The Students on Ice (www.studentsonice.com) expedition consisted of more than 100 students and scientists from around the world. I was fortunate enough to be awarded a Filter For Good grant by Brita (www.filterforgood.ca). As stated in an earlier blog entry, Filter for Good is a program designed to educate Canadians on the impacts of bottled water waste.
The people on the team that accompanied me on this expedition are some of the most incredible people I’ve met. The diverse animal life we encountered was so awe-inspiring and magnetic, we all wanted to see them at close range. On one particular Zodiac boat ride, after exploring the sea for about 10 minutes, we spotted a huge group of walruses just sitting on a very small piece of ice. As we slowly drifted towards them, we eventually ended up just 100 feet away.
The next highlight was the so-called “King of the Arctic,” a giant white polar bear. As it consumed the remaining carcass of an unfortunate seal, I just sat there for a long time and admired the majestic presence of such an amazing animal in its natural habitat. It then dawned on me how fragile life of any kind really is on our planet.
Not many of us realize that the world around us is not just a place for us humans, it’s our ONLY home and one that also belongs to animals as well. By destroying it, we put our lives and those of future living generations in grave danger. I compare it to setting one’s house on fire and slowly watching it burn down. The only difference is that we are still in the house and there is nowhere else to go. If the house goes, so do we all.
On an average day during the expedition, we were woken up at 7:30 am, had breakfast and began our trek. The most important thing to realize about the Arctic zone is almost too obvious: the cold. Even in the middle of summer, it can freeze if you don’t dress warmly, especially at night, and many of my colleagues were bundled up to keep warm. I love the cold, so this was just perfect weather for me.
Besides the treks, lectures, zodiac boat trips, and the participation in the lives of the people of the northern communities, what else can one do in the chilly summer weather? Go swimming, of course. Yes, you read correctly. We went swimming. I am justifiably proud to say that I was the second person on the expedition to go into the frigid water but the first to get my entire body underwater. Of course, the water was freezing. It was so cold that when I surfaced, I could barely breathe. After a while, my body got used to the temperature and it actually became a lot of fun. I went in three times at intervals because if you stay in too long, you can actually get hypothermia. We all screamed with both outright excitement and downright pain from the numbness in our bones.
Culturally, I was most impressed with the towns and communities we visited throughout the expedition. We stopped in a village called Kimmirut in the eastern part of Nunavut Territory, north of Quebec. Inhabited by about 450 people, it has two convenience stores, one school, one daycare, one souvenir shop and a few other buildings on the town’s main street.
As we were walking back to shore, we saw a local hunter with a seal he had caught, cutting and sharing the meat with the entire community. He told me that every time someone catches an animal, the entire village shares it to symbolize the importance of unity. The hunter explained that it was a long-standing tradition that existed for as long as he could remember. If we could apply that philosophy with the rest of the world, we could eradicate a lot of suffering and injustices at the moment. That was an unexpected but real learning experience for all of us.
Over the course of the expedition, the participants really bonded and became very close. We truly became a family and I will definitely miss Geoff Green, our expedition leader, waking us up every morning over the intercom with, “Good Morning, Students Ooooon Ice!” I will also miss Travis’ funny wisecracks, Vino’s crazy impressions, and everyone’s willingness to help. The expedition staff was incredibly supportive, very knowledgeable and always there to answer any question you had.
But as they say, all good things must come to an end. I learned so much on this trip, about myself and my surroundings and specifically the interplay of our actions on the environment. Being able to experience such raw beauty is inspiring and really makes you think about how important it is to protect our planet and not take it for granted. I am sincere when saying that I want to take even greater action in my endeavours to include environmental causes with my commitment to other social issues. I strongly believe they are not independent of each other, but very much interconnected.
This expedition has been an eye, soul, and mind opening experience for me and I will remember it for the rest of my life. I would sincerely like to thank Brita and Students On Ice for enabling me to participate and hopefully contribute to this remarkable journey and enlightening experience. As they say in Inuktitut, the Aboriginal language of the region, “Qujannamiik” (Koo – Ya – Na – Meek).
“Together We Can Make A Difference”