From her early days, she had dreamed of New York, saying that when she grew up, she would be an „American“. But her journey to the west led across the Middle East, where she spent a decade, which completely changed her life. Author of the popular book “Nina of Arabia” today lives in Canada, where she writes a new novel and works tirelessly on a promotion of a great scientist – Nikola Tesla.
She has replaced a dynamic life in Belgrade and a successful career in the field of public relations with a housewife role in conservative Saudi Arabia, strictly divided into the world of men and the world of women. Marina Bulatović didn’t waste time – she had worked hard to bringing Serbia and Arabia closer together, for which she was rewarded several times, and she wrote a book “Nina of Arabia” in which the different black and white world of the Arabian Peninsula is introduced to readers in a witty way.
- “Nina of Arabia” is a story about my life, about the people I know, about the countries where I lived. That’s the story about my dreams. On the big screens at the beginning of a movie often stands: “Based on the true story”. I can say the same for my first novel.
It’s not easy for Khalid
- We arrived in Saudi Arabia in 2007 pretty scared, both husband and I, because the prejudices about this country were great. Only after spending about ten months in Jubail (the city in the Eastern province), we felt relaxed and convinced that the Saudis are hospitable and kind and that their fate on a world stage is similar to ours – “they have a bad image”.
Sincerely, I got used to Saudi Arabia and their strict rules of behavior in public spaces more easily then on marital life. My first marriage lasted only 8 – 9 months, so it could hardly be called a marital life. But the second marriage began on the Arabian Peninsula, far away from Belgrade and my successful career. The beginning was quite traumatic. You can imagine, at the age of 42, I became a “dependent person” – I didn’t have a job, so I had to ask my husband for money for a grocery store or a manicure. When I overcame that – everything else was easy.
Everyone is talking about the situation of women in Saudi Arabia, but nobody mentions that men are also victims of tradition. That is why one of the characters of my novel is Khalid who tirelessly runs from one wife to another and never has time for himself. In the real life I would feel sorry for Khalid. His father and grandfather had two wives so Khalid also married twice, according to the tradition. Now he has two legal wives, many children and numerous problems and obligations towards all of them.
Work as a salvation from leisure time
- Saudi society is slowly but surely changing. I had the privilege to follow those changes with my own eyes. Today in the Kingdom many women drive cars and have jobs. They walk in public places without black abayas and their hair is not covered with scarves. At the time we lived there the rules were very strict and they should not be violated. But this didn’t bother me very much. Belgrade's noise and numerous obligations were replaced by the silence and loneliness that resulted in some completely new activities: the work on rapprochement between Serbia and Saudi Arabia, who at the time didn’t have diplomatic relations, promoting Nikola Tesla around the world and on writing the novel „Nina of Arabia“. Frankly, the work saved me from leisure time.
- Since 2016 I haven’t been living in Saudi Arabia, but as far as I know, the country is usually visited by tourists from Muslim countries who get visas more easily. Religious tourism is very popular. To foreigners who live and work in this Kingdom, I can recommend to visit Riyadh, Khobar, Jeddah and Hofuf. And those who are brave might sleep in the desert in a tent and taste the real Bedouin life.
New York – the capital of the planet
- Among my favourite destinations are New York and New Zealand. Although, at first glance, this choice may look strange – it isn’t. In New York I go to Broadway to watch theatre performances, or go shopping and blend into the crowd that "waves" through Manhattan. I sit in a coffee-bar Carlyle at the Rosewood Hotel for hours, feeling like at home. For me, New York is the capital of the planet. And New Zealand is the only true paradise on Earth, with preserved and untouched nature in which there are no animals that can endanger human life. There are no venomous snakes, spiders and scorpions – in contrast to Australia. I like to walk through the endless forests where the crew of "The Lord of the Rings" movie filmed and visit Maori villages. In the evening I go to bed early, and I wake up with the first sunlight as New Zealanders do.
- More or less wherever life takes me, I get used to it quickly. From Saudi Arabia I miss sun most, more precisely – nice weather. In Canada, most of the year is very cold. I miss the moutabel salad and dates from Medina. And from Serbia, except my parents, sister Branka and nephew, I sometime miss Dejan Lazarević’s or Dejan Petrović’s trumpeters. Recently my husband got a grandson Brendon Bulatović – and Toronto got a new inhabitant. At that moment I wish someone could play me “Mesečina” or “Marširala kralja Petra garda”!
Inspired by Tesla
- In Canada, I write a new novel the story of which begins in India and ends in Greece. Tesla is (my) great inspiration, I volunteer at numerous Tesla associations in Diaspora, who work very hard on promoting our great scientist and inventor. I work with the Memorial Society Nikola Tesla in New York, the Tesla Science Foundation in Philadelphia and the editor in chief of the Tesla Magazine in Toronto. At the “Diaspora Day 2018”, event held in Belgrade on my birthday (July 7th), I received the recognition – Certificate for the promotion of the name and work of Nikola Tesla and the Tesla people. Coincidence or karma?
Text: Biljana Bosnić Ognjenović
Photo: Budislav Bulatović and private record