to the Jamesway, your hair freezes instantaneously.
The water restrictions:
Two minute showers, twice a week, except for certain dirty or stinky jobs (like Fuels—who get three). It’s starting to get to me, the perma-filth from the VMF. The other day I was washing my feet, leaning up against the shower wall, and I left a greasy-grey smear behind from my elbow that I couldn’t clean up, even with degreaser. When I get to Christchurch I’m taking an hour-long shower.
I have to hand it to the kitchen, they do a good job with what they have. But because of the extended supply chain, a lot of the food has been frozen on the berms for years, and it doesn’t always age well. And because the LO where the food is stored is right next to the VMF, it sometimes absorbs the exhaust. A lot. Bacon, for example, is something I have learned not to ever eat here. Pickles are so dehydrated that they’re literally paper-thin except for the ring of skin around the edge. And fresh vegetables are uncommon. When they come, you gorge. I don’t envy the kitchen’s job. It’s hard enough pleasing everyone (impossible, actually), and compounded by limited ingredients.
Sucks, period. At this point it’s only up before I wake up in the morning and when I’m working. I depend on it for relaxation a lot more than I ever thought, and I can’t have it, and it’s frustrating.
The gossip culture:
Once you get over the honeymoon of being here, taking your picture at the Pole, commiserating about your Jamesway, and buying some souvenirs, not a lot changes. The one thing that’s always evolving and always interesting is people, for better or or worse. People start dating, stop dating, drink too much, pick a fight, have run-ins with coworkers or neighbors. Close quarters mean you can hear a lot more than you would in a normal residence: fights, sex, vomiting, late-night whispers. And people talk about it, because it’s interesting, and because everybody pretty much knows everybody else. However, it can also be really dangerous and get out of hand really quickly, and you can hurt and lose your friends with a slip of the tongue.
The skua system:
If I could take one thing about Antarctica back to my home community, it would be skua. Named after crafty, aggressive birds closer to the coast, skua is a sharing system for unwanted, but still nice, stuff. Pants don’t fit right? Slight stain or hole? Flying out and you still have a whole bottle of shampoo left? Put it in skua. I have found so many great things in skua: clothing, boots, books, toiletries, craft supplies. It’s like a used-things store, except you don’t have to pay for it. It’s great. It also satisfies a mild shopping urge every now and then, and provides an endless source of material for sewing projects.
Everyone has to clean the bathroom they use once a week on an assigned date. I think this is a good system because it gives everyone equal accountability and a feeling of responsibility for our public living spaces. Also, you can get out of work for an hour.
The difficulty of not being able to separate work and home life:
This doesn’t really seem like a big deal, but it’s surprising how much I miss things like commuting home (even, sometimes, traffic), going to the grocery store, making dinner, going for a walk, wasting time on the internet, watching TV, or just going to see something different than you always see to decompress from a hard day at work. If someone at work is frustrating you, you’re still going to see them at dinner, in the bathroom, at the store, in the lounge. You run into your boss at your worst: sick, tired, bad attitude days, forgot to brush your teeth on a Sunday days. I imagine the work-social mixedness makes on-ice romance more complicated, new relationships but especially break ups, and especially in the winter (you live with some 45 other people for eight months straight, no breaks, no escaping). On the other hand, it really gives you the opportunity to know people in an in-depth way faster than you ever would working with them for forty hours a week; friendships get sped up to close in a way I really like and I’ve met some people who I hope will be lifelong friends.
Michele from Midwest, my old job, asked me if I’m happy I came here, and I am. Despite being homesick and tired, and despite some of the quirkier, more frustrating things about living here, I’ve learned a ton and met some really interesting people who are living a life I have only dreamed of. My New Years resolutions list and my laundry list of minor life goals are growing, and I’m inspired by my coworkers here who can make their lives happen the way they want with on-again-off-again employment, crappy healthcare, patchwork living situations and amazing travel experiences. I still feel really lucky to be here and to be planning the next year out with Daniel. I think the whole thing is summed up pretty well by something I overheard from someone I don’t even know; people were complaining about the food (or the internet or something) and the guy replies, “I’m just happy to be here.” I’m still just happy to be here.