Månad: August 2015

Greenland. Explanation.

I wrote this blog post. Picture by Per Ahlberg, combining posthumous portrait of Mary Anning by B. J. Donne (Wikipedia) and photo of Katarzyna Zaremba-Niedzwiedzka (Uppsala University).

I wrote this blog post. Picture by Per Ahlberg, combining posthumous portrait of Mary Anning by B. J. Donne (Wikipedia) and photo of Katarzyna Zaremba-Niedzwiedzka (Uppsala University).

This is not Henning, nor Ben, nor Grzegorz. I am not writing from Greenland either. I have never been on a polar expedition. So why am I writing anything at all here? Because the satellite Internet did not work the way Henning, Ben and Grzegorz hoped for. I don’t exactly know why, but I think Alicja summarized it nicely: it is Greenland and you cannot win against the forces of nature. They call us once a week for a minute or two through the satellite phone, and that’s it. I do not complain. My great-great-grandfather was conscripted into the Tsar’s army for seven years, meaning he left home at the age of twenty-one and was hoping to be back in one piece when he was twenty-eight. My great-great-great-grandfather was exiled to Siberia for about ten years after the January Uprising. Nobody expected him to return. One month, flying with a helicopter and having weekly conversations over phone would have sounded like a luxury holiday trip to them, I am sure.

If you expect paleontological entertainment you should stop reading here. I am pretty well trained in paleontology, for a bioinformatician, but please forgive any mistakes! Hennig, Ben or Grzegorz can correct them once they are back to civilization. I hear about paleontology daily and so much that even my parents wish Grzes to find an astragalus and calcaneum for his birthday. Funny how there are things you cannot remember even though you try hard and others that stick in your brain even though you don’t try at all. My name is Kasia (Katarzyna Zaremba-Niedzwiedzka) and I will try to give you some information about this polar expedition to East Greenland, as best I can, and – let’s be clear about that from the start – from my perspective as Grzes’s wife. I have been on several fieldwork trips, but you guessed right: I joined the ones in Poland or Crete; Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine, or Greenland – I passed on. I am not like the incredible wives of the polar explorers of the Victorian era, women who hiked in dresses down to the heels or went to the Arctic to give birth, raise a child and prepare Christmas pudding. I am in Uppsala right now, trying to push forward my own projects that have to do with exploration of the microbial dark matter, from the comfortable seat in front of a computer, and then taking care of Stefan while his dad is away for four weeks in slightly less comfortable settings.

Why did I decide to write this instead of sleeping? Because Grzes said a week ago that the wind is so strong they cannot go out to work. And I felt that if there is anyone except me, checking this blog for expedition updates, they should hear that. Also, once the guys are back, everybody will focus on the findings, and perhaps nobody will even mention anymore that at one point they had to stay three days in the tents. They have to come up with a way to entertain themselves without Internet – can you imagine that? How many people on Earth would you dare to stay that close to for 72 hours straight? Well, I felt someone should provide some updates about it here.

And we also worked very hard to make this happen. At least seven people were involved in trying to log into the blog website and now, six more are helping me write this text. At last, four days before Henning, Ben and Grzes will be back to parts of Greenland with normal phone coverage, we can finally post something. Hurray!

Tuesday, 28 July 9.26 (1 minute)

They arrived on Greenland. Everything is fine.

Wednesday, 29 July 22.21 (2 minutes)

Grzes was calling from Greenland. There were some funny situations he doesn’t have time to explain. That usually means some kind of trouble. I only know they were stuck and could not fly out as scheduled because of the weather. This is typical for Greenland. Let me just mention that if you want to make sure you have food for the expedition you have to send it two weeks earlier. Otherwise due to fast changes in weather it can happen that you make it to the spot but the food that was supposed to come just after will have to wait another week or two before it is clear enough for another helicopter flight. It can also happen that team members get separated and have to spend the night without contact if you only have one satellite phone and the first flight makes it but the weather suddenly changes before the second one.

If you live in Sweden, with time you get the wisdom of the locals, and as soon as there is a beautiful sunny day you go out, especially in winter. Spoiled people from the south – and who would have thought I would ever think of myself as a person from the south? – might sleep till noon and then take so long to eat breakfast that by the time you are ready to go out the sun is down already. I heard that on Iceland you learn to change into a bikini and sunglasses as soon as you see the sun. On Greenland I suppose you have to be able to change, get a tan and then change back, all within half an hour.

Thursday, 30 July

No news. That means they could fly to the destination today.

Tuesday, 4 August
13.03 (16 seconds)

A strange number is calling and I am saying my name and asking in Swedish if they can hear me. I cannot decide whether this is someone from the police or the insurance company. I can’t hear properly. It must be my phone again! Sometimes I can’t hear properly. Anja is asking how where the holidays and how is Grzes. I have not heard from Grzes for five days now. I know nothing. I still feel the holiday mode in my body but my brain is already working on wiping it out as I am trying to figure out what to do about 30kg of missing things I use daily.

Tuesday, 4 August
13.04 (1 minute)

“Honey it is me!” Oh!!!!! OF COURSE!!!!! Swedish numbers do not look like that. Silly me, trying to speak in Swedish to Grzes, haha! “Everybody is fine. We did not meet a bear. We have found fossils. The weather is not that bad. Internet does not work. I will call next week same time. How are you?” “We are fine! Stefan is well, everybody is healthy. This is a good time of the day, I will not miss the phone playing with Stefan. But if you want him to hear you call later. Do you think you will have Internet later?” “Probably not. Satellite signal is not strong enough. How are you?” “Everything is just fine, don’t worry.”

Well of course it is not true. I am mad like hell. I just had my luggage stolen on the bus from the airport to Stockholm. I went over the relief that Stefan is fine and actually nothing serious happened to the phase when I discover every minute all the things I need to be in their place and they are missing. Thank God I argued with the driver I am definitely taking my fully stuffed backpack with me on the bus. It is the only reason why I am still sane. I also discovered how good is my home insurance, which makes me feel even better. At the moment what drives me mad, is the thought that someone on this bus thought that mother travelling alone with a toddler is an opportunity you cannot miss to walk away with their luggage, and that this ugly person might be recorded somewhere on monitoring that will soon be wiped away by new recordings. In the meantime I am checking Blocket and Facebook groups I guessed might be appropriate to see if my best summer dresses are there. I got a bit sidetracked here, I apologize.

Grzes is also not telling the truth either. Or rather I know that when he says ‘weather is not so bad’, it means it is really awful. When he is in the field, he does not notice missing gloves when his hands are freezing to the point he cannot move the fingers, or lack of drinking water in 35 degrees heat. If he notices the weather during fieldwork it is well beyond what normal people can tolerate. Last minute they had discussions whether to cancel the whole trip because it was snowing on Greenland. And here in Sweden, the last two weeks Alicja took out her autumn jacket. I had to heat up the room at the Polish seaside to bathe Stefan. The summer has not been the greatest so far to say the least and I am sure Greenland was no exception.

Monday, 10 August
13.50 (2 minutes)

This time I recognized the number right away. I can’t help but notice Grzes is calling one day earlier. Not good. “Hi honey! How are you?” I started talking loud and distinct to the phone. “Hi darling!!! It is me. We are good. Everybody is fine.” Grzes is making short and clear communication. He knows all too well how to speak through the satellite phone so that we do not end up in a conversation I had too many times over Skype. Something like “can you hear me?” “Oh I can’t hear you can you repeat?” going on and on and when you think it works and start saying something the key words are missing again. Although I have to say this has not happened recently, I think the system has really improved now.

“It is so windy that we can’t work for three days now.” Three days in a tent. I knew it! I heard it already in his voice last time that the weather it tough like hell. Oh my! I hope he does not wake up freezing every day. “Are you moving the camp soon?” I asked. “Yes. Three more days here and we will be moving. Tell Stefan I will be back soon.” That means Grzes really needs to think about that he will be back soon. It sounds like he is suffering a lot more than we do right now. “He watches your movies ten times in a row. I explain to him how much longer we have to wait until you are back.” I am trying not to sound worried by the weather conditions they have. “Are you sick? You sound a bit strange.” asks Grzes. “No I am not. Everything is fine. Everybody is fine, me, Stefan and Alicja.” This time I am not hiding anything. We are perfectly fine. I guess my voice must be distorted by the connection. We are already talking longer than the last time. I can feel the toughness of this fieldwork and that the extra seconds are really needed this time. He needs those few seconds more hearing my voice to be able to go on right now. “I love you. I miss you. Tell Stefan. Bye!” Grzes realizes he can’t talk as long as he wants. “I will. Bye!”
Two minutes this time. And he called a day before we said he would. All that makes it very clear to me it is very hard right now. I cannot imagine. I thought some of our trips were hard and he would not even notice. I am not a couch potato, I like hiking, and a bit of a challenge. But I would rather not freeze, go on without water or food or shower, unless unavoidable.

I did not enjoy the late autumn rainy days with the cold wind, when the sun was not as strong anymore and your hands would freeze without gloves. I remember we went with some friends during university times. We were all cold, tired and hungry. All sitting down already with no will to move around anymore and waiting for Grzes to get to his senses and lead us to the bus stop from which we could reach civilization with hot showers and food. But he did not pay attention to us. He said about three hours ago there were some amphibians with names that escaped me (obviously they are not repeated often enough in our household) underneath these stones, and was still looking for them. Until he found them and we could finally go and eat! I also did not enjoy summer heat, with no water, and no shower. Until I found my first dinosaur bone. This is a way to get addicted indeed. But still, if say my whole body is hurting from hiking, I have a hard time taking pleasure in looking at a karst spring and listening to its geology. Oh yes! This name, Polish “wywierzysko”, will never escape my memory. It is bound to our first holidays together and our first and biggest quarrel on the topic of what holidays should look like.

I decided to try and make a blog post instead of them.

Wednesday, 19 August

“What is the weather today?”. Stefan’s super simple songs really stick to me. Whether I want it or not I sign them the whole day. “I have a pet. He is a dog and he says hau hau hau”. Lalala! My dog talks Polish. Oh! I am SO glad Grzes showed me this resource. I was very much against small kids watching anything but I thought each parent should do what they feel is right. Thank God I know the links now and which ones were the favorite songs. It changes all the time actually and now that Stefan can say “yes” and “no” it is very easy to understand what is popular.

According to one of my favorite parenting resources, the duck comic from Fowl Language, with the first kid you show them only educational programs with positive role models. From the second one the answer to the question “what does you kid watch?” is “I dunno. Whatever the oldest one’s watching I guess”. My starting point was that kids should not watch television, phones, or computers at all. But at least we are still educational and the duck parent tells me it is very good. And actually studies seem to suggest that as long as you watch television (Internet these days I guess) selectively, it is not bad but develops imagination for example. Although too much exposure is clearly not good, even linked to increased risks of dementia in older ages. I guess too much meaning the point when you are no longer selecting anything anymore. And actually light emitted by the screens is not good for anyone’s sleep, which I am sure is not something you want to hear. I got really side-tracked again.

So what is the weather? Right now in Uppsala much better! I was wondering for the whole week how is it on Greenland. I tried to check online weather forecasts but I have a hard time finding a place that has a forecast and seems close to Cap Stosch or Celsius Bjerg. But many of the places I do find seem quite sunny. I wonder if the weather is better now?

At lunchtime I decided to contact the person from the Swedish Polar Research that organized this expedition. I am starting to think too much about why Grzes did not call yet this week. They are probably too busy but I like to solve problems as soon as I recognize them. I have been in Sweden long enough to wait until 13. Magnus is in the car right now but promises to get back to me. He does, I am taking the call during the meeting with my group, I want to know right away! Everything is fine, they moved the camp. “Is the weather better?” I ask. Magnus is laughing. “It is Greenland.’’ Right. I knew that. I still do not really understand what that means I suppose.

We are all becoming quite tired and restless, counting down the days for dad to come home. In the evening when I try to put Stefan to sleep he keeps complaining he wants to get out of the bedroom. “Do you want to put the cuckoo to sleep?’” “Tiaaaa” says Stefan, meaning “tak”, Polish “yes” and Swedish “thank you” but the latter meaning he does not know yet. I wonder how much time it will take before he teaches me Swedish. I forgot to put the cuckoo from our cockoo clock to sleep with him, meaning stop the clock. I am forgetting more and more. I also forgot to brush the teeth… Eh! I used to get mad when Grzes forgot it. We put the cuckoo to sleep. We said goodbye to the monkeys. Stefan patted the dragon goodnight. But this is all not enough. He runs to the bed we bought for him where the carousel is, I put him in and he turns it on and starts to jump holding the rungs. I notice just now that the bed is actually almost completely filled with things I was supposed to put back into their place but never took the time, piling up dried laundry, toys, a letter from the hospital, Internet bill, soap bubbles. No, I am not the perfect housewife. Daddy we need you!

‘”Stefan do you want to watch a story?” “TIAAAA!!!” the answer to this question has never been different. I give up. He watches a few songs and then always turns back to me to go to sleep. I don’t have the energy for anything else right now. I take the phone.

20.19 (missed call)
20.20 (missed call)

Crap! I missed two calls from Grzes. Crap! crap! CRAP! Oh, I should have left the bedroom when Stefan wanted to and not half an hour later, I would have heard them! I don’t take phone with me when we go to sleep because if Stefan sees it and it always ends up with watching songs and I do not want that to be a sleeping routine.

20.27 (35 seconds)

I call back and record a strange Polish-English message that everything is OK. I am not sure why I did that. I probably should not have… This number might only be for emergencies. I definitely should not have done that! Oh no… I am starting to behave like a teenager that calls the person they like ten times to say it was actually nothing. I wonder what is it going to cost…? Oh, why did I do that?!

We start watching the songs.

20.44 (2 minutes)

DADDY calling! Hurray!!! Stefan cannot believe it. He gets very happy, than very nervous. He wants to disconnect the call, which is quite normal. He wants to breastfeed, which means he feels overwhelming emotions. We keep talking and Stefan is sucking and listening with eyes wide open. Same procedure as last time. “Everything is fine. I love you. We are waiting.” I do not need to say anything in particular. It is about hearing the voice. “Papa Stefcio!” says Grzes. Stefan stops breastfeeding and is smiling from one ear to the other one. Then he gets confused again and goes back to breastfeeding. Oh I really want Grzes to be back now. We need him! I could see it in Stefan’s behavior and now I can feel it clearly. It was good to talk. I think I will cook for tomorrow when Stefan finally goes to sleep. I started to skip it last days, I felt like I am too tired. Alicja always compensates for whatever it is that I do not manage, I am so lucky!

I specifically asked if there were some exciting findings. Grzes said I should not worry. I never do actually, he always finds something very exciting. Some say it is luck. I do not believe that. Of course you need a bit of luck but it comes to people who are prepared for it. And the point is that it is those who do not give up that get what they want. To not give up you have to believe that what you do makes sense. This conviction comes from knowledge and experience. Or being young! You have to manage to stay like most kids are. Stubborn. If you really want something, never give up!

When kids are one and a half to two years many people say it is the age of rebellion. I think you can call it the age of discovery. Kids are fearless, stubborn and they do not take ‘no’ for an answer. People say that they love to say ‘no’ themselves all the time but I hear ‘yes’ just as often. So I guess that really depends on the questions you ask. There are the usual entertainments, like: “Stefan shall we go and find the magpies?” “Tiaaa”. There are also opportunities you never miss, like: “Stefan, do you want to go and see the fans?” “TIAAA!!!.” It is only when you offer something absolutely unnecessary, like the gloves not to get cold, or water not to get thirsty, when you hear short and very firm “Ne!”.  Hmm… Where did I hear this one before? In my observation, the range of creativity when it comes to achieving the goals expands greatly at this age. Standing in the way is not pleasant for anyone and supporting the endeavours requires true diplomatic skills.

I can’t wait to hear more about what they found. I feel part of this expedition in a way. We are doing our best with Stefan and Alicja to make it all work.

Thursday, 20 August

I had a quick look at the weather one last time. I am not really sure where to check it. I clicked Tasiilaq, in Sermersooq region, on yr.no. It shows 9 degrees and full sun for today with a gentle breeze. Looks great! Tomorrow though, 6 degrees and rain. Tasiilaq is quite a long way south of Celsius Bjerg though. I look at the forecast for Daneborg in weather underground that my dad sent me:  3 degrees and sun. Tomorrow 2 degrees, on Saturday 1 and snow. Daneborg is north of where I think they are right now. Well, take your pick! We will find out soon what it was really like.

Henning, Ben and Grzes will be back to normal phone coverage in 5 days, so I stop here. For two obvious reasons. Firstly because it is only five days, secondly because technically it is only four days now and my mom shift starts at 6.30. They can correct all my mistakes and fill in whatever might be left out by three two-minute conversations!


I am not sure whose idea was it to have a blog but I would like to stress again I am just filling in during the break. I hope Henning, Ben or Grzegorz can write something about how it really was! I would like to thank Per Ahlberg, Daniel Snitting, Anneli Waara, Åke, Maciek Makowski, Piotr Zaremba and Anna Zaremba for help with preparing this blog update.