For three months each year, Beth Crichton’s life sounds like a tale best told in an exotic novel.
A biologist doing groundbreaking research might not sound so colorful. But throw in a desert kingdom with sheiks and wealth beyond imagination ...
And then there’s the primary reason Crichton has traveled to the United Arab Emirates for the past six years.
Yes, you read that correctly.
“It’s a great item of conversation,” Crichton says while sitting at the dining room table in her Dundee home. “People are intrigued.”
The 71-year-old scientist leaves behind her gardening, volunteering and research papers each January to travel to Dubai, where she dons jeans and a polo shirt and drives 25 miles into the desert each day to delve into the mysteries of cryogenics and sperm preservation.
Crichton works at the Camel Reproduction Centre, a state-of-the-art facility financed by wealthy sheiks to improve their camel herds for sport.
Just how big is camel racing in that part of the world? “Camel racing is huge,” Crichton says, noting local television’s non-stop coverage throughout the season. “They race for big money.”
Crichton and her center colleagues are on the verge of a scientific breakthrough. For the first time, frozen camel semen has been used to impregnate several females who will give birth in March or April. While that may be old hat to cattle producers in Nebraska, who ship frozen semen all over the country, it’s a big deal in the camel industry.
“The sheiks will go crazy when they are born,” Crichton says.
That anticipation is what is sending Crichton and her husband, Harold Isenberger, back to Dubai for what Crichton says is the last time. But she’s said that before.
It’s hard to let go of years of work in reproductive biology, including seven years at Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium working with the big cats and gorillas.
“I love keeping my hand in science, which has been my life,” she says.
It brought her to the United States from Australia in the 1980s and also led to her marriage.
Back then, she was studying bat reproduction in Arizona. Isenberger, meanwhile, was forging a railroad career. They joke that they met under a railroad bridge while she was doing research, and he was working as a dispatcher.
Isenberger keeps the practical side of their life going in Dubai while Crichton works. It also gives him time to pursue one of his great passions.
“He has all the time in the world to read,” Crichton says.
Both found another interest while in Dubai, where Crichton works for Dr. Julian “Lulu” Skidmore. Skidmore’s
husband, attorney James Berry, is developing an orphanage in Tanzania. Funding is always an issue, and Crichton and Isenberger are helping to raise support in the United States. Six buildings have risen, with plans to eventually house 300 orphans at the Larchfield Children’s Home.
It’s a far cry from the extravagance of Dubai, which boasts the tallest building and biggest mall in the world. It’s a city of contrasts, where sheiks and their families peruse goods from some of the most famous stores in the world while people from countries such as India and Pakistan do the day-to-day, behind-the-scenes work that keeps the country going.
The couple live in an apartment in the Dubai World Trade Center, and have loved taking advantage of all that the cosmopolitan hub has to offer, from camel races, dhow cruises and sand dune riding to visiting beautiful mosques and going to the opera, the Dubai World Cup horse races and the international tennis tournament each February.
Both are big tennis fans.
Though it’s winter when the couple visits the Emirates, the temperature is usually a balmy 70 degrees.
They won’t stop traveling if they no longer go to Dubai — it just might mean more family time in Australia.
Come spring, though, they’re always happy to return to their residence of almost 20 years in Omaha, where Crichton’s beloved gardens will be about to bloom.
“We leave life here and have to pick it up again,” Crichton says. “It’s always good to be home.”