Desert and camels are what people picture when they think of his country, Egyptian Ahmed Haggag realized.
So Ahmed, 27, made it his personal mission to change that perception by traveling the world and meeting and talking with as many people as he can. Ahmed also has his national flag with him and asks new friends he meets along the way to sign it. He said he dreams of being the first man on earth to have traveled and raised his flag in every country in the world.
“By traveling, I have proved that stereotypes are wrong,” he said. And he has recorded most of his encounters either on video or through photographs, which are published on his YouTube channel or Facebook page.
His friend, camera man and traveling companion, Ahmed Zoky, decided to hit the road with Ahmed after he completed his dentistry studies. Both take their journey very seriously.
Ahmed has been traveling for the past five years. After the fourth year, he began to receive sponsors for his journeys. His official carrier is now Egypt Air.
To cement his new global friendships, he likes to give away Egyptian souvenirs. They include keychains from Egypt, a small Egyptian flag, where Ahmed writes the name of a new friend in Arabic, and a few stickers. These stickers, completed with a silhouette of Ahmed doing the Egyptian dance, say “Happiness is Contagious” and “Haggagovic’s Freedom Happiness Peace Campaign Around the World.”
“Haggagovic” is the name given to Ahmed by a Russian man who he met during his travels and became good friends with. Ahmed thought the name was a catchy way for people to remember him, so he decided to use it as his traveling name.
Ahmed’s wanderlust started when he was 4 years old and someone asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. Ahmed immediately said he wanted to go to Japan because it was the farthest destination he could think of. At the age 14, he made his own bucket list that he still carries with him, even though the paper is now turning yellow and must be taped in certain parts to prevent his journeys from ripping apart. At age 15, he traveled alone and experienced another culture for the first time. His first destination was Germany, and he recalled his family was perplexed by the idea.
“Many people say that the Germans don’t like to talk to foreigners. They are very strict and even if they speak English, they won’t do it, they will just speak German,” he said.
Ahmed took the stereotype as a challenge. “I decided to go because I want to prove it to myself, not to anyone,” he said.
His parents paid for his airfare and he stayed with an acquaintance of his grandmother’s, but they gave Ahmed no pocket money. During Ahmed’s 10-day stay, he walked around all day, every day, to meet as many people as he could.
“[The Germans] even tried to help me as much as they could, even if they [couldn’t] speak English,” he said. “So I proved to myself and the world: Don’t just listen to stories about something, you just have to see it yourself.”
After his trip to Germany, Ahmed couldn’t stop thinking about traveling the world. Part of his dream came true because of his swimming background. Competing in the sport allowed him to travel around the Arab region and Africa.
“In swimming competitions, there are people of different nationalities and colors, there is no border,” he said. “North Korean with a South Korean, a black guy with a white guy, everyone is so friendly together.” These competitive trips inspired him to spread his message of peace. After completing his studies in computer science from Ain Shams University in 2007, he decided to proceed with his big plan.
“You have no idea how hard I tried to keep this journey going,” he said.
He recently sold his apartment in Egypt to keep traveling and only kept his car. When he is in Egypt, he is lives with his parents, who were against his decision to travel so extensively.
But he continues and when he’s at home, he shows them photos of the new friends he has made along the way and he said they have begun to understand the purpose of his journey.
He still has a few things on his bucket list that haven’t been checked off, including “to visit New Zealand,” “to attend two New Year parties in one night,” and “ride on top of the train in India.”
“I made this when I was 14, but I have done a lot of crazier things that are not on the list,” he said, adding he once spent 10 days on the Trans-Siberia Railway, where the temperature could drop to less than minus 40 degrees.
Indonesia is the 92nd country he visited and although he has seen many different cultures and met numerous people, Ahmed’s love for his own country grows stronger.
Last year, when Egypt was in the midst of a revolution, he stopped traveling to return home and joined protesters in Tahrir Square in Cairo.
“I went to Tahrir Square to speak up, but my message is always the same: peace and humanity,” he said, recalling what he called as the worst time of the revolution.
“It’s important not to spread hatred. I hope that I can be an ambassador of Egypt and ambassador of humanity.”