Ken’s retirement in 2003 brought us an incredible opportunity. He was invited to serve as special advisor to Shaikh Nayahan, the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research for the United Arab Emirates (UAE). We lived in the UAE for three years, learning incredible cultural lessons, making life-long ex-pat friends from all over the world, and managing to visit most of our bucket-list countries while we traveled either to or from the Emirates. We worked as a team at the United Arab Emirates University. I got to see first-hand the changes starting to develop among the women students as they began to “stretch their wings” from a male-dominant society to an inclusive one. I am pleased to note that today, UAE has female cabinet members in the government. Many highly-educated national women now own businesses, wear open abayas, and are more self-sufficient. I was pleased to be an observer in this subtle change over time toward more empowerment for Emirati women. Most important to me was that such experiences make you kiss imaginary ground when you arrive back home in the U.S.

While in the UAE, Ken and I traveled on weekends with the Emirati Natural History Group (ENHG), where we visited many archeological sites, cultural icons, and got to see native flora and fauna. A special local friend made us welcome in his home and to his family, a rare opportunity. He treated us to special nights in the desert, watching falcons hunt and then enjoying bread baked under the sand.

UAE’s society is undergoing major increases in personal wealth, and as the family shopper, I was especially intrigued by the offerings at market from around the world. The UAE’s architecture is beyond imaginable, including soaring buildings that look like they shouldn’t stand up in the sand, and indoor snow skiing in the desert. It was a magical and completely “over the top” experience. I saw more gold than I thought existed in the entire world.

While in the UAE, and even while working daily with my left brain, I managed to start using my right brain. We both submitted photographs taken while with the ENHG and each won in our categories. I wrote some stories that were picked up locally. I took a jewelry-making class. All of these activities made me feel creative and fulfilled in new ways, a major departure from 30 years of left brain activity with computers.

I used some down times in UAE to scour the internet for publishers, and to become aware of changes at home to the self-publishing field. I decided that when I got back to the US, I would send the story again, one more time, but that if that didn’t work, I would consider self-publishing, or abandonment. It was a distant interest to be sure, but my new joy in being creative was starting to take over my past techno-self.

And, there is nothing quite like being surrounded by mosques and the five-times-a-day call to prayer to start one to thinking about the differences in the three great monotheistic religions and your place among them. I watched fellow staff members abruptly leave a meeting to pray. I hid my lunch when an office guest arrived who was fasting for Ramadan. I enjoyed being invited to Iftar meals to celebrate the end of the fast for the day. I wondered if I had that kind of commitment to my God that the Muslims had to theirs. Supposedly He is same one as mine. Yet we see Him so differently. And they miss totally the reason why Christ came among us. I was scratching the surface of a new relationship. I used the prayer call to remind myself to talk to God more.