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17/08/2016 - 07:00hs

A Brazilian woman in Saudi Arabia

Since 2010, Bahia state native Nadia Schwab has lived in the Arab country with her family. In her book ‘O Melhor dos Meus Dias,’ released this month, she recounts her life and experience in a culture so unlike her own.

Press Release

Schwab between the Saudi and Brazilian flags

São Paulo – Nadia Schwab was born in the city of Poções, in Brazil’s Bahia state. From there she went to Rio de Janeiro to study Law. After graduating, she relocated to New York City to work and study English. By the time she was about to leave, she met her would-be husband, an American engineer. They married and had two kids. Up to that point, her story is not unlike those of thousands of Brazilian migrants who rebuild their lives in the United States. But six years ago, Nadia’s husband was transferred to Saudi Arabia, and her life changed completely.

“I was vacationing in Brazil when my husband got the offer. Although I wasn’t working then, I was about to begin a master’s program at Pace University (in New York),” she says. The move to Ras Tanura, in Saudi Arabia, saw the Brazilian woman leave the world’s biggest metropolis for a gated compound for foreigners.

“The compound has over 3,000 residents. The firm sent us a list of rules, and since I was only expecting to take a test, all I brought was my clothes,” the attorney explains. She tells the story of her life in the Arab country in the book O Melhor dos Meus Dias – Uma História Além do Véu (which translates loosely as The Best of My Days – a Story Behind the Veil), released this month by publisher Editora Novo Caminho.

A contractor for the state-run oil company Saudi Aramco, Schwab’s husband spends most of his time away from home. For her part, she had to adapt to not being allowed to work, drive, or wear regular clothes outside the compound. 

The change in dressing style and clothes buying, by the way, was one of the things that struck Schwab the most. “The stores have no dressing room. You cannot change out of the abaya (the black garment that covers the entire body). I can go to the toilet to try out the clothes or take them home and return them in up to seven days if need be,” she says.

At home, another unusual thing for the Brazilian woman. “The men do household chores. Now, I’ve hired a maid from India, but I had other ones from Bangladesh, Pakistan. Picture having a man do your housework? I have learned to deal with it and respect it,” she confides.

Schwab also made friends with some Saudi women and shows admiration towards them. “They’re strong, warrior-like women. I find them strikingly similar to Brazilian women. They are hospitable and solicitous. They are also concerned about the way they look. They have their parties and they wear eccentric, beautiful outfits to them,” the attorney says.

Without much in the way of a social life and living under very strict rules for Brazilian standards, Schwab still manages to break down a few barriers. “I was the first woman in the compound to have a male personal trainer, a Filipino who managed to get a license to coach foreign women. He has no open slots in his schedule.”

What she likes the most about the Arab country, however, is the education offered to her 10- and 12-year old sons. “They go to an American school in the compound. I’ll be able to send my kids to study anywhere in the world,” says Schwab, stressing the quality of the education and the convenience of having a school so close to home.

Over the weekends, Schwab breaks from the routine by going to neighboring Bahrain. “There, I don’t have to wear the abaya. It’s where I blow off the steam,” she confesses. Despite the problems, she doesn’t regret having moved to the Arab country. “I’d do it all again. I had the chance to see the entire Middle East. I saw these people’s homes and cultures. It was a very enriching experience,” she claims.

If you want to find out more about the life of this Brazilian woman who gave up the hot weather of Bahia for the Middle East heat, just read the book. It can be found at www.livrarianovocaminho.com.br or at Saraiva and Nobel bookstores in Brazil. The author also has a blog (http://nadiaschwab.com) about her life in Saudi Arabia, where she answers readers’ questions.

Quick facts
Book O Melhor dos Meus Dias – Uma História Além do Véu
Author: Nadia Schwab
Editora Novo Caminho
BRL 29.90 (roughly USD 9 at current exchange rates)
160 pages

*Translated by Gabriel Pomerancblum

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