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On the Sands of the Arabian Gulf

On the Sands of the Arabian Gulf

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Guest Post by Dr. Jackie Fowler
APUS Faculty Director and Associate Professor, School of Arts and Humanities

Arabian clothing
Wearing traditional clothing. Image courtesy of the author.

For a little while, the world of my everyday was the place where the religious go to confront their genesis. I walked ancient lands of ageless beliefs where the patriarchs and pariahs, the messengers and messiahs, the baptized and baptizers, once lived and loved and died. I met the modern-day Philistines — the people of Goliath — and the descendants of the Assyrians and Nubians. I stood in the Red Sea and the Dead Sea. I bought gold, frankincense, and myrrh in a dark and moody alleyway where one of the three wise men once stood, and I visited the little chapel in Cairo that covered the cave where the baby Jesus escaped Herod’s brutality. The collective stories shaped my early life, and the desert lands of their descendants reshaped it. In the wild waste of the unforgiving sands that swirled and curled into columns of biting, burning heat, I became new.

I set down in words my experiences of the Arabian Gulf. Its dry desert air was especially delicious when winter winds carried the perfume of fragrant fruity tobacco flowing from sheeshas. I wrote about the chatter of men in long white kanduras and white-wrapped heads who drank bitter coffee from burned beans. I wrote to memorialize those I grew to love — Taghreed, the open-hearted, ginger-haired Syrian; Hassan, the chimney-smoking physics teacher from Jordan; and Easa, the inquisitive Emirati school counselor whose name, when translated into English, was Jesus. I laid down images and snippets of conversations; moments of laughter; extracts of sadness and loneliness; the sound of desert birds; the smell of warmed bread pudding, umm ali, it was called; and the pinging sound of a sandstorm played out on the windshield.

Petra
Collin, Katlyn, and I, riding camels at Petra, Jordan. Image courtesy of the author.

A few years after my arrival in the Middle East, my children and I traveled to the Dead Sea, where a Bedouin boy found the famous scrolls in a hanging cliff cave. It was the place where Jesus and John the Baptist and their followers hung out, and according to most Jordanians, the very site where Sodom and Gomorrah had once been. Not far up the road was another famous body of water. Unlike the Dead Sea, the Jordan River was quite small. And really, really filthy dirty. Although only a few meters from the Israeli side of the river, the separation might as well have been thousands of miles. The cultural, historical, and sociopolitical divides between the two countries were that enormous.

“Anyway,” the Jordanian guide sniffed, looking to the other side, “Jesus was baptized on the Jordanian side.”

My children and I walked close to the edge where we could observe the loud, splashing pilgrims on the Israeli side. Katlyn and I dipped our feet into the atrociously dirty water; Collin held back, his face pinched in disgust.

“Put your feet in,” I told Collin.

“I don’t want to,” he said.

“C’mon, Collin,” Katlyn urged. “Just do it.”

“It’s disgusting,” he replied.

A momentary dabble was all he could manage, yet the three of us sat on the side of a river that held so much meaning in our lives, meaning that was not fully real until the river, itself, became more than a story.

desert traffic with camels
An unexpected traffic jam in the desert. Image courtesy of the author.

I wrote to memorialize my time away from home in the crucible of three world religions. There, I learned to live through the summer months when the dry winds of the Rub al Khali brought its inhospitable heat to the shores of the Arabian Gulf. The waters simmered and stewed and steamed into a dew-driven cloud of bitter brutality while the desert dunes swirled and settled and choked. I learned to wait for the end of the seasonal swelter; it would eventually come, and I learned to find the beauty even in the harshness.

Arabian Gulf
A blue jellyfish in the waters of the Gulf. Image courtesy of the author.

Now home, I’ve had to work to remember. So I’ve taken Arabic and signed up for a degree in Middle Eastern Studies from APUS. The classes help me recall the camels plodding through drifting dunes, the wild, vibrant-hued birds of the desert sands whistling and shrieking and cawing, and the jellies of gelatinous blue that spread out on the sharp sands of the Arabian Gulf. Through APUS, I continue my journey of becoming.

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Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 2002. In July 2016, he retired as APUS president and continued as CEO of APEI. In September 2017, he was reappointed APUS president after the resignation of Dr. Karan Powell. In September 2019, Angela Selden was named CEO of APEI, succeeding Dr. Boston who will remain APUS president until his planned retirement in June 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. During his tenure, APUS grew to over 100,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 90,000 alumni. In addition to his service as a board member of APUS and APEI, Dr. Boston is a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), a member of the Board of Overseers of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, a board member of the Presidents’ Forum, and a board member of Hondros College of Nursing and Fidelis, Inc. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. Dr. Boston lives in Owings Mills, MD with his wife Sharon and their two daughters.

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