How was ceramics made in ancient Egypt?

Future Perfect
From farmer's daughter to internationally successful businesswoman

The young Egyptian Rawiya learns the pottery against the will of her family and her courage pays off.

The Swiss Evelyne Porret moved to the Egyptian village of Tunis in the Fayoum province, around 100 km southwest of Cairo, in the early 1960s. There she opened a pottery school, which changed the life of the village community forever.

The first student

The search for Porret's first student led us to Ms. Rawiya Muhammad, who is now one of the most famous ceramicists in the village, has already participated in local and international fairs and, at the age of fifteen, traveled to France to be the first woman in Egypt to take part in an international ceramic fair. Rawiya Muhammad explains how it all began: “As children, we played with clay in the streets of the village and formed natural structures from it. Evelyne saw this and suggested that we come to her school to learn pottery. For us kids between the ages of ten and twelve it was just a continuation of the game, so we all went. At some point, however, our parents were against it because they saw no benefit in having children play with clay. ”Rawiya is the eldest daughter of a poor family. When her parents forbade her to continue attending the pottery school, the young Rawiya opposed her family's decision and became Porret's first - and then only - student.

When Rawiya got into her teenage years, Evelyne suggested she travel to Europe to showcase her products at trade fairs there. Again the parents were against it, as Rawiya reports: “In the country we get married young, girls my age have already become mothers. For a country girl to go to a foreign country without parental supervision is something that the customs of the society in which I live forbid. ”Rawiya initially refused to marry. She explains, “All the men who proposed to me made the condition that I stop doing the pottery, stay at home and raise children. It was so common in my village. But I found myself in this profession. In the meantime I have realized myself and I don't want to do without my success anymore. "

Marriage candidates still had no chance with her - but one day she met a young man who was also a student at Porret's school. Together they decided that pottery should be their source of income and founded their own company for the manufacture and sale of ceramics. Over the years the farmer's daughter turned from a poor family into a successful business woman.

Rawiya smiles at the ceramic products she is exhibiting at the entrance to her house in Tunis and says, “My family, who initially opposed my plan, also started making ceramics after seeing how successful I was. I taught them myself and now they work under my guidance. ”At this point Rawiya returns with thoughts of her first teacher Evelyne, who paved the way for this farming village to become a travel destination for visitors from all over the world. Rawiya talks about her with a smile: “Evelyne is like a mother to me who showed me the way. I made ceramics in her school for 14 years before starting my own business. I owe her thanks for what I have achieved to date. "


The desire for change

Two women had a decisive influence on the fate of the village of Tunis: First there was the Swiss Evelyne, who came to Egypt from Europe and opted for the simple country life without realizing that 50 years later she would be seen as the reason for the profound change of a small village would look back; and secondly, Rawiya Muhammad, who, for her love for the pottery school, took a path far removed from her rural traditions, according to which a girl of twelve had only to marry and the woman's duties not about the husband's help in agriculture and the upbringing of children went out. Rawiya's determination to learn is the reason why many residents of the village are desperate to send their children to Evelyne Porret's school. The rush is so great that every year the organizers have to select a certain number of children from among the applicants to be admitted to the training. Rawiya's determination is also the reason why her entire family now earns a living from pottery, after initially rejecting her daughter's desire to turn her love for playing with clay into a career.
This article was created as part of "Future Perfect", a joint project of the Goethe Institute, the FuturZwei Foundation and the newspaper al-Qahira.

For more information on the project and other success stories from all over the world, see:


Sameh Fayez is an Egyptian journalist and novelist.

Translation: Jana Duman
Copyright: Goethe-Institut Cairo
June 2016