I made one of the hiring managers at NANA Services laugh yesterday and exclaim “I’ve heard a lot of things while doing this job but I’ve never heard that before!” In exaggerated tones of despair I had just informed her that should I apply for a job in Antarctica again next year or EVER, I would be hiring a personal secretary. She knew exactly where I was coming from though, having told me weeks ago that I was up against hundreds of pages of paperwork, and that the only hiring process which might be MORE complex to navigate was probably applying to join the FBI.
Applying for a job in Antarctica was actually relatively easy. Now that I have been hired though (officially, I am a DA Alt or dining attendant alternate), things have gotten very, very difficult. I have been looked at up and down and backwards by doctors and dentists, poked and prodded (I still have a bruise on my arm from the tetanus shot, yikes!), and have carpel-tunnelled my right wrist from repeatedly scribbling down my name, address, SSN, etc. on what does seem like hundreds of forms. When I do eventually physically qualify (hurray for being young and healthy!) it will NOT be smooth sailing from there on out. I will have to stock up on all the gear, all the luggage, all the clothes, all of everything I will need for a 4-6 month deployment to McMurdo Station. And then I will have to wait. As an alternate I’m basically an understudy, lines and blocking learned, waiting in the wings or hovering near the phone in the hope that the principle actor will come down with laryngitis or have a mental breakdown on stage. If a primary doesn’t PQ, or if they have an accident on the Ice, or get there and FREAK OUT (because after all they will have arrived at the coldest, driest, windiest place on the planet – an icy desert where only a few thousand people come and go, none of them permanent residents) then and only then will I get the call. Meanwhile, I have been told that getting all of my friends and relations to wish and hope and pray for my chances is the recommended course of action.
Why, you might ask (and my grandparents certainly are) do I want to go to Antarctica? I could (and do) work in the service industry in much safer, warmer places. Why would I want to go to McMurdo Station to clean cafeteria tables, vacuum floors, wash dishes, etc.? I have been asking myself this for 6 years, ever since the bug entered my brain. When I left home after high school to work in Acadia National Park at The Jordan Pond House I immediately met a group of people who had worked in Antarctica. The kitchen manager at the Pond House went down to the Ice every winter (summer in Antarctica) to be a cook at various field camps. The Dining Room Manager and one of the Supervisors and another girl who became (and remains) one of my closest friends had all gone down for one or two seasons to work as dining attendants or janitors at McMurdo Station (scientists need to eat and crap too, you know, and someone has to feed and clean up after them!). My current boss has seven seasons under her belt and met her husband there. All of these people teamed up on me and convinced me that while the work itself might not be glamorous, the people were interesting, the travel perks were outstanding, the money was decent, and…bottom line…it’s ANTARCTICA! Of the billions of people on the planet, how many will ever visit the frozen continent? The people I’ve met who have done so claim that it is one of the most beautiful, most fascinating, and most incredible places they’ve ever been. They can only use large, vague words that fail to really describe the experience. A friend of mine who got the urge to go through meeting the same people the same year as me, and who actually made it there last year, told me that she never loved anywhere as much as she loved the Ice. She is there right now in fact, back for a second season.
I guess there must be a switch in the circuits of the brain – it doesn’t get flipped on for everyone. In recent months I have gotten a broad range of reactions to my announcement that I was applying to work in Antarctica. People are horrified, incredulous, skeptical, curious, fascinated, excited, and interested in getting packed into my luggage. As for me, I exist in a strangely peaceful state these days – zen-like I guess. There are ulcer-inducing amounts of legwork to accomplish, and I am doing everything as quickly and efficiently as I can. But I am not stressing too extremely. In the end if it’s meant to be then I’ll go this year. And if not this year than the next. Or the next. Whatever it takes. It’s something I need to do – or else I’ll always wonder. The bug will keep on biting until the freezing temps of the Ice does away with it (there aren’t really any bugs in Antarctica!)
So there’s the tip of the iceberg (you knew that was coming, right?) in regards to the possibility that this blog and I may be relocating to 90 degrees south in the hopefully not too distant future. I welcome your questions and ask for all the good vibes and positive thoughts that you can lend me!
(All images in this post stolen from Google Image searches… Here’s something to get REALLY excited about though – soon enough I’ll have MY OWN photos of Antarctica!!!! Pictures of things I actually saw, pictures I took while standing on my own two feet on the Ice. Ridiculously thrilling thought. 🙂 )