I’ve been going to one end of a pool — or overseas location — and coming back again for my whole life. Perhaps my existence should be characterized as a series of laps instead of years.
— Nancy Stearns Bercaw, DRYLAND
Sixteen nights from now, I will wake up to a brand new Arabian day in my beloved Dryland. Almost two years ago to the day, we left Abu Dhabi and I was left wondering if I’d return to the United Arab Emirates one day. I had a new job in Vermont, more grand babies to love, and a whole book yet to write, so the idea of landing on the shores of the Arabian Gulf ever again seemed highly unlikely.
But if you know me at all, then you know that the more unlikely or impossible something is inevitably increases the likelihood and possibly that I will eventually pursue it. Case in point: having a child. One day after I’d finally made the absolute decision not to procreate, I came to the opposite conclusion and acted on it. Nine months later, David was born. This recurring phenomena is what I like to refer to as the “irony and ecstasy” of my life. (Happy Father’s Day to my love Allan who not only puts up with this chaotic style of living, but fully embraces each and every ambiguity.)
So now it’s high time (and tide) for me to take another “lap” across the Atlantic Ocean. I used to prefer the Pacific route, but I’ve fixated on the other direction for years. During the last year in Vermont, I swam back and forth in an actual pool to keep my restless blood flowing and feed my desire for daily victories — which are no longer rewarded with trophy-shapped cocktail and wine glasses.
Swimming and drinking always seemed to be a salve for the far reaches of sadness inside of me. A “Sea of Lonely” as I used to refer to that sub-conscience terrain. After I quit drinking, my interest in swimming ramped up considerably. But a few first-place wins and a couple of top national rankings quickly satiated what was left of that liquid beast too. Nowadays, I like swimming because it feels good, not for the promise of gold medals.
For the most part, my Sea of Lonely has been quelled by sobriety and flip turns. And it’s clear to me that my current desire to head back to a desert known as the Empty Quarter comes from genuine affection for the landscape and the people — as well as the incredible career opportunity that awaits in the Emirate of Ajman — not a sudden thirst to fill any lingering abyss.
A few months ago, I accepted an offer from Ajman University of Science and Technology to serve as Chief of Staff. I will work alongside the Chancellor and his team of directors (many female) to help carry out the strategic plan, and ensure that the University continues to beam as a remarkable place to live, learn and work. Indeed, AU’s core values are very much in sync with my own perosnal missions:
- Excellence: All AU activities are conducted with strong emphasis oninternational quality standards.
- Integrity: AU adheres to the principles of honesty, trustworthiness, reliability, transparency and accountability.
- Inclusiveness: AU embraces shared governance, inspires tolerance, and promotes diversity.
- Social Responsibility: AU promotes community engagement, environmental sustainability, and global citizenship. It also promotes awareness of, and support for, the needs and challenges of the local and global communities.
- Innovation: AU supports creative activities that approach challenges and issues from multiple perspectives in order to find solutions and advance knowledge.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the “irony and esctasy” of this situation. Two decades as a woman at the staff level in American higher education never resulted in very much ascention through the ranks. The glass ceiling always felt heavy on me, as if I were in a fishtank with the top glued down. I simply could not jump out of my “place” in U.S. academia no matter how much effort I logged or how many accomplishments I accumulated.
But the nation of the United Arab Emirates, commencing with my work at Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi three years ago, seems keen to let me rise and shine. The recruiting team at Ajman Univesity saw my wide ranging skills — in communications, accreditiation, athletics — as a great match for the Jill-of-all trades role of Chief of Staff. Ironically, I learned of their interest in me via email while I was visiting my old school in Maragoli, Kenya — the very first place I worked as an educator and coach.
So off I go again. Into the wild blue yonder, into the great big sea of adventure, into the depths of the human race — whose survival doesn’t depend on our personal victories, but on spaces where our hearts are wide open. For me, that location is now known as Dryland and the address is everywhere I roam.