Life before Antarctica

After the confirmation that I was headed to Antarctica in December, the days until I got in Cambridge were a blur.

BAS was waiting me there for the last week of August to start the training sessions and until then I had about five weeks to get out of my job, my house, and finally, my country.

First thing I did was to book another flight to London and get a place to crash for the first couple of days. I would be in Cambridge for at least three months… too long to be in an hotel and not long enough to rent a flat. Eventually I was able to find a room that I could rent by the week, which was perfect for that kind of situation. But until that I stayed lodged in at Christ’s College, right in the geometrical centre of Cambridge.

Christ’s is one of the most iconic of Cambridge’s colleges and, as others in the summer, rents its student dorms to visitors at significant lower rates than a typical city hotel. Also, as many others in Cambridge, it also had roofed some of the greatest names in world’s science, such as Darwin or Oppenheimer. Might as well try it, of not for the chance to assume that the ball of hair under my bed was Darwin’s lost grey dreadlocks.

But coming back to my last days in Portugal, I still had a full month of work ahead of me, that in reality summed up of shocking people with the news and dealing with all sorts of work related bureaucracies. That and trying to wrap my head around the notion that I did it. I was able to secure the contract. It was still hard to believe that. Honestly, I had applied mostly to be at peace with myself, just to be able to think that “at least I gave it a shot”. This stance was mostly because in the past I had been struck out of less meaningful jobs. It really makes you wonder. It was like conquering the Everest after slipping while trying to climb over the backyard fence. From a deterministic point of view, it makes no sense whatsoever, but I certainly wasn’t going to refuse this contract on that premisse.

Slowly I was able to get the news out there. Initially, only to close family, mostly to prepare them for my imminent absence and to give them time to pick up an Atlas and figure out where the hell I was going to put myself into this time. Next, the close friends. I was curious about the reaction on this ones. They varied between incredibility to admiration, with a pinch of conscious envy in the middle, which I obviously don’t resent, since if it was the other way around, I would be jealous as fudge.

Still, there were a couple of friends that, may due to an eternal struggle for sustenance or maybe because they were so accustomed to the whole capitalist mentality, the first thing they ask me was how much would “they” pay me to do that? I was honestly surprised by that question, mostly because I hadn’t really though about it until that point. But I’m the kind of guy that probably would pay to go to Antarctica. Simply, if I had no rents, tuition fees or bank loans on me, I would do this job for free. That was basically my reply to that question. The sad truth is, we need money to survive. As long as we need to pay for food and a shelter, that is an undeniable reality. But I have to confess that the concept of suffering thought life, doing something that I despise, just to be able to buy a nice shiny car, a house with an extra room or to go spend crazy for a week in Algarve, is hard for me to grasp.

During the trip South I got in a situation that illustrates the type of life philosophy that I’m now surrounded with. I was in Shackleton’s bridge, a little after dinner time doing my last meteorological observation (yes, I had to do those around the ship) of that night. Along with some of my colleagues there were also two of the ship’s officers that were assigned on night watch. They were playing a rather nasty “Would you rather” game, with questions such as “Would you rather have vinegar for eye-drops or sandpaper for toilet paper?” or “Would you rather have no eyes or no fingernails?” (And these were the “classy” ones…). It was fun to see people trying to come up and defend logical arguments to support a rather silly and absurd life choice. Eventually the typical question was popped: “Would you rather be filthy rich but doing something you despise your whole life or to be dirt poor but love every day of your work?”. I was surprised on how quick and unanimous all replies were. Money is just that: money. Its a cliché, true, the whole “money doesn’t  buy you happiness” thing, but becoming rich doesn’t justify a life wasted doing stuff that makes you sad. I can obliviously understand that sacrifice if there are children around or any other higher reason that make it imperative to earn that vile metal. I only think that being happy in what you do should always be a life goal such as visiting Suriname or bro fist the Pope.

I got the impression that some of the people to whom I broke the news though that I was just messing with them. When I delivered my resignation letter, my managers at the time look at me like I was pulling a prank on them. Its expectable to get better offers from the competition when you are in the consultant business. Its how the business works. You work between offers and counter offers but at the end of the day you end up doing the same thing as before but at a different place and for a couple of extra euros.

In my case there was nothing that they could had offered me. Not even a CEO position for that matter. My managers were smart enough to realize how determined how was to get out of there and didn’t even try to present an alternative.

Curiously enough, the first person who I broke the news outside my family and friends circle was… my dentist. I had a checkup appointment scheduled to the day right after I got the confirmation from BAS. Later that day I got an email from HR with a whole lot of bureaucracies that I needed to deal with before going to Cambridge and among them was a medical form that was putting a lot of emphasis on oral care. After all, in the middle of an Antarctic Winter, the closest dentist is going to be 2000 km away from there. To avoid having the base mechanic performing oral surgery with a pair of pliers on yours truly, I had to ask him for a more thorough exam because I simply couldn’t wait another six months to another appointment. When he ask me why, I had to break it up to him.

The remaining days  were gone in a flick and when I realize it, it was time to move…again.

Português faz favôre!


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