BELARE 2006/2007 - Presentation of the team (part 1)

By now, you must be getting a little curious about the people on this crazy expedition, who they are what drives them, why are they taking so much punishment? Hobby or passion? Insanity or masochism? So dear reader, to abate your unhealthy curiousity, I have compiled a short introduction to the protagonists in the Utsteinen Saga, with more to follow from the Coast Expeditionary Party, when they get here.


I like to think of myself (Nighat Johnson-Amin) as the Supreme Chief Commander in Chief of the Utsteinen Base Camp, and its environs. All living beings in these dominions are subject to my will. However, since I lost my voice, this has become a purely Honorific Title with little power attached. I am often, like every good Queen Bee, to be found lazing in my den waiting to be fed.

If anyone is interested we have, like all well briefed expeditionaries, brought along reading material - mine is the life and times of a 15th century prince from Ferghana - not exactly a rollicking good read. Should have gone with "Ice Station Zebra" instead of trying to improve my mind ...

Next is the one person who we are always trying to endear ourselves to: Vaska Van Beneden, our Chief Medic in Chief and the one who looks after us all to make sure we eat and clean behind our ears, and who tends to our cuts and bruises. Vaska has seen active service in the military for yonks as they used to say back in the old days. He has a no nonsense approach and this piercing blue look, from which you can hide no misdemeanour. The Military Boys also have this super duper rubberised computer which looks like it could bounce: unbreakable, unshakeable little thing in army greens, called Rocky. We listen to the Rolling Stones on it while Vaska cooks the evening meal on our two MSR Whispalite stoves.

The other Military Boy is Dieter Callaert aka "Callie" aka "D2", from the Engineering Brigade. He passed his exams to become an officer less than an hour before he was selected to go to the Antarctic - an opportunity he jumped at. This is something he has been dreaming of since finishing at the National Geographic Institute, where he met Derwael (after who the ice rise in Breid Bay is named). Dieter's youth and soft and kind exterior hides his incredible personal strength. We are lucky to have him on board. He will do a complete survey of the area using the Leica D-GPS system - we hope that this can lead to improved maps of the region, something we would dearly like to have.

Currently reading "A Winter in Antarctica" the story of a young baker's lad recruitted to go to the Antarctic with Adrien de Gerlach, in 1897.

Jos from the Kingdom of Heaven. Jos Van Hemelryck loves the Antarctic, and knows all her stories. He is having a great time doing boy scout things like playing with sledges, making igloos, and nursing a smelly fish in a pot. I truly believe he expects us to eat that thing at some juncture, as he has been tasting it himself. Jos is also sporting the badges of honour of all small boys, the assorted bandages that show that he has had a few scrapes with the surrounding environment. Occasionally the cinematograph in him gets the upper hand and he is off like a bloodhound after a good story.

Jos is currently reading about six books, with the one in focus at the moment being Tim Moore's "Icicles on my Mustache", which Jos finds very disappointing. He should have stuck to "Ice Station Zebra" too.

Johan Berte is in his element, never happier than when improving "the design". Supreme Chief Ops Chief, he has quickly set up his HQ, where he even has a printer and scanner - in a tent, I ask you!! He is giving orders long distance to the design team in Brussels. Yes, we have e-mail, but this is only for work related messages. Johan also has the greatest repertoire of sound effects which provide our daily doings with a Loony Tunes sound track.

Currently reading: "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", by Douglas Adams. Very appropriate for our current interstellar location.

Damien Ertz, as our Chief scientific officer, has to put up with a lot. He has slid into rustic life in the Antarctic without too much difficulty for a young lad with little experience outside the Botanical Gardens in Meise where he can be ordinarily found. He has a solitary disposition, often out on long solitary walks around the nunatak in search of elusive life forms. However, his seemingly dreamy introverted exterior hides a mordant wit.

Damien is currently reading Helen Bonner's "No reason to die", which he claims is a work of fiction.

Dieter Dedecker, Dieter 1, D 1, is a cool dude, who has an intense relationship with the image. He can be seen lugging his gear (the tripod alone weighs 18kgs!) about the countryside, as we are saving fuel and skidoo trips are restricted to essentials. Never angry, never down, Dieter 1 has a well of optimism which ithose of a habitually more wary nature would find totally incomprehensible. But it works for him, and he is always friendly and good-humoured, and all those good vibes keep him young. I doubt anyone can guess how old he is.

Currently reading not much as his reading material is all under his matress to even out the ice bumps, and besides if you try to read in your tent at -12°C you can expect your hands to freeze into claws which make page turning a bit of a challenge.

Vincent Piret from Aeriane, is also another Antarctic neophyte. An electronic engineer and a passionate designer of ultra light aircraft, his know how is helping Johan to design detailed elements of the Base, as well as to complete the electronic integration. He is handling the experience well, and is always helpful and ready to pitch in when something has to be done. As the traverse from the Coast has been delayed, the work of setting up the first wind turbine that he was meant to do, has been much delayed. If all goes according to plan, and the containers arrive on Sunday, he will be too busy to help anyone.

His take on the Antarctic: "What I like here is light. It's incredible. It looks like a Photoshop file". Currently reading: "Windy Boy - Inverter for Wind Energy Power Plant."

Vaska is calling from the kitchen so lunch is ready.