After hours of driving through the Saharan desert, out of nowhere appears a lake. We’ve reached the Fayoum Oasis, so famously described in Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. Lush palm trees guide us to Tunis Village, a tiny village on a hill, with beautiful vistas of the water, where nearly every family practices the craft of ceramics.
We arrive to the studio and home of Rawiya, a woman whose name means “she who tells the story.” After an obligatory piping hot cup of mint tea ―of course, served in her own handmade mugs― she gives us the tour. She shows us the main studio space where she works on her pottery wheel, her daughter’s ceramics work adorns the walls. Between her studio and the garden is an open-air space with the kiln, where all her ceramics get their final firing. There’s another pottery wheel set up in the shade of a towering palm tree, for her siblings to work on in the breeze. Her home is right next to her studio space. She is obviously in her element as she shows us around.
While the entire village practices pottery throwing, Rawiya has developed her own distinctive style, often using blue on a neutral base, freehanding designs in glaze loosely based on traditional Arabic calligraphy.
It took a lot of hard work for her to become the ceramics artist she is today. There were many obstacles for her to conquer, one of which being that in her traditional village women were not expected to work. In Rawiya’s words: “Work is important for a woman because it makes her feel independent. When I work, I feel I have a personality.”
When she started her own ceramics studio, she received a lot of pushback from other artisans. How could a woman-run studio compete with them? This gave her even more motivation to succeed. After her father’s death, Rawiya took on the responsibility to provide for her mother and three younger siblings. With time, she taught her younger siblings her craft, and saved enough money to help them open their own studio.
She laughs that the one main requirement she had for her husband before their marriage, was that he would allow her to continue her craft. After all the challenges she had faced, she did not want her marriage to end it all. He not only allowed her to continue her work, he encouraged her and even joined her studio.
She is now an inspiration to the village, and because of her success, other families are allowing their daughters to work as well.