From Casablanca to Beirut, Finding Friendship by Freighter and Cab

The Home Forum article ``Stark Journey Across the Desert,'' Nov. 28, tells how the author arranged for a cab escort to help him make the trip across the Sinai Desert into Israel. Memories flooded my thought of the countless times I, too, hired cabs to help me travel around Mediterranean countries. In the course of 15 round trips by freighter, during summer vacations for 10 years, I visited almost every port of call from Casablanca to Beirut. In 1967, for example, the ship docked in Israel at Ashdod during the week immediately following the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War. I made directly for the taxicabs lined up on the wharf and made arrangements for a driver to give me a guided trip ashore.

By the time we returned to the ship that night, I had planted a tree in Israel, had explored Jerusalem from end to end and wall to wall, with a side trip to Bethlehem. As the driver drove back and forth through the Mandelbaum Gate, he exclaimed rapturously, ``I've been waiting 2,000 years for a chance to do this!''

Then it all came to a halt. Container ships replaced the classic, easy-going freighters. Trips ashore lasted barely long enough to mail a letter. Worse, renewed conflicts among the countries made roadblocks and armed patrols commonplace where before my cab driver had only to avoid flocks of sheep. I began to travel elsewhere. But now the author, a Palestinian, describes his journey by cab and bus from Cairo to Jerusalem, including in his adventure a happy encounter with a female Israeli soldier.

Perhaps the freighters are finished, but I may try the Med again if the emirs and armies, the Saddams and Assads, and the Bushes and Bakers let dialogues for peace replace a desire for confrontation. As the author might say, promoting friendship is like discovering an oasis in the desert. After all, oases are just as much a part of the desert as sand and rock.

I remember being entertained at a coffee ceremony in the dungeon of an ancient castle in Lebanon. An Arab boy boiled water over an open coal fire to make Turkish coffee for us. My Jewish cab driver, resting after our trip from Beirut, joined me on the stone floor, protected from sand and pebbles by a Persian rug. Among the three of us there was a great sense of companionship - and peace. Marion West Stoer, Baltimore

Surprises from some Saudi guests The Home Forum article ``The Women Behind the Chadors,'' Nov. 29, attempts to dispel a Westerner's conventional preconceptions about Saudi women but reverberates with the cultural imperialism it seeks to stifle. The author expresses bewilderment that women who are denied casual social contact with men could boast engaging personalities and happiness. She explains, however, that her assumption is contradicted the moment her Arabian visitors bare their ``exotic yet modern faces'' which, despite habitual isolation from male gazes, display an awareness of the latest secrets in makeup and fashion.

I don't believe that the liberty and livelihood of a woman are represented by her interest in cosmetics and jewelry. What most offends me is the immediate value placed on the physical attractiveness of the guests. If the Saudi women had not been beautiful - if they had appeared, as the author anticipated, ``dull and subdued,'' - would they have been appreciated less?

The apocalyptic tone in which ``the unveiling of these six black figures'' is described - as if, due to their native costumes, these women were objects rather than human beings - insults the tradition of another culture. What's so abnormal about six black figures? Jhumpa N. Lahiri, Boston

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