Mama Maggie, by Makary and Vaughn: A Review

Mama Maggie

How much good can one person do? Why do anything when the need is so great? One woman’s mission to love the forgotten children of Egypt’s garbage slums offers a glimpse into answers for these questions.

A rich Egyptian girl who grew up in a doctor’s family and continued her affluent lifestyle into her 30s, Maggie Gobran could have easily overlooked the smelly garbage district of Moqattam. After all, thousands of poor people lived here suffering from poverty, illiteracy, abuse, and hopelessness. What could one wealthy Egyptian woman do?

This story paints a picture of Maggie’s life—her background, service, dependence on God, and love for the forgotten children. It describes the beginnings of the garbage cities in and around Cairo, as well as their many inherent and ongoing problems. But it also interweaves the political workings of Egypt and the turmoil of the past few years.

The book was especially interesting for me to read since I live in Egypt and have visited Garbage City. Its short, interesting chapters paint a realistic picture: Piles upon piles of garbage, animals wandering in and out of houses, and the social dynamics of ordinary people maintaining their dignity amid everyday filth.

But it also highlighted a surprising reality: Clean clothes for children, fun summer camps, new kindergartens and schools, and a chance for kids to dream. Throughout all the obstacles, Maggie perseveres through her faith in God and stubbornness to see these children given a fair chance at life.

It is a rewarding look into the life of a woman nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.


For more information about Mama Maggie, please use this link to view it at BookLook: 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


Emma, Alone in a Class of Muslims

Two of Emma's religion textbooks. The main text of both reads: Christian religious education
Two of Emma’s religion textbooks. The main text of both reads: Christian religious education

Egyptian schools are known for large class sizes and a not-so-great student-teacher ratio. But our third-grade daughter, in one class at least, has a private lesson.

Despite being in a class of 31 students, Emma studies religion one-on-one with the teacher. The Egyptian system separates Muslims and Christians for religious education, and Emma is the only one of the latter.

Christians make up about 10 percent of the population, so it is not unusual to be outnumbered. Still, Emma’s case is a bit odd.

When she started in the Egyptian school system in kindergarten, Emma was one of the seven Christian students in her class of 30. If this percentage seems large, consider that the school placed all Christians in the same class. The entire kindergarten consisted of around 150 students.

Placing all Christians together makes scheduling classes much easier. Traditionally, the less numerous Christian students leave the classroom for the religion subject, and a specialized Muslim teacher comes to instruct in Islam. The specialized Christian teacher often has to jostle for a classroom, but at least all students come to her at once.

As Emma moved on to first grade a few kids transferred to other schools, leaving only five Christians in her class. By second grade, there were three Christians, and now in third grade, she is alone.

Her singleness resulted from an administrative error, of sorts. This year the school introduced ‘smart boards’ in all class subjects for those parents willing to pay slightly higher tuition. The technology was not so important to us, but since kindergarten Emma’s class had been kept together, and most parents were opting for the smart boards.

But for some reason, in the two smart board classes that emerged, Emma was separated from the two other Christian students. We did not discover this until a bit into the new school year, and rearranging would have been difficult. But as a result she has religion by herself.

Fortunately, Emma’s best Muslim friends are in her class, and she was happy to stay.

Fortunately also, she has had the same Christian teacher since kindergarten. The standard curriculum consists of Bible stories familiar to Sunday school students the world over, in addition to Coptic prayers and the lives of the saints.

Egyptian education has been criticized for focusing too much on memorization, but in this case Emma puts us to shame. Last year she memorized the I Corinthians 13 passage about love. This semester she is working on Psalm 23. In Arabic, of course.

The government curriculum for Christianity is based on the Orthodox tradition, since that represents the vast majority of Christians in Egypt. Emma’s teacher, however, is Catholic. And thus, the lone Christian in class is our Protestant American daughter, being taught Coptic Orthodoxy, by an Egyptian Catholic.

Egypt is a place of many oddities, but we hope through it all that Emma will love God, love others, and hide God’s Word in her heart. So far we are encouraged.

Emma Alone Class of Muslims


Not Quite Home for Christmas

Lonely Christmas

I have lived overseas now for about eight years.  We have lived in three different countries, but even so, I feel quite at home here in Egypt, where we have been for four years.  We have lots of friends and my life is busy with four young kids.  For me, living overseas is the norm.  While I love so many things about America, and I would love to live in the same state, or even town, as my family, I am perfectly content living as an expat.

But there are times when homesickness strikes.  Times when you just wish you could be two places at once, or that you could travel over the ocean as easily, and cheaply, as driving from New Jersey to Pennsylvania.  And one of those times is the holidays.  Particularly Christmas.

The family I grew up in still gets together on Christmas despite growing from the original 7 to now 29 people.  And if I sit and think about that too long, especially at the time they are actually gathering, which is usually when I am sleeping here, that can make me sad.  I would love to be with my family on Christmas.  But of course, I am with my family on Christmas as I celebrate with my husband and kids.  What is the difference?

The last few years I have felt that Christmas has snuck up on me.  We celebrate American Thanksgiving, and before I can think about it, I have to have the Christmas Advent calendar up in order to count down to the 25th.  Meanwhile, here in Egypt, the official holiday of Christmas isn’t until January 7, according to the Coptic calendar.  And while you can see lots of Christmas trees and wrapping paper on display at local shops, there isn’t exactly the festive atmosphere that you would find in the States.  One of the biggest reasons the 25th almost comes without notice is that my girls have a regular school day and are either studying for or taking their mid-term exams.  The church where we worship has begun Christmas choir practice for the girls, but their program will be on New Year’s Eve.

And so I am learning what I need to do personally to make Christmas special for me and my family in our home here in Egypt.  I need people and special celebrations.  If we aren’t invited to others’ celebrations, then I need to host celebrations for us (or maybe for me!)  I need to bake and enjoy the time spent in the kitchen with my kids, as that is one of my favorite memories from Christmases in Pennsylvania… all the kitchen preparation beforehand.  I need to listen to Christmas music and make an effort to teach my kids the carols they should know.  We need to attend Christmas productions and concerts at local churches.  And we need to set new traditions that make our Christmases ones that our children will one day miss.

This year I am hoping to host three Christmas teas.  What is easier, and tastier, than making a bunch of Christmas sweets, and inviting others to join and indulge?  One group will be teachers from my daughter’s Egyptian school, where I have begun teaching on a very part-time basis.  This is an experiment and something totally new for them.  Another group will be of Egyptian Christian friends.  Again, a bit of an experiment, but we can celebrate the holiday together, perhaps for some of them in a new way.  And the last group will be of other foreign moms like me.  This will be the most naturally comfortable and possibly the tastiest as they provide some of their favorite traditional sweets.

No matter where we are, if with my husband and our children gathered together, we are home. And this home is now Egypt.  It requires some adjustments and creativity, and perhaps some courage to step out and try new things.  One of our Egyptian traditions is sailing on a felucca on the Nile River on Christmas morning. It is very different from the craziness that ensues when 17 grandchildren descend on my parents’ house on Christmas day.  But these are special times and new memories that we make ourselves. Perhaps one day our own children will have a longing for Egypt. But we pray they will be able to celebrate wherever they are, even if not quite home.


Our Little Ones Watch a Protest

Rabaa Child
From a protest elsewhere in Maadi

The other day Emma’s best friend, Karoleen, and her younger brother, Boula, came over to play at our home following church. As the kids were gathered around the table working on crafts, I heard the familiar sounds of a protest approaching. A fair number have passed near the house in recent months, although they usually go down the main street perpendicular to ours. Since we live on the ground floor, we usually don’t get a good look despite the noise, but this time they turned and came in full view.

We had been looking for an opportunity to film a protest for a recent video we made about the changes in our neighborhood since we returned from a summer in America. So I dropped the construction paper I was cutting up for one of my daughters, grabbed the camera and ran to our play room, which is a glass-enclosed porch. This gave me the best view I could get of the marchers.

I opened the window and screen, just enough to stick the camera out, but I still felt conspicuous. I didn’t really want to attract any attention from the protesters, but I was willing to risk a bit for a decent line of sight. As they marched, I noticed that some of them looked at our house, but not, as best I could tell, in my direction.

But it was then I heard the shouts and screams from my own kids and their friends in the other room, as they watched the protest go by from our living room windows. That’s why they were looking our way.

Two weeks earlier a protest had gone past Karoleen’s house, about ten streets away from our home, while Emma and Hannah were playing there. Her mom told me afterward that it made Emma concerned, even for us in case the protest came towards our home. But Karoleen’s family lives on the 7th floor of her apartment building, far above the action.

So as I was filming, I was simultaneously hoping the kids weren’t too afraid now that they were outside our window. As it turns out I had nothing to worry about. The kids loved it.

They noticed the bright yellow hand signs, though they didn’t know what they meant. They especially took interest in the kids who were marching along in the protest. There were balloons and chanting, which sounded more like cheering to them. In this particular march, there was nothing to be afraid of. It was a friendly, jovial atmosphere.

When I returned to the table the kids talked excitedly about what they had seen. The planned craft was abandoned as they used the construction paper to make protest banners. Theirs, however, bore the name ‘Sisi’ as opposed to ‘Morsi’, in favor of the current military leader who many see as a hero. They teased each other about being ‘for Morsi’ as they bantered around the table. I didn’t realize what fun it would be for them to have political discussions, though this was not the first time our children had taken sides.

In the end, I got the video we had been looking for, and the kids received some unexpected entertainment. We appreciated the peacefulness of the protest, and wound up happy they turned down our street.

It wasn’t until later we were less pleased, noticing the graffiti they had sprayed on our walls. ‘Sisi is a killer,’ they wrote, and, ‘Against Oppression.’ The latter is a message we won’t mind our children seeing every day, but the first one is not so nice. Of course, neither was the explanation we had to give about the yellow signs, commemorating the hundreds of pro-Morsi protestors who were killed when their campsite was cleared.

Our kids, of course, pay little attention to the graffiti. It will be the image of the protest that will stay in their mind, which we invite you to share in also.

'Sisi is a Killer'
‘Sisi is a Killer’
'Against Oppression'
‘Against Oppression’