An unpretentious and heartwarming tale of friendship across a cultural divide. In the early 1970's, when the two teenage sons of an Abu Dhabi sheikh--a friend and business associate of her husband's--spent the summer with her family in their London home, American-born Holton little suspected that a long and close relationship with the sheikh's family had begun. Holton, who had traveled before in the Middle East, was familiar with some aspects of Arab culture--but it wasn't until she paid a visit to the boys' family in Abu Dhabi that she really began to appreciate the subtle nuances of a society that has too often been interpreted in the West with broad brush strokes. That first visit--which included an idyllic sojourn at the family's camp on the shore of the gulf and an equally memorable stay at their beautiful desert home--was to be repeated over the years, a period during which Abu Dhabai changed dramatically, with old desert ways rapidly overwhelmed by an influx of oil money and foreigners. The one woman in sight not expected to wear the traditional face-mask, Holton--affectionately called ``Mrs. TeaCup'' by her two former charges--became an intimate of the women of the Al Hareem, which turned out to be not the fabled seraglio of Western imagination but, rather, a sanctuary for the women of the house, who have total responsibility for their large family and household. Regarded as the boys' ``English mother,'' Holton, an honored guest at family celebrations, advised one son on the decoration of his home and became a close friend of the sheika, the boys' mother. A sympathetic but cleareyed account of a little-known and even less understood society shaped by its desert and Islamic roots but increasingly vulnerable to change.