I met this week’s featured Go! Girl while on my own travels in Turkey. As soon as she told me what she had been up to recently, I couldn’t help but ask if she’d be willing to do a Q & A for Girls that Go! Check out what Bri Wanlass has to say about all the amazing adventures she’s had as a young woman traveling solo in Africa!
GGG: Who are you and where are you from? When did you first start traveling?
Hi, I’m Bri Wanlass, and I’m a 24-year-old recent college graduate from Seattle, Washington. I first started traveling when I was 21, the summer after my junior year of college.
GGG: Where have you traveled in Africa and what specifically drew you to that continent?
I have traveled within Southern Africa to South Africa, Zambia, Namibia and Botswana. It has been a dream of mine since I was 3 years old to visit Africa and to eventually settle down there.
I’d have to say what initially sparked my interest in the continent was while I was a little girl I would look at National Geographic issues with my nana on her front porch and I was so curious about that far away place pictured within the pages.
GGG: How did you prepare for your trip? Any tips or resources you’d like to share with ladies who might be headed in the same direction?
I think the best preparation for the trip was to have a willingness to let go and realize things work quite differently over there and not to be stuck to any specific itinerary. Researching the different cultures, tribes and histories was also a great way to prepare myself.
I highly recommend reading Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, to truly get a feel for what South Africa has gone through and overcome.
GGG: What was it like being a vegetarian on the road there? Did you have any particularly delicious veg-only dishes that you really loved?
At first it was a bit challenging being a vegetarian in Africa since many meals were meat-centric.
Something that I fell in love with was a dish where they carve out butternut squash and use it to make a vegetarian chowder, then serve that chowder in the carved out squash. Absolutely delicious! There is also a dessert version where cinnamon and brown sugar is sprinkled on two of the halved squash and then roasted.
GGG: Yum! You volunteered in a variety of places in Africa. Where did you help out and what were some highlights?
I would have to say the highlight of my trip was getting to volunteer in various places, especially in Botswana. One place, I worked with a wildlife vet who was in charge of the whole park in Northern Botswana.
A big highlight was when one day Dr. Clay called me up and asked if I could help him put stitches in a zebra’s eyebrow. We had to sedate her and keep her standing up right, her tongue lolling to the side of her mouth. We then cleaned her wound (a 4 inch gash above her right eye) and proceeded to put in stitches.
When she came to, she was quite upset about us sedating her and tried charging Dr. Clay, so I had to lure her in the other direction by pouring fresh water into a container for her to drink.
Luckily I caught her attention for long enough for Dr. Clay to move away, but in her animated spirit, she stepped down on my bare foot, breaking several toes. Hey, what’s a good story without any injuries?
Another great experience was volunteering for an after-school program for orphans who were being raised by distant family members. MyBF (Methla ya Bofelo Foundation) provided a safe haven for these children to come to after school, where they would receive two meals, plus activity time and some classroom instruction.
The biggest benefit is that they learned to trust others and received the love and attention that they were lacking from their home environments. The highlight from MyBF was seeing the kids attitudes and outlooks improve over just a short amount of time.
I remember one little girl, Masego, smiling for the first time in weeks and it was absolutely priceless.
GGG: Wow! What are 3 things you wish you had known before you arrived in Africa?
Three things that I wished I had known prior to arriving in Africa would have been not to pack any white clothes (the dusty roads simply destroy anything white), not to take the anti-malaria medicine (made me terribly sick and I still ended up getting malaria) and instead to opt for taking mosquito preventative steps (lotions, sprays, candles, nets ), and last, download/bring movies prior to coming to Africa – cinemas were far and few between in Botswana and Zambia.
GGG: Lessons learned, I bet. Did you experience any reverse culture-shock upon returning home?
I definitely experienced reverse culture shock upon returning home to the U.S.
The biggest thing was the over abundance of food in our grocery stores. It simply seemed wasteful after seeing how well people coped with understocked markets in Botswana.
It also took a while to get back into the American concept of personal space and to stop touching people’s arms when I greeted them.
GGG: Now you’re in Istanbul for a year to teach English. What are you looking forward to about living in Turkey?
Now that I’m in Istanbul to teach for a year, I’m really looking forward to learn about the Turkish culture and language, as well as its long and diverse history.
GGG: Great! And any long-term travel goals for the future?
My travel goals for the future are a bit ambitious, but I definitely want to explore South America and the Amazon rainforest. I have yet to explore Europe and that is in my list as well, but does not have that immediate tug that South America and (returning to) Africa have on me.
Eventually I plan on living in Africa indefinitely and am always looking at various opportunities that will allow me to do so.
Thanks so much, Bri! I met Bri the normal way (I know, right?!), but you can check out the new blog she’s starting for her year of teaching and living in Istanbul. As always, feel free to leave questions or comments in our comments section!