From Far Away

I almost didn’t take the call. In fact I almost hung up the phone. When my behemoth, construction worker cell phone started to vibrate on my desk in the middle of the day I thought “Who is calling me while I’m at work?” The twelve digit phone number was a question in and of itself. Against my better judgment, I pressed “talk”

“Hello?” I said to silence.

“Hello?” I repeated, waiting a beat to conclude it was a telemarketer. The moment I was about to pull the phone away from my ear to press “end call”, I heard the words that only one person in my life ever says.

“The Great Unwashed”

There is exactly one person in this whole world who loves to say my full name as much as I do.

“Sula!” I half cried and half cheered into the phone. Then my words became a hurried conjoined sentence as my brain tried to right itself from the surprise of hearing that voice, her voice, the one I had been missing for nearly a month; “Imissyousomuch.Icantbelieveyou’recallingme.HowistheArctic?”

“What?” My beloved friend yelled from across the frozen country.

“HowistheArctic?” I repeated.

“You have to talk slower it’s a satellite phone.” She explained, her words staccato stripes through the crackly connection.

“How is the Arctic?” I repeated slower this time, my brain which was slowly catching up to the situation was able to process instructions and the limitations of incredible, new technology which allowed me to hear my friend’s voice over a distance of thousands of uninhabited desolate kilometers.

“It’s cold.” Sula laughed, “It snowed today.”

Knowing how badly that would affect her work and research, I apologized, then my brain finally recognized that I was talking to my cherished friend who was in THE ARCTIC, and blurted out another rushed sentence; Areyousafe? Isthecrewsafe?

“Orry?” Her voice, went in and out over the tenuous connection.

“Are you safe?” I enunciated loudly.

“Yes, I’m safe.” She replied.

“Is the crew safe?” I asked more tentatively, not wanting to hope too hard that she and thus we could possibly be that fortunate.

“Yes, we’re all fine and getting along.” She laughed in the way that only someone who understands how to foster easy camaraderie in the most terrible of conditions can.

A small lump formed in my throat from relief and joy at these last two statements, but then I remembered the sight of my friend’s hands when she returned from our true Great North last summer. The rippling scars that crisscrossed her skin, from small cuts received in the field, which in the cold climate that prevented adequate circulation, were unable to heal. “How are your hands and feet?” I asked worriedly.

“They’re fine.” She assured me.

Next she inquired about my medical condition. Last year, when life was hard, but truly just its run of the mill self, I didn’t warrant such luxuries as the sound of Sula’s voice from the middle of the tundra. Especially in the midst of antenna problems, this made already tenuous connections nearly impossible to keep. This year, an improved antenna bought me just under ten minutes of short shouted statements. I was elated.

I stayed late at work that night, and puttered about at home for an hour or so before I realized- I hadn’t called Sula’s mom, Mrs. Jackson. I rushed to the outlet where my cell phone was charging, the effort of holding the connection with the satellite phone having exhausted the battery.

“I talked to her today, she’s safe.” The words tumbled out of my mouth, I was so eager for Mrs. Jackson to feel my relief. While she’s in the Arctic, Sula and her crew are busy and although occasional calls home are permitted, they’re expensive – think 1960’s trans-Atlantic phone rates but adjusted for inflation. I had received one of her two monthly calls, thus it was my job to share the good news with everyone important in her life; for today Sula is safe, and her crew is safe.

Sula loves her work and is successful. Thus being her biggest fan (next to her Mom of course) I love and support her work too. That being said, sometimes being the person who is left, the one who can only worry about cold and polar bear visits and all of the other dangers that are inherent to the Arctic and thus Sula’s work, is hard at times, which is why short conversations, the knowledge that for the moment she is safe, are reassuring. Sula, ever the adventurer counts down until she leaves for the Arctic, the rest of us count the days until she returns. Safe travels my friend, 44 day until you are home once again.

I Count April Rain Showers Towards My Monthly Bathing Tally

The following is an interaction I had with my coworker after I told her about the name of my blog.

The Great Unwashed– “So basically it’s named that because I’m always dirty.”

Coworker who had been amused by the blog talk up until this point, looks at me serious and wide eyed. “But you do bathe right?”

The Great Unwashed debates answering honestly and waits just a second too long to reply.

Coworker stares me down “You must bathe.”

This seemed like less of a question and more of a reminder.

Add some curly blonde hair and you have me in July. (Photo Credit :

Add some blonde hair and you have me in July. (Photo Credit :

The Great Unwashed Voice “Well ish. Sometimes. Actually not really; in the summer I morph into a curly haired clod of dirt. ”

The Great Unwashed Voice At Work thinks -I’m receiving a panicked look, I should probably give an answer that adheres to social mores to calm my coworker. Hence I emphatically say “Of course” and watch as my coworker visibly relaxes.

I can commit to showering once every seventy-five years. (Photo Credit :

I can safely commit to showering once every seventy-five years. (Photo Credit :

While it’s a given with my family that I will only shower for special events like the Pope visiting or the appearances of Halley’s Comet, I forget that the rest of the world isn’t as accustomed to this. Last winter while staying in a swanky pants hotel my sister, upon seeing me emerge from the bathroom in a towel asked “What’s the occasion?”

In my social circle I’ve been known to put off hopping into the tub until the last possible second, because there comes a time, around the six or seventh day after your last shower, when it’s easier to live in your own grease because the amount of effort one has to expend to clean oneself feels almost too much. At home my mother seems to sense when this critical dirt mass moment is approaching and tries to veer me off my Unwashed path.

The reminders begin early in the morning “You need to shower today.” Then later on they continue when my mother urges me to “Think about showering at some point.” These types of prompts will increase in frequency until my mother all but throws me and my curls-cum-greaselocks* under a faucet of some sort. Surprisingly it would seem that this sort of behaviour is not welcome in the workplace.


*This was the first time I used that particular three letter preposition. As always, I googled to ensure I was using it correctly. Having typed in the word into the Google search bar, I was all set to click “enter” when I thought, “Wait Unwashed, that’s not going to bring you the result you are hoping for”. Hence I was forced to sit and determine what type of word “cum” was. For everyone out there who isn’t interested in dirty pictures on the internet, it’s a preposition.