Tony Giles is an amazing individual.

Appropriately enough, I first met Tony on 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 recently came to visit Mauritius.

Some years ago, after completing his Masters Degree in Transatlantic Studies (which personally I struggle to spell, let alone study) he faced the same dilemma as many other students considering life after their studies, what to do next. Whilst most of his university peers turned towards the corporate world, Tony instinctively knew that wasn’t for him and instead 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 exactly 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 140 counties, visited all fifty states of the USA, crossed the Artic 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 completely blind and is 80% deaf in both ears.

As someone who has travelled extensively myself, I know just how challenging it can be to find yourself in the middle of a foreign land, unable to speak the language, unfamiliar with the local culture, and unsure which direction to travel. 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 over the course of 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 own personal circumstances.

Unfortunately Tony was only in Mauritius for a short while, and as I dropped him back to the airport, I was struck by something a friendly staff member said when looking at his passport. “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 141st country and I have managed just fine so far”.

So much for his disability.


International Women's Day

We shouldn’t need an International Women’s day.

We shouldn’t need to set a reminder, telling us that March 8th each year is the day when we recognise the achievement of women. We should be recognising those achievements and contributions every day of the year. And yet, we don’t.

Why is that?

We can’t blame ignorance. We can’t say we didn’t know how much women have achieved, because we do.

We can’t blame the media. We can’t claim they aren’t doing enough to highlight the role of women in the modern world. That shouldn’t need to be highlighted.

And we can’t blame society, because every society simply reflects the values and opinions of its members.

The reality is that we don’t adequately value the achievements of women because we simply choose not to. That isn’t to say tremendous improvements haven’t been made. Women have access to more opportunities today than ever before. And yet we still need to do so much more. The glass ceiling is still as much an issue today as it ever has been.

And so, on International Women’s day 2018, we once agin take the briefest of moments to consider the achievements of women all over the world. But, in doing so, let us recognise the real women in our society. Not the celebrities, whose fame is glorified every day. Instead, let us consider the actions of the everyday women, who do so much to contribute to our communities.

Women like Soobawti who, at 70 years of age, is still working from sunrise to sunset, to provide for her family.  When I first met her, she was carrying an seemingly impossible load of grass on her head, which she told me she had cut that morning for the family goats. She doesn’t do this for the recognition or the rewards.

And yet, it is exactly women like Soobawti who we should be rewarding, who we should be recognising, until the day finally comes when we no longer need a special day to do just that.


We need to have a conversation about homelessness.

All across the world, from New York to Cape Town, London to the Kiev, people hurry about their daily lives, hardly noticing as their fellow human beings prepare a bed of cardboard boxes and plastic sheets.

Although often blamed, neither over-population nor a lack of space are the cause of homelessness. Rather untreated mental health problems, the break down of families, drugs and alcohol abuse, and a thousand other tragic issues cause people to find themselves living on the streets.

Throughout the development of our modern society, we have seen humanity accomplish some truly amazing achievements. And yet, somehow putting a roof over the heads of those most in need is not one of those achievements.

The conversation we need to have is, why?