Two Egyptians and my privilege to travel: An important reminder

The travel blogging world has been paying a lot of attention recently to a post called No, Not Everyone Can Travel – A Bubble Burster, from Mina Mahrous’s blog “Someday I’ll Be There”. Mina reminds us that most people in the world have only a fraction of the freedom and ability to travel that us Western travel bloggers do. And that’s for lots of reasons: one important one is that, despite being a degree-qualified pharmacist with a good job by Egyptian standards, Mina only earns US$500 a month, clearly making saving up for a trip a very long-term prospect; almost more importantly, the process of getting a visa to visit most countries can be arduous, involving a lot of paperwork and interviews and rejection, and yes, we are talking about a week or two holiday, not a long-term visa.

Two Egyptian kids in El Quseir

Mina’s post reminded me instantly of a friend I made in Egypt about eight years ago. Mohammed was living in El Quseir (close to the Red Sea) and working in a tourist shop, selling papyrus, ornaments and typical Egyptian souvenirs. Not that many tourists from the nearby resort came into El Quseir and when I went into the shop he had plenty of time to chat with me. There was a world map near the counter and his geographical knowledge amazed me – particularly when he told me he’d never been further than Luxor (about two hours’ drive). He dreamed of travelling the world, but I got the clear impression that he believed it was just a dream, and I felt terribly guilty for having already seen so much of it. Yet he was so keen to ask so many questions about the places I had been, and I wanted to feed his thirst for knowledge by answering them. We talked for a good hour or so, and exchanged email addresses.

Main street of El Quseir, Egypt

Mohammed and I kept in touch for another year and a bit, but since then my emails have gone unanswered. He told me about the long hours he had to work at the shop – 9am to 11pm, with a couple of hours for siesta in the afternoon. I can only imagine how little he was paid there. Then he told me about a new job in a shop selling spices and incense, and then the last I heard, he was starting a job at the airport – Hurghada, I guess – selling duty free products for Egyptair. His English was not fantastic, but enough for us to exchange emails and understand each other, and he had been getting practice talking with tourists.

When I read Mina’s post, I wondered again what had happened to Mohammed. He had just met a girl before we lost contact, so I guess he may well have settled down and got married, even had a family, which probably put his dreams of travel even more deeply into the dream-only compartment. It certainly seems unfair to me that by the luck of birth and circumstance, I’m able to travel practically wherever and whenever I want (not that I’m wealthy or anything – but if we Westerners make travel a priority, it’s not that hard), and Mohammed, with all his curiosity about other countries and cultures, will very likely never even need a passport.

Comments

  1. How right you are Amanda, it´s sad that some people are so hungry for travel and knowledge and they don´t get the opportunities most Westerners get.

    • Yes … and conversely, that many Westerners don’t care to travel or know about other cultures at all, even though they could. The world is a funny place.

  2. I feel for Mohammed.. Well, certainly life isn’t fair..

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