I first met Tony - appropriately enough - aboard a flight high above the desert of the middle east. As fellow travellers, we found ourselves comparing notes at 34,000 feet about which countries we had visited so far. It was a conversation I was able to continue when he came to visit Mauritius.
Some years ago, after completing his Master's Degree, he faced the same dilemma as many other students considering life after their studies, what to do next. While most of his university peers turned towards the corporate world, Tony instinctively knew that wasn't for him. Instead, he decided to take some time out to explore the world.
One trip led to another, one country led to the another until the thought occurred to him that perhaps he should simply visit every country in the world!
Simple or not, that is precisely what he has spent pretty much the last decade doing, as he has gradually made his way across the globe. To date, he has travelled to 120 counties, visited all fifty states of the USA, crossed the Arctic Circle and stepped foot on the least hospitable continent on the planet, Antartica.
Such a voyage would be daunting enough for most people, but Tony is entirely blind and is 80% deaf in both ears.
As a regular traveller, I know just how challenging it can be to arrive in a foreign land. Unable to speak the language, unfamiliar with the local culture, and unsure which direction to go, it is often a disorientating experience, and I am not disabled. Tony has been travelling, by himself, with a disability most of us can hardly begin to comprehend.
All of this got me to thinking, what does disability even mean anyway?
The very word suggests an inability to do something. But, throughout my own travels, I have met disabled swimmers who can swim a lot faster than I can. I have met disabled runners who can run a lot faster than I can. And now I have met a disabled traveller who has travelled a lot further than I have. So what exactly are their so-called disabilities meant to be preventing these people from doing?
Perhaps the issue here is actually one of language. Instead of thinking in terms of someone being disabled, I wonder whether it would be more appropriate to consider them differently-abled? In that respect, perhaps we are all differently-abled in our own way, each of us having to deal with the challenges of life-based on our individual personal circumstances.
Unfortunately Tony was only in Mauritius for a short while, but as I dropped him back to the airport, I was struck by something a staff member said. "Would you like some help to find your way around?" the staff member asked. "No, thank you," was Tony's upbeat reply, "this is my 121st country, and I have managed just fine so far".
So much for his disability.