'I didn't know they'd take me to Dubai': Expats surprise travel guide with gift of a lifetime, week-long trip to UAE

From walking into the sea to seeing penguins and eating shrimp, the trip marked several 'firsts' for the 28-year-old


Lamya Tawfik

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Estifanos Adhanom Degefa - or 'Stef' (third from right) enjoys his time in the UAE with the group of expats he helped guide around his country, Ethiopia
Estifanos Adhanom Degefa - or 'Stef' (third from right) enjoys his time in the UAE with the group of expats he helped guide around his country, Ethiopia

Published: Mon 27 Feb 2023, 5:00 PM

Last updated: Mon 27 Feb 2023, 9:37 PM

Estifanos Adhanom Degefa was 28 years old when he had his first olive — last week in Dubai. The Ethiopian tour guide impressed a group of travellers from Dubai so much on their trip to the Horn of Africa country that they decided to gift him what he describes as the best time of his life: A week-long trip to Dubai.

Earlier this year, Australian Liana Livingston, US citizen Pamela Sono, Dean Brealey from the UK, Turkish national Onur Alp Aydin and Rodolfo Pick from Venezuela met at Dubai airport on their way to Ethiopia for a four-day trip of the city of Lalibela. There they met Estifanos or “Stef” as they call him, their tour guide, who went over and above the requirements of his job.

Khaleej Times caught up with a few members of the group and with Stef to learn more about this heart-warming story.

“There was a religious festival taking place during our visit and people were dancing in the streets and we joined them. During the trip, Stef would watch out for us all the time,” said Livingston, adding: “When we were at the festival, it was so easy to get lost because there were thousands of people, but he always looked out and made sure that he knew where everyone was.”

Sono, her travel companion, said Stef was really knowledgeable and would always go out of his way to ensure their comfort and safety. “Sometimes, tour guides don’t have answers, but he did. He was subtle about keeping an eye on us while we were wandering,” she said.

During a mountain hike up to a monastery, Livingston said that Stef made sure that if someone got tired, he would carry their backpack and if someone felt they didn’t want to continue the trek, he would arrange a tuk-tuk (a three-wheeled motorised passenger vehicle).

“He was really caring for every single person,” she said, “I never once felt that he was pushing us to go anywhere for his own gain… he honestly just wanted us to have the best experience there.”

Stef and the UAE travellers group in Ethiopia.
Stef and the UAE travellers group in Ethiopia.

Even though there are not many tourists going to Ethiopia at the moment, Livingston remarked that Stef was always trying to improve his tour guide services, such as by studying up on bird species to cater to tourists interested in birdwatching.

While they were waiting at Addis Ababa airport for their connecting flight to Dubai, the tourist group reminisced about their trip and came up with a brilliant idea: Treating Stef to a UAE trip, with all individuals in the group contributing. They immediately called up their guide, put him on speaker and asked him if he would like that.

“He was so excited! He said, ‘Yes of course!'" said Sono, adding that the group quickly put a plan in action so that Stef did not have to wait too long. A detailed itinerary was created by the group, who made sure that he got a taste of Dubai — and also of Abu Dhabi, where Sono lives.

In Dubai, the group made sure that Stef's trip was packed with diverse experiences, such as a trip to Ski Dubai, the various landmarks and fountains. Also included was lots of great foodie experiences, including a meal at a Turkish restaurant, a brunch where he was introduced to seafood, which he loved and where he even got to eat sashimi with chopsticks.

Stef enjoys seeing the penguins at Ski Dubai - one of his most memorable experiences in the UAE.
Stef enjoys seeing the penguins at Ski Dubai - one of his most memorable experiences in the UAE.

“He had never been in a pool before. I tried to teach him to swim. He had also never seen the ocean. I have a video of him walking into the sea for the first time,” said Livingston.

In Abu Dhabi, Sono took him kayaking and to see the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and the maritime heritage festival. He was given a tour – which he had never experienced before — by an Emirati tour guide. "He loved being on the receiving end of a tour. He loved learning about Emirati culture and loved meeting Emiratis,” she said.

Here's a video of Stef's amazing trip to the UAE:

The trip, while enjoyable for Stef, was also an enriching and eye-opening experience for the group. “We didn’t realise how simple his life was. He thought it was incredible that we could shower every day, sleep in a bed at night. He had not see a vacuum cleaner or washing machine before — except in the movies. We didn’t expect how many 'firsts' he would have. It was humbling for us,” said Livingston.

“Once you see something from someone else's perspective, it makes you look at everything differently,” said Livingston, adding that Stef loved it so much that he now wants to move to the UAE. “I’m trying to get some contacts for him. He’s so good and his English is impeccable; even though we’re from five different places, he understood all of us,” she said.

Coming to work in Dubai would be a dream come true, Stef said, adding that he was surprised when his guests invited him to Dubai. “They were a fun group, one of the best groups I’ve had in the four years I've been working as a tour guide. I didn’t know they would take me to Dubai. I was smiling the whole week, I was very happy,” he said.

He didn’t care much for olives, though. "I thought they would be sweet," he said. Shrimp, on the other hand, was a delicacy he tried for the first time in Dubai and really liked. Another experience he really enjoyed was seeing the penguins, and said: “They are very beautiful.”

Stef plans to show all the pictures he took on his holiday to his family and friends back home as soon as he sees them — and tell them about his wonderful time in the UAE in minute detail.


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