This is my 3rd season in McMurdo, two Summers, and now a Winter. In many ways I’m still a neophyte as compared to some of the 15+ year veterans and some things are still new to me. For most of my readers, you’ve never been to the Ice, so I want to elucidate on some of the very different things that happen when you contract to work in Antarctica. Obviously my perspective is entirely McMurdo based, I am however to understand many thing are universal when you work for the US stations.
Food, water, shelter, these are the very basics for what people need. Human are extremely adaptable, but we are also emotional beings and change in these tends to charge some emotions. The hostile environment makes these necessities require more redundancy as well as tends to restrict life. In this respect we are fundamentally more attuned to what options we have.
Now there’s lots of irony in this. Working on the Ice we are given, food, water, and shelter. It’s not something we have to pay for, indeed it’s assumed in addition to our contracted wages. So on the one hand, we don’t have to pay for it. On the other hand we don’t have anything like the normal control over our food, water, and shelter that we would have when we are at home. In that way we’ve bargain that control, for our wage, the chance to visit this place, the companion of similar people, etc.
I’m not sure how this conveys to most of you living back in the US or in a mostly free and open society. This topic is one of the conversations that any group of ice people will have, which would likely baffle non-ice people. When I’ve tried to explain how ice people can get aggravated over things like dorm inspections to non-ice people, it seems like we are a bunch of whiners. We are being given room and board for free, and the government wants the right to inspect it for fire safety, utility issues, and any gross violations. It seems like it’s fair, and rationally I agree that it is.
We don’t have a choice about it though, our expectations of privacy down here are much more abstract than they are on US soil. The psychological impact of that ambiguity and inconsistency is what I think aggravates people, and also gives them freedom. The policies and enforcement change seasonally depending primarily on what Station and NSF managers are deployed, but also what politics are going on inside the USAP headquarters, NSF Office of Polar Programs, and other factors.
So we are not really whiners, at least no more than George Washington was about King George IV. I say that with purpose too. I’m not saying that we are unfairly tax (although that’s another discussion), but rather that living in Antarctica as a contractor to the US Governement we are not actually on United States soil. So we don’t live by the same laws that we live by in the US. We live by a mix of rules and policies that are abstract and not always codified in much the same way colonies of Britain lived in the 1700s. I don’t mean to imply people are thinking revolution, but rather that it’s a frame of reference some of you may more readily identify with.
As I can I’ll flesh out more on the topic of what things are so different here on the Ice, beyond the obvious environmental differences.