If only one knew what to make of Richard de Combray, turning up in Tangiers, in Dakar and Abu Dhabi, taking in, sniffing out, mulling over, soaking up the Arabs. ""Why aren't you home?"" a nocturnal Tangiers child retorts, and he muses on North Africa as a ""land of truants."" En route to Casablanca, he's pressed to meet a brother who's been to America. But the brother ""had not exactly been to America,"" he liked Americans. Well, he ""had never actually met an American. But he knew them from the movies."" Again and again, in fascination, de Combray is flummoxed, stymied, struck dumb. By Rabat's impeccable, impenetrable officials parrying an embarrassing question ("" 'The woman is protected,' said Y finally, 'and that is as it should be'""); by the insouciant hostess who arrives home an hour late chirping ""Tunisian time!""; by the blank hostility to foreigners of post-colonial Algiers. These are not peccadilloes, de Combray is not a curio-collector; but neither is he a commentator or social critic, though he touches a nerve in the oil-rich Seven Emirates where ""no one can escape thinking about money"" and a gaggle of poor, anxious foreigners--Indians, Pakistanis, Pathans, Iranians--""have all funneled here like the residue next to a drain after a heavy rain."" Part vagabond, part observer, part skeptic, part foil, he lacks an identity, either temporal or spiritual: a purpose (even that, like Jan Morris, of professional traveler) or a point of view. Still, as a solitary presence he traces intriguing arabesques in the shifting sands, and that, with his photographs, may suffice for many.