On Orange Juice, Pizza & Other Comfort Foods

Erik Boomer
Responsible Leadership

Eirliani Abdul Rahman is a diplomat turned activist. To raise awareness for survivors of sexual child abuse, she is setting out for an expedition to Antarctica in December 2018. Eirliani will document her inner and outer struggles as she is preparing for this trip, pulling a sled with 200 pounds in food and gear, in temperatures dipping to minus 48 degrees Celsius. She is not new to dealing with harsh conditions, having trained in gale force winds in Arctic Canada in March 2017.

This is a series about Eirliani’s personal leadership journey.

I was never much of a fan of orange juice, but on this day, it was all I could think about. It made my mouth water: the thought of freshly squeezed orange juice, pulp and all – preferably with ice – in a nice, tall glass.

Oh, what I would have done for a drink of OJ!

Eirliani Abdul RahmanNGO Yakin

Eirliani Abdul Rahman

Eirliani Abdul Rahman is preparing for a 700-mile ski trip to the South Pole in December 2018 to raise awareness for child sexual abuse survivors. She is the co-founder of YAKIN (Youth, Adult Survivors & Kin In Need), an NGO working on children’s rights and child protection, and a member of Twitter’s Safety & Trust Council. She serves as director at the Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation and is a member of the Global Diplomacy Lab.

In 2015, she led a successful campaign of the NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan (“Save the Childhood Movement”) founded by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Kailash Satyarthi called #FullStop to #childsexualabuse in India, which reached 16 million people over 6 weeks. Eirliani is co-author of the book “Survivors: Breaking the Silence on Child Sexual Abuse.” She won the BMW Foundation Responsible Leaders Award in 2015.

I was pulling a sled, laden with food, my sleeping system and group gear, weighing about 55.1 lbs (25 kg).

It was coming to the end of our 2-week extreme polar training on the frozen Frobisher Bay and Hudson Strait, just off Baffin Island in Nunavut, Arctic Canada. The temperature had ranged from -18.4 degrees F (-27 degrees C) to -54.4 degrees F (-48 degrees C). I was unwashed, irritable and exhausted.

I had told my instructors my profound desire for orange juice upon my return to civilization. They nodded brightly at me, and then they took off on their snow mobiles. I watched their figures recede into the distance, and then turned to look at my team mates. “It’s just us three and the ice,” I said.

In the first week, we camped outdoors on the frozen ocean but took our meals indoors.

In the second week, we ate freeze dried expedition food, dried food and cheese every day.

I was craving fresh fruit and vegetables by day five.

Henry Worseley, a former SAS Commando who had attempted a solo traverse of Antarctica in 2016, on one of his radio broadcasts highlighted the food that he missed while on Antarctica: “Fish pie, brown bread, double cream, steaks and chips, more chips, smoked salmon, baked potato, eggs, rice pudding, Dairy Milk chocolate, tomatoes, bananas, apples, anchovies, Shredded Wheat, Weetabix, brown sugar, peanut butter, honey, toast, pasta, pizza and pizza. Ahhhhh!”

Eirliani is used to harsh conditions and cold temperatures.
Cross-country skiing for as much as eight hours a day really takes it out of you. The body needs no less than 5000 calories a day in such harsh conditions. Erik Boomer

By the last night on the ice, I had run out of hot chocolate – what a disaster! – and we were swapping our packets of freeze dried food products. I did not fancy eating curry with rice, so I swapped mine for spaghetti bolognese.

Mine was a bigger packet, meant to be shared with two people, I argued, so it made for a bargain. The deal was closed, both parties happy and retreating to their respective corners of the tent to eat.

"The food stuff that I would not touch earlier in the week - dried figs, dried mango and sausage meat - I would now devour, so hungry was I."
Eirliani Abdul Rahman

At the beginning, you’d wonder why you had brought as much food as you had – our daily rations amounted to 2.2 lbs (1 kg). We are supposed to consume 5000 calories per day.

But towards the end of the week, you wished you had brought more as cross-country skiing for as much as eight hours a day under occasional white out conditions and gale force winds took it out of you. The food stuff that I would not touch earlier in the week – dried figs, dried mango and sausage meat – I would now devour, so hungry was I.

The British polar explorer, Ernest Shackleton, wrote during the Nimrod expedition (1907 to 1909): “How one wishes for time and unlimited provisions. Then indeed we could penetrate the secrets of this great lonely continent.”

Alfred Lansing, in his epic book “Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage,” described Shackleton’s longings as thus: “One has very few other longings for civilization – good bread and butter, Munich beer, Coromandel rock oysters, apple pie and Devonshire cream are pleasant reminiscences rather than longings.” 

On the last day, as we trudged wearily along, the shore of Frobisher Bay and the town of Iqaluit finally within sight, the image of freshly cut watermelon and orange juice propelled me forward. I slid one ski in front of the other. Onward, just one more hour, I kept telling myself, one more.

Incredibly, my instructors had laid out orange juice for my return: a jug of cold, icy OJ with a slice or two of said fruit, and glasses. I could not believe my luck. I gulped down two glasses without as much as drawing a breath in between.

Orange juice had never tasted so good.

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