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Profile of Eirliani taken in Nunavut, Arctic Canada, March 2017. Photo credit: Erik Boomer

Why the North Pole?

I loved reading as a child.

When I was ten, we had a small library at the back of the classroom where we were allowed to read once we had finished our class assignment. I would hurry through my work, hand it in to the teacher, skip happily to the back and plonk myself down. Sighing contentedly, I would pull out a dog-eared book from the shelf and read.

It was here that I, a girl who had not once left tropical Singapore, discovered snowy Antarctica and read about the ill-fated expedition by Robert Falcon Scott in 1912. What struck me then was the ultimate sacrifice made by Captain Lawrence Oates, walking out of his tent into a blizzard, aware that his gangrene-infected feet were slowing down the team’s progress and his team mates’ chances at survival. His words, as immortalized in Scott’s diary, haunted me: “I am just going outside and may be some time.”

It was the noblest thing I had ever come across.

When I became a diplomat with the Singapore Foreign Service and from my dealings then with the media, I learnt that people love a kooky story. And what stranger a story than a former diplomat from a tropical island wanting to ski to one of the Poles! I announced it by writing about it in my usual column in the Outdoor Journal, where I wrote about my adventures rock climbing and mountaineering in the Himalayas, and was, quite frankly, taken aback by the reaction.

Several former colleagues in the Singapore Foreign Service immediately shared the post on Facebook, and friends in the Singapore media picked it up. I was interviewed by Channel News Asia, an Asian cable news agency which broadcasts in some 22 countries, and The Straits Times, Singapore’s main broadsheet. Berita Harian, a Malay language newspaper carried a story on me, while the Singapore Magazine, published by the Singapore International Foundation, which seeks to strengthen cross-cultural ties, did a feature story.

What is your training like?

I trained with Matty McNair who holds the world record for the fastest ski expedition to the North Pole: completing it in 36 days. Her daughter, Sarah McNair-Landry, who is in her early 30s, was the first woman to be recognized by the International Polar Guides Association as a Master Polar Guide. In 2007, Sarah, along with her older brother, Eric, was nominated for the National Geographic’s “Adventurer of the Year” Award and named one of the “Top Ten Women in Adventure” by National Geographic Adventure Magazine.

We trained on Frobisher Bay, off Baffin Island, in Nunavut, Arctic Canada. After five days of intense training, comprising workshops on survival and navigational skills during the day, and camping out on the ice on night, we were ready to head out for a week on the ice, skiing out of Frobisher Bay which is like a cozy inlet, and out to the Hudson Strait, which is off the province of Quebec.

I remember crossing the Hudson Strait under gale force winds and thinking, oh boy, I’m not sure I’m prepared for this! The wind was roaring right across my face, we couldn’t hear anything above its roar and I just wanted to ski as fast as possible out of the winds, but was dragging a sled laden with food and gear, as part of my training, and so it slowed me down. It was March 2017 and it was my first time being harnessed to a weighted sled and it took some getting used to.

I think witnessing the beauty of the aurora borealis makes up for the tiredness and the frigid cold. I would always head out of the tent at 10pm every night for a last toilet break, and Eva, my team mate would say to me, “Look up, look at the sky!” and teeth chattering, I would look up for a few seconds and think something along the lines of: gosh-this-is-just-incredibly-beautiful-but-I-am-frozen-solid, so would quickly shuffle back to the tent.

What is tough about skiing in the Arctic? What is beautiful about it?

For me, ironically, it isn’t the cold but the sheer monotony of seeing white-on-white with hardly any distinguishing features in the landscape. The most challenging days are when the sky is cloudy and there aren’t that many shadows or depth visually, and so it is hard to discern what’s ahead. If you’re lucky, you might see some kelp or seaweed through the frozen ice which jolts you into realizing you’re skiing on a frozen ocean.

If you’re nearing land, the sea ice would get broken up into large mini icebergs and it gets rough. That’s when I’m most mentally engaged as I try to negotiate a path through smooth ice where my skis would slide, and large chunks of aforementioned ice. My sled would get stuck behind a rock of ice, and I would heave and pull to get it out of that spot. It is hard work.

I love it when I see wildlife. Once, in March 2017, an arctic fox ran alongside my team mates and I for a while but I wasn’t enthralled when I learnt later that arctic foxes typically run towards polar bear kills to scavenge for food! I wasn’t in the least bit interested in meeting a live polar bear. I did meet a dead teenaged one pulled by an Inuit on a snow mobile. He had driven up to us, concerned that we hadn’t known that there was a blizzard coming. We were aware, we told him, we are out training. The poor man drove away, puzzled.

Eirliani, crossing the Hudson Strait in Arctic Canada in March 2017. Photo credit: Erik Boomer
 Eirliani’s tent out on the ice in the Canadian Arctic, April 2018. Photo credit: Sarah McNair-Landry
Ploughing through the wind, Arctic Canada, April 2018. Photo credit: Sarah McNair-Landry
Rough ice out in Nunavut, Arctic Canada, April 2018. Photo credit: Sarah McNair-Landry
Eirliani pulling her sled over the rough ice in Nunavut, Arctic Canada, April 2018. Photo credit: Erik Boomer

Why are you doing this?

I believe that everyone can do their part to get involved and prevent child sexual abuse. In the US where I’m currently based, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys have been sexually abused. According to the US Department of Justice, 100,000 to 300,000 children every year are at risk of being trafficked for sex in the US.

If you want to learn about how to keep your children safe online, and/or you are healing from sexual abuse as a child, or knows someone who is, please read my articles on Huffington Post. I also write about how to disclose to a loved one about your sexual abuse, or if you are on the receiving end, how to support your loved one after he/she has disclosed to you.

You can also pick up a copy of my book Survivors: Breaking the Silence on Child Sexual Abuse. I co-wrote it with Prof Daniel Fung, Chairman, Medical Board of the Singapore. It was published in November 2017 by Marshall Cavendish and is now in its second print run. This comprises the true accounts by 12 survivors from Germany, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Singapore, South Africa, the UK and the US. There’s a tale of two sisters who were abused by the same teacher in school. One sister later committed suicide. There’s a girl who was abused by her elder brother, another by her father, yet another by her cousin. There are men who were sexually assaulted by their mothers or grandmothers, priests, neighbors, uncles and family friends.

They are telling their stories because they hope that what had happened to them, and their respective healing journeys will give hope to others, and also to their loved ones. And it is not all doom and gloom. There’s laughter and wit in there, and where there’s closure, there is also hope.

Tell us more about this North Pole expedition

I’m excited about putting the word out and getting people to break the taboo about child sexual abuse. I hope to have a live tweet chat at Camp Barneo where the Russian ice base is, with children and youth from around the world to talk about child online safety, and also polar exploration.

I’m trying to raise US$15,500: https://gogetfunding.com/lins-100-mile-ski-to-the-north-pole/#story . The money raised will go towards the cost of the expedition to the North Pole. I have already raised US$35,000 by using my savings and surrendering an insurance policy.

Anything raised beyond $15,500 will go towards YAKIN (Youth, Adult survivors & Kin In Need), a not-for-profit that I set up with Prof Daniel Fung in Singapore. I hope to continue the book readings this year. I’m also working on a graphic novel project curated for children for children. I’m hoping that this would be a useful tool to help children disclose cases of their own sexual abuse to trusted adults. There will also be an accompanying guide for parents, guardians and educators. I’ve done two focus groups on this in Singapore, and hope to do a pilot in Nairobi, Kenya and Kasur, Pakistan this year.

Do follow my journey on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @eirliani!

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