I talked to the members of the 26th IAE individually to know how they prepared themselves, physically, mentally or otherwise, before coming here in November, 2006. I was very keen to know how they prepared their families to weather their absence from home for next 15 months. How did they convince their wives to let them go and not see them for another 15 months? Chitra, please, do not read in between the lines.
I got very interesting answers, so different from my own imagination or expectations.
Most the members I talked to are from the logistic team which is the backbone of the expedition. They are from the Indian Army or the Border Roads Organization serving as technical staff. They are usually posted in difficult remote areas and their families are used to their absence extending for up to 6 months at a stretch. However, expedition to Antarctica was a different ballgame.
The objections of the families were at two levels: family management and personal safety of the expeditioners. Most of them have children who are in the crucial stages of their education. These children are now preparing to enter university. The families are very keen that their children should get good education, since that is the only way for upward mobility. Mothers felt that father's presence was necessary at such a crucial juncture. It is another thing that at such crucial stages, it is the mother who handles situation more logically and rationally. Fathers are always a hindrance. I can vouch for it from my own experience. During my deputation (1997-1999) to the B.P. Koirala Institute for Health Sciences, Dharan (Nepal), Kushagra was working hard to seek admission in a US university and Vasuman was preparing to enter the University for studying Law. It was entirely to Chitra's credit that both of them managed to enter into professions of their choice.
Wives were also worried about the safety of their husbands in the extremely harsh climate and working conditions of Antarctica. Some men in their wisdom advised their families to watch Discovery or National Geographic channels on telly to get some familiarity with the region and appreciate its beauty. However, the unending ice, deep crevasses, severe blizzards had the opposite effect. The petitions were summarily rejected in most cases. The men had to play their trump card then. "It is once in a life time opportunity; it will help in my career; I shall get a choice posting for three years on my return, etc. Men also cited financial remunerations as additional benefit out of this expedition.
"How do they find their wives at this juncture when they are about to end their expedition?" This question elicited most interesting responses. They discovered a new side of their wives. They found that given the challenge or responsibility, they not only rose to the occasion, but also met the challenge satisfactorily and admirably. This is when most of the wives have received only limited education. Thus they could handle the children and their education and their growing demands, manage the family affairs as well as intricacies of extended families. One member was totally surprised on discovering that his wife had managed to convince the Principal of a school for granting admission to her children. One wife managed to get an early allotment of a house for the family from the Army station. Most of them managed to handle affairs such as banking, insurance, payment of bills etc which they had not attended to in their lives.
I could see clearly the sense of pride in men's voice and faces when enumerating the instances where wives managed to accomplish tasks where they themselves would have run into difficulty. They had seen a new side of their wives that would have eluded them if they had not come to the Antarctic expedition. They acknowledged the fact that in managing all these affairs and problems for more than one year, the wives had totally ignored their own exhaustion, boredom, loneliness, empty beds, and worries while they themselves remained busy and excited about their new experiences in Antarctica.
One member put it very succinctly, "I had many new things to look forward to in Antarctica and had the support of an entire nation; however, she back home managed an expedition totally on her own."