Kathleen Parker

In low voices, the women took turns talking through a translator about their battles with cancer and with a sometimes-unsympathetic culture. They are essentially trailblazers in their country, the first generation of women to step forward to seek treatment and talk openly.

A common theme emerged each time the first lady met with Emirati women -- whether young students or accomplished women. It was that cultural stereotypes on both sides hinder communication and understanding.

Several young women who had studied in the U.S. reported their delight in discovering that Americans didn't hate them, as they had believed, and that Americans weren't like the characters they'd seen in TV sitcoms. They were also happy to show their American counterparts that they weren't aliens.

As one student put it, "Under these robes, we're the same. We listen to the same music and watch the same movies. We like pizza and Chinese take-out, too."

Another memorable encounter was a lavish, all-women luncheon at the palace of Sheikha Fatima, mother of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. Three young members of the UAE Parliament with whom I spoke were eager to dispel false notions that they are, as one put it, "part of a harem." Emirati women honor their culture and wear the traditional robes, but they're also independent and ambitious, and they participate fully in the "men's world" of politics and business.

They want Americans to know that about them. They, too, believe that eliminating preconceptions and opening dialogue between the cultures are the best opportunities for a more peaceful world.

What was abundantly clear by the end of Bush's second day on this four-day tour is that communication is part of the cure, and I'm not just talking about cancer.

Women may not save the world, but at least they're talking to each other and saving each other's lives in the process. It's a start.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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