Aziz and the Greatest Gift of Travel

9:30 in the morning on my last day in Egypt I walked down Dahab’s main street to climb aboard the van that would take me to the border with Israel, when on my right appeared a very sweet guy named Aziz. Nicknamed Zezo, I’d gotten to know this thin young Egyptian as I’d walked several times a day past a restaurant in front of which he stood in an attempt to draw in business. Here, this is for you, he said now, handing me a sheet of folded yellow paper. On the outside he’d written his e-mail address. Okay, Zezo, I promise I will e-mail you, I said.

Zezo was a shining example of an Egyptian, who are literally the friendliest people I’ve ever met. His vivacious personality had drawn me into his restaurant one day, where I sat on colorful floor cushions common in Arab countries, with the Gulf of Aqaba and Saudi Arabia in the background and talked with Zezo as I waited for my meal. Before it arrived he disappeared briefly, then set on the table before me a glass of orange juice. You don’t pay for this, he said. Because many Egyptians are really struggling for money more than usual now due to the dramatic decrease in tourism, I argued, but he prevailed. Okay, I said, but then I want you to eat with me. Let me buy you lunch. This statement floored Zezo. For ten years I lived on the street in Cairo, he said. No one ever bought food for me. Never!

Guy named Aziz (Zezo) whom I met in Dahab, Egypt

Zezo refused to eat but was still bursting with smiling gratitude when I tried to pay the bill for my meal. All of a sudden it didn’t cost 40 Pounds but 20 Pounds! No, no, no, take 40, take 50! I said.  No. For you, only 20 Pounds, Zezo insisted. I felt uncomfortable with this, at a time in history when this Egyptian guy really should be earning every pound he could.  I paid him just the 20 but stopped in a little shop and bought him a candy bar to express my thanks, then returned a couple of days later and ordered a glass of juice, paying him more than it cost.  By this time Zezo was my friend.

I did e-mail Zezo when I returned to Israel, but I never received a reply.  This morning, needing a piece of paper, I picked up and opened the yellow folded sheet that’s been lying on my coffee table for weeks. I’ve written before about the gifts of travel, the tangible little presents that I sometimes receive while traveling. But when I opened this piece of paper I discovered the best traveling gift ever.

Yellow piece of paper with drawing of me and Zezo

Sweet Zezo had drawn me a picture of me and him standing along the water in Dahab, with “I love you, Sabena” written at the bottom.  This beautiful statement drove home for me just how deeply this guy had appreciated me simply wanting to buy him a meal. And it made me realize how just a small act of kindness can so heavily impact the recipient.  I’m never going to forget Zezo or the lesson he taught me.

8 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Steve says:

    What a great story. I think you have a knack for meeting friendly, interesting people. I can imagine how hard it is for the people there now so it’s unusual that he wouldn’t take your money for the orange juice. But maybe he’s doing better than you realize. I’m glad that you could eventually pay him back a little later on. I hope you eventually hear back from him.

  2. Candice says:

    This actually made me grin, what an amazing surprise! Those things, those tiniest details, make every step of the journey completely worth it. Awesome!

  3. Shinna says:

    I’ve gone all fuzzy wuzzy… Aww sweet guy!

  4. Sabina says:

    Hi, Shinna – fuzzy wuzzy with good reason. He was a sweetie!

  5. Sabina says:

    Hey Ali, thank you!

  6. Sabina says:

    Steve, maybe I do have a knack. I hadn’t thought of that. I think I’m just open to talking to locals, whereas perhaps other people aren’t quite as open. I hope you you’re right and that Aziz is doing better than I think. But he was seriously considering returning to Cairo due to the sudden dearth of tourists in Dahab. I tried to discourage him from that since it seemed his life was so hard in Cairo. I really hope he stays in Dahab. It’s basically paradise.

  7. Sabina says:

    Hey, Candice! I’m happy I made you grin :) People definitely make any journey all the more interesting.

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