Meet four expat women who called Egypt home

Wednesday January 10, 2018
By: Alexandra Kinias

“If you drink from the Nile, you are destined to return.” ~ Egyptian Proverb


Egypt, the cradle of civilization continues to cast its magical spell on its visitors. Over the centuries, its beauty and glory, the warmth of its sun and people, its diverse culture and landscape, mystical deserts, breathtaking Nile and green farmlands inspired artist, photographers and poets from around the world. For many, Egypt became their homeland of choice.

Here are 4 expat women who called Egypt home.

Lilian Hunt Trasher (1887- 1961)
Founder of the First Orphanage in Egypt


Lilian Hunt Trasher was born in Jacksonville, Florida. She moved to Assyout in 1910 to serve in the church there. A coincidence led her to start the orphanage a year after she moved to Egypt.

She met an old woman who had just lost her daughter, leaving behind a sick and malnourished child, in the care of the old and poor woman (the grandmother). The old woman was planning to throw her granddaughter in the Nile. Trasher could not leave  behind the baby, whom she named Fareida. That’s how the idea to start the orphanage was born.

By the turn of 1918 the orphanage family had grown to 50 children and 8 widows. Lillian Trasher worked 50 years among Egypt’s orphans and other forgotten people, from 1911 to 1961. By the time of her death, the Lillian Trasher Orphanage had grown to some 1200 children.

Mama Lillian, as she became known, died in Assiout in 1961 and was buried there. The orphanage she founded still helps people to this day.

Margo Veillion (1907-2003)


The Swiss-Austrian artist by blood and Egyptian by choice was born in Cairo  to a middle-class family of an Austrian mother and Swiss merchant father. Her father was a great traveler, but he settled in Egypt after he met his wife. Margo’s mother who was already living in Cairo. The family first settled in Abassia then moved to Maadi when Margo was 17-years-old.

When she turned 23, Veillon her family sent her to Paris to learn classic drawing. Aside from various travels around the world, she spent her whole life in Egypt.

Veillon lived and worked as an artist in Egypt for nearly a century. She painted thousands of drawings and was known for her water color paintings that depicted the life of the people in the villages around Maadi, to the landscapes of the desert and the Nile, to Nubia to the Delta.

She was extremely prolific, holding 78 exhibitions in Egypt and Europe, starting in Cairo in 1928. Her last exhibition opened at the American University in Cairo on her 96th birthday, in February 2003.

The AUC press now holds over 5000 pieces by Veillon. The Margo Veillon Gallery will be a permanent fixture at the downtown AUC campus.

For further read about Margo Veillion

Evelyne Porret
Founder Of The Pottery School in Fayoum


Many people do not know that the thriving pottery culture of Fayoum’s Tunis village is in large part owed to Swiss entrepreneur Evelyne Porret!

After studying decorative arts – with a specialization in ceramics – in Geneva, Ms. Porret moved to Egypt in 1960 with her husband Michel Pastore, and built a house and pottery studio. Her children Angelo and Maria attended the local school there.

She organized pottery workshops for children living in the countryside as well as other workshops in Upper Egypt. These different experiences prompted her to create a pottery school in Fayoum’s Tunis village, which has over the years significantly contributed to the development of the community.

“Some of the school’s students have opened independent pottery workshops that attract a large number of visitors and bring in income,” says Ms. Porret. “The fame of Tunis village has triggered many initiatives and led to the opening of hotels, guest houses, etc.”

Ms. Porret said that the pottery school has allowed girls to have personal income thanks to their creations. She added, however, that some girls abandon what they learn in the school as soon as they are married. She hopes that more women would maintain their passion for the craft, as a way of developing their talent and boosting their income for their families.

Ms. Porret’s inspiration lives on in Fayoum’s Tunis village which has become famous for its pottery tradition.

Ms. Porret today is in her seventies. She still lives in Fayoum with her husband. She still teaches pottery and supervises the school herself.

Source: The Embassy of Switzerland in Egypt 

Suzan Taha Hussein (nee Suzanne Bresseau (1895–1989)
Wife of Author Taha Hussein


Suzanne Brisseau’s  studies to become a teacher were interrupted by the bombing of Paris in the First World War. The young French Catholic lady found work in Montpellier, where her family took refuge, reading for a blind graduate student.

Taha Hussein, the blind Muslim student from Egypt, was quite a phenomenon. Within five years, he received a bachelor degree and a higher diploma (on Tacitus), passed the highly competitive aggregation examination for university teachers and obtained a doctorate for his work on the fourteenth-century Arab historian Ibn Khaldun. He had mastered Greek and Latin.

Taha, who called Suzanne his “sweet voice,” had an uncanny intuition on their first meeting that she would be the woman of his life, and indeed, some time afterwards, they both thought of marriage. It was not easy to convince her family who directly opposed to this marriage.  “What! A poor foreigner, a Muslim, and a blind one to boot! You’ve got to be crazy!” they told her. But after her priest-uncle interviewed Taha, said he was a genius and gave his support to their plans, they were able to marry with the blessing of her family.

Suzanne was to be not only his wife, and the mother of their two children, she was also his life-long mentor and dearest friend, bringing him happiness and the contacts which his blindness deprived him of.  She died in Egypt in 1989 at the age of 94.

Source: Dictionary of African Christian Biography

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  1. My friend Tawfik W Dajani from Cairo posted your article on facebook. This is, where I found it. We are an Austrian, German writing Online Magazine. In the past, we reported about people and their life’s, who became expats. I would love to translate this article and publish this. Of course, we would link to the original. Can you contact me? Best regards, Marion Chief editor LSLB-Magazin

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