Everyone has that fiery spirit to travel but those with mobility impairment witness societal limitations imposed on their capability to explore on their own. However, this inspiring story of three women, disabled physically but spiritually driven to make it on their own, is setting an example for others to overcome their fear and shedding light on how the perspective on how those physically challenged are entitled to great experiences, provided they are treated and catered with respect with their needs acknowledged in the process. Tanzila Khan, Afshan Afridi and Zargoona Wadood work together for the Disability Movement, especially for the rights of women with disability. Despite being stationed in three different cities, they would often meet for conferences and seminars. Their like-mindedness led to a strong friendship and a vision to travel on their own (without attendants). A trip to Egypt- they committed to making it there independently, creating fond memories while giving hope to those in similar situations that they too can make. Single and living the best of their lives, the trio of wonder does hope to get married and travel the world with their spouses and kids too someday. Social Diary had the pleasure of speaking to all three, who reflected on their fascinating adventure-they got on the plane, they went to a whole new country and they managed to have a successful vacation, despite facing challenges and overcoming them with commitment and eagerness. Let’s hear more:
SD: How did the idea of travelling together come about? Was this your first trip?
Tanzila: This was our first trip together. I have been to many places but with an attendant, however I wanted to start travelling independently without my mom or any support. It was definitely quite different and I missed my mother a lot but there is no denying how liberating it was. It gave me a glimpse on how to live on my own terms. We were nervous at first but our faith and determination helped along the way.
Zargoona: I was inspired by the travels of Tanzila and Afshan. It gave me the boost to make our already strong friendship stronger, by travelling together and on our own.
Afshan: It was a vision to travel together and independently. We took that flight with a strong mindset to overcome any challenges and hurdles thrown our way; to sort any problems and come back with stories on how if we could do it, anyone could.
SD: What kind of stereotype views and objections you had to face while making plans?
Afshan: I wouldn’t call them stereotypes but it was more of parental concerns on how three girls on wheelchairs will make it to a new country on their own. It was all about how we will manage our commute, expenses and all the cliché things parents would say to their children, let alone those with disabilities.
Zargoona: We come from different provinces. While things in Punjab are well-developed, hence making it better for Tanzila, I definitely had to face major objections, being from Balochistan. It was something being done for the first time in the region. There were definitely a lot of setbacks but we were also committed and our spirit didn’t allow us to take a step back- we had to get on that plane.
SD: How did the trip coincide with The Travel Diary initiative and how does it promote the dreams and aspirations of those with mobility impairment?
Tanzila: Well it is not just emphasizing the need to travel but to embrace life in its full glory. I felt that those with disabilities need to actually move around more to shed the spotlight on how we need more facilities to cater to our needs. We are a market, a major community in the society with rights and needs which need attention. If companies and government initiatives would just invest a little more on us, it will make us more inclusive to experiences. With our trip, we are trying to change mindsets here. Look at us, we went to the pyramids on our own. We did everything but we did so with difficulty. We hope to change that for others.
Afshan: We also wanted to shed light on how you cannot depend on your parents, guardians and attendants all the time. You need to go on your own, experience things and analyze what works and what needs to be highlighted. Everyone deserves to travel and explore new tastes, sights and history- do so on your own terms. The Travel Diary emphasized that.
SD: What has been the most memorable thing about your trip?
Tanzila: We did everything we wanted to. We also allowed people to help us where needed but we did so without losing our self-esteem or dignity. You need to be independent but it’s okay to ask for help and people in Egypt were super helpful.
Afshan: It was pretty amazing to see how we were the only three women on wheelchairs soaking in the view of the pyramids. I even took my manual wheelchair and used my hands power to maneuver my vehicle through the sand. It was a smooth ride and a memorable one.
Zargoona: I loved how we were so considerate towards one another. I recall how I had an incident where I got stuck in the bathtub and was panicking but it was through Afshan’s soothing and encouraging voice which allowed me to muster the courage to get out of there. These little things matter and give you a boost to keep on striving.
SD: What kind of message do you want to present when you don’t let your limitations define your autonomy to make your own choices?
Tanzila: While it is true that every person is born with freedom and choice, a person with a disability is made to believe that they are dependent, either on family or on society. I want to change this idea. I want people to become independent. This includes being financially strong and having our own identities.
Afshan: We have different limitations but what was common among us, was our complete faith in Allah and how in this life we cannot depend on others all the time. Realize your own abilities. Don’t become a burden on anyone; whenever possible, try to do things on your own.
SD: What destination is next on the list and how do you wish for this campaign to grow?
Tanzila: While we plan to visit Spain early next year, we are also looking into the setup of a platform where we can guide others with disabilities to travel at their own free will. Using our own experiences, we will allow disabled travelers to connect with us for a hassle free trip as we emphasize on aspects like how to reach there, learning the local language, answers to common questions etc. All of this will be provided in our local languages of Urdu, Pushto and Punjabi to make sure everyone gets a chance to see the world. We are also making a documentary on our travel experience and we plan to share it with different travel companies, agents and conferences, where they can understand what travelling disability is like.
Afshan: Our experience will serve as a portal that connects travelling from both sides. We will be looking into travelling locally as well, ensuring international disabled explorers that they can come to Pakistan too. We want this beautiful land to become accessible to the international community and we hope the tourism sector can come onboard to create effective exchange programmes.
SD: What should people learn and seek from what you have done here?
Tanzila: I just hope people can realize that when it comes to travelling, money is not what you need to worry about only. Our experiences are setting an example for you to have courage, don’t compromise on your dignity and adapt a risk-taking attitude to become part of such initiatives. Let me say how we were not privileged to get where we are. All three of us had to work hard and fight our families in a dignified way to have them come onboard and let us travel on our own. But our persistence and passion made it possible. Traveling enhances one’s perspective and knowledge, we learned that when we went on our own. One down, many more to go!