So… I killed a chicken

I love meat! I’ve always loved meat. Anyone who’s gone out to eat with me can usually tell pretty quickly that I’m a big meat eater. I’m like Ron Swanson level lover of bacon and eggs. Chicken nuggets? One of God’s greatest gifts to man.

For the last few years, I’ve had my eating habits called into question by friends of mine who are vegetarian or vegan. I figured the best way to know whether or not my conscience was truly okay with me eating meat was to come face to face with the brutal reality of what has to happen for that meat to get to my plate. So… I killed a chicken.

This wasn’t an impulsive decision. I’d been saying for months before I left for Africa that I was going to do it at some point while I was there. I told myself if I couldn’t kill a chicken, then I shouldn’t be able to eat it anymore. So two weeks ago, I went for it.

My friend Frankie volunteered to help me through the process. We went to a store down the road, asked for a big chicken, paid 7k shillings (only $3), and carried the chicken home.

As soon as the chicken got placed in Frankie’s arms, I thought “Oh my god, there’s no way that I can do this.” I felt so sad looking at the poor thing being carried to its death.

Frankie was completely unphased. He’s been doing it for years. As he prepared the knife and a bucket of water, I sat and thought through it. As sad as I was, the thought of never being able to eat meat again made me sadder.

Frankie grabbed the chicken and told me step by step what to do. I placed one foot on the wings and the other on its feet. I grabbed its head and chopped off its neck. As soon as I did that, I stepped back and started hysterically sobbing. It turned into one of those awkward laughing cries, where you’re upset and also in disbelief of the situation. I also was yelling “Oh my God” loudly enough that the neighbors came to see if everything was alright.

I’m grateful Frankie was there, because as soon as the chickens head came off, it flapped around like crazy! If he weren’t there to hold it while I cried, its body could have flopped away!

We plucked its feathers, took out its insides, and prepped it for cooking. Frankie took the lead on cooking. He made us chicken soup and chicken covered in some sort of sauce and my goodness were they delicious!

I was so hungry and excited to eat that I only got these two poor quality photos:

So it turns out, my conscience is okay with me eating meat, and I never need to doubt that again. The experience gave me a renewed appreciation for every single delicious bite of meat that I have. It also gave me the chance to further immerse myself in the local lifestyle. Overall, it was a positive experience.

I am glad that I followed through with what I said I would do and that I can now stand my ground the next time someone says “You wouldn’t eat it if you had to kill it yourself.”

6 weeks in!

I am six weeks into living in Tanzania, so I thought I would share six photos of my facial expressions that are representative of my experience thus far.

I call this one “I’m drowning but everything’s fine… right?

Here I am at Chemka Hot Spring after jumping into the water. Many things were going through my head, like:

  • “What the heck? This isn’t hot at all. This is actually quite cold.”
  • “Oh my goodness, there is one strong current. I’m not sure I’m a strong enough swimmer to be in here.”
  • “Eep! There are a lot of little fish nibbling at my feet. Should I be afraid of these fish? Is everybody else dealing with this?”
  • “Well, I guess this is pretty beautiful. I sure am lucky to be here.”

I’m sure many other people are feeling a bit like this right now. COVID-19 is terrifying. Our way of life has changed. At the same time, it’s a chance to think about just how precious and beautiful life is. It’s a time to be grateful for each day, each friend and family member, each thing that makes you smile.

So try your best to set aside the worried thoughts as best as you can and focus on the good. And if your face comes out a bit like mine, just know you’re not the only one.

Sometimes, you just gotta laugh at yourself

One day, my friend asked if they could do my hair. I’ve always loved having my hair played with, so I said sure! As soon as they began, I could tell they had something in mind. Fifteen minutes later when they said they were done, I took out my phone to take a look at it, and here was the result. Four tightly wound braids in random places on my head. I loved it and immediately ran to show the kids, who couldn’t help but laugh at me.

I’ve laughed at myself a lot since getting here. Sometimes, laughing at myself is in joyful, playful moments like this. Other times, it’s to laugh something off. I’ve never liked being wrong, but it’s something you just gotta get used to when living in a foreign country, especially when they speak a different language and the social norms are much different than home.

Feeling Accomplished”

I’ve gotten into a pretty consistent workout routine, which is a rare thing for me! The views of Mt. Kilimanjaro have certainly helped keep me motivated. Mandy has been great about holding me accountable, too. We usually do a fast-paced four mile walk. On days when it’s too rainy to go out, we have been working out indoors. We recently tried an ab workout to the song “Cha Cha Slide” – it burned!

I feel accomplished for many others reasons, too! I’ve been working through a four course series about US government and politics on that I’m 3/4 of the way done with. I’ve read a few books. I’ve been learning to cook some of the local foods. I’ve expanded my Swahili vocabulary. Overall, I’ve been doing a good job of taking care of my physical and mental health!

Cockroach: 2, Brittany: 0

I have become less squeamish with bugs since I first got here, but that’s not saying much, considering I was pretty darn wimpy to begin with. About a week into getting here, I walked into my bathroom to find a cockroach right in front of my sink. I stood there for a few minutes, thinking through all the possible plans of attack, and ultimately, I chickened out. I used Google Translate to figure out how to say “Can you come kill a bug?” in Swahili to my guard. Bryson to the rescue!

Then last week, I had the pleasure of walking in on yet another cockroach going about its day in the corner of my room. Again, I ran through all the options in my head for how to make my room bug-free. This photo was taken after I armed myself with a pot, what I determined was my best option for killing it on impact, though it was also something that would require me to get rather close to the bug. As I went back in to my room, the roach crawled under my cabinet. Suddenly, I lost all confidence. Once again, I called for help. This time, it was Frankie to the rescue!

This face has happened not only during my failed face offs with cockroaches, but my encounters with all other sorts of bugs, like giant ants, flying termites, and Nairobi flies (which, if you kill one when it’s on you, will make your skin feel like it’s being burned by acid). This face also appeared as a reaction to seeing snakes, finding out just how many plants here have giant thorns, and when I found out I had worms.

I like [insert name of alcohol here]

During a time like this, it’s nice to end the day with a drink. And I know I’m not the only one feeling this way, because alcohol sales have been booming since the pandemic began. We’ve had many fun night drinking while playing card games and Rummikub!

I’ve had quite a few people ask me what kinds of alcohol they have here. Pretty much all the big names when it comes to liquor, and mostly local beers. Since arriving in Tanzania, I’ve personally had a bit of wine that was made in Dodoma, both white and red, some Smirnoff, and a few Savanna ciders, but mostly I’ve been drinking Konyagi. It’s known as “the spirit of the nation.” It’s cheap, it’s strong, and it tastes surprisingly good. It goes well with pretty much any mixer and isn’t bad on the rocks, either.

& don’t worry fam, I’m drinking responsibly!

“Overwhelming happiness”

I took this right after I stepped foot off the plane at Kilimanjaro Airport. I couldn’t believe I was back in the place that had such a big impact on my life seven years prior. The place where I find so much joy in the people, the food, the landscape. I was excited to be back and oh so proud of myself for making it happen!

I’ve had many moments of pure joy like this since I got here. I often feel this way when I’m running around with the kids, when I see the snow covered top of Mount Kilimanjaro, or when I’m eating chicken vuruga.

And my face when I first saw the star-filled night sky? Like this, but add some tears streaming down my face.

Life here is going well, all things considered. Tanzania has 46 cases of COVID-19 and has been taking some precautions to prevent that number from rising. I will continue monitoring the situation and keep everyone updated.

My original plan was to head to my next destination on May 27, but I can’t foresee the world being open for country hopping six weeks from now. More than likely, I’ll be extending my stay in Moshi, and I am very happy about that possibility!

Welcome to my house!

What a crazy time we’re living in! There’s so much I could say about it, but for now, I’ll leave it at this: life is precious.

As many of you have probably seen, the U.S. announced a Level 4 Global Health Advisory. This means that our state department advises against all international travel and that if there are U.S. citizens abroad, they should come home immediately or prepare to remain abroad for an “indefinite timeframe.” Many people have asked me whether or not I’m coming home (thanks so much to everyone who has checked in with me, I really appreciate it and feel so loved!), so I wanted to let everyone know that I am staying in Tanzania.

The original plan (and what I am going to assume is still the plan, as I am taking a wait-and-see approach) was to be in Tanzania until May 27. So for three months (or more), here is where I’m living!

This is my beautiful home!! On either side of the house, there is a bedroom and a bathroom. In the middle is the living space, with a living room, dining room, and kitchen.

There are three houses in the compound. There is a Tanzanian family with two children who own the compound in one house, the founder of the nonprofit I’m here with in another, and now I am in the third 🙂

This is the gate to get into the compound and the guard house. Our guard Bryson is sweet as can be! Unfortunately my Swahili is still pretty weak, though, so our conversations have been limited. He’s also super helpful! One night, I came inside to find a huge cockroach in my bathroom. With no idea what to do, I ran outside and got Bryson (after using Google Translate to figure out how to ask “Can you please come kill a bug?”). He quickly came to my rescue, while at the same time making me feel like a wimp, because without a second thought, he simply smacked it with his hand and killed it.

This is the view from my front door. As bright and inviting as it looks, I’ve found it better to sit on my porch and admire it from afar. The sun here is HOT! Within three minutes of sitting out there, my face was sweating more than I ever knew it was possible to sweat from my face.

I just love all the light that pours in through my front windows!

My comfy and cozy living room! I borrowed some kitenge fabrics for the couches to give the room some pops of color. I’ve been enjoying laying on the couches in the evening, watching Grey’s Anatomy and snacking on fried chili peas 🙂

Here’s my kitchen! I’ve been cooking a lot of rice, beans, and veggies for lunch and dinner. For breakfast, I love having fresh eggs! You know they’re coming straight from the coop because some of them still have bits of feathers on them. There are some challenges with cooking that I don’t face back home though. The “nonstick” pans, for example, actually get everything stuck to them. That means I’m cooking with a bit more oil than I typically prefer.

My bedroom! I feel like a princess sleeping under this canopy (mosquito net) every night. Since there is no air conditioning, I have a fan blowing on me all night long to keep me cool. While the power isn’t totally reliable during the day, it has only failed me once at night. Thank goodness, because I don’t sleep very well when I’m hot.

My bright bathroom! I was pleasantly surprised to find that there is a water heater built into my shower head, so I don’t have to wake up early to flip the switch and wait for it to get hot. It really is the little things 🙂

The second bedroom. It mostly stays empty since the current situation is preventing anyone from coming to visit.

Mandy (the founder of the nonprofit) has four adorable dogs! Now that schools are closed and we’re working from home more often, it’s great to have such cute animals keeping us company. Their names are Zuri, Puppy, Jenny, and Bella.

And to top it all off…

Right at the end of my street, I can see the big, beautiful Mount Kilimanjaro.

Home sweet home 🙂

Why You Should Visit Kigali, Rwanda

Kigali was my first stop on this great big adventure. I decided to visit after having done enough research to know that it was safe and that it had enough to keep me entertained for the 9 days I’d be there. Little did I know just how much I’d end up falling for this beautiful city. While I could go on and on about the things I did and everything that I enjoyed, I decided to sum it up into the key reasons why I believe more people should be visiting Kigali, Rwanda’s capital city.

The views: Rwanda, known as “the land of a thousand hills,” has beautiful views across the country. The neighborhoods of Kigali are situated on rolling hills, which lead to breathtaking views everywhere you go and one heck of a workout!

It’s SAFE: Kigali is often praised as the safest city in Africa. Rwandans prioritize and take pride in their safety. It was great to walk around the city and feel secure. It wasn’t a false sense of security, either. Believe me, as a petite girl all alone, I worry about my safety plenty. But in the areas I explored in Kigali, I enjoyed a feeling of security I have experienced few other places.

To give an example of one of the noticeable safety measures… You know when you go to a concert and they “check your bag” but really they just move stuff around a little bit and let you pass through? It was nothing like that in Kigali! There are security checks going into high traffic places like malls and let me tell you, I have never had a bag more thoroughly checked.

It’s clean: Known as one of the cleanest capitals (and also known as “the Singapore of Africa”), you are greeted by pristine roads everywhere you turn. The ban on non-biodegradable plastic bags has helped get it there, but even more so, it’s “Umuganda” that helps to keep the city so clean.

“Umuganda” happens on the last Saturday of every month and it’s about coming together for a common purpose. It is Rwanda’s mandatory community service day, where citizens come together to clean up their neighborhood.

The dollar goes a long way: With 1 USD = 953 Rwandan Francs (at the time of writing) and the GDP per capita at $824, a dollar can get you a lot more here than it can stateside. I was averaging only $3-$4 per meal, and that was in the upscale neighborhoods.

There is so much good food: Kigali had just about every kind of food I could have ever wanted, including gluten-free baked goods!! There were a lot of buffet-style meals, which I always love because I get to try a little bit of everything and go back for more of whatever was my favorite!

It’s fun!: While there are many fun things to do in the city, I particularly found the nightlife to be worth noting. There are countless places you can go out for a drink. Papyrus provided great views, Blackstone Lounge gave a more upscale drinking experience, bars in Remera provided what seemed like a more average night out for a local, and Cocobean provided dancing to the wee hours of the night. 

There is a vibrant art scene: There are many places around the city to view and purchase art. Inema Arts Center is one of the most well known art galleries in the city, hosting events during the week ranging from happy hours to dance performances.

On the side of Inema Arts Center, you can find President Paul Kagame’s quote, “We want to make the kind of progress that will make Rwanda unrecognizable to those who define us by our tragic history. The future we are building is the future Rwandans deserve.” I think the art scene is just one of the many things Rwandans have to show how far they’ve progressed in a short time.

It’s easy to get around: The city is very walkable, and some neighborhoods are even quite accessible, having curb cuts at the end of the sidewalks. The motorbikes (motos) are another great way to get around. You can get to just about anywhere you want to go in the city for a dollar or less.

Plus, they’re fun! See!!

It’s a hidden gem: Falling low on the list of number of tourists visiting annually, with only around one million per year, Rwanda isn’t at the top of many people’s destination lists. While I think this is a shame, as the country has so much to offer, it was quite nice to visit a country and a city that isn’t overloaded with tourists. There were no lines or crowds at any of the popular sites, which made for a peaceful and reflective visit.

It’s a case study for progress and healing: Only 26 years ago, the country experienced a terrible genocide, killing nearly one million people in 100 days. Since then, the country has made incredible social and economic progress, and still offers many ways to learn about the tragic history and remember those who died.

The Kigali Genocide Memorial was absolutely heartbreaking. It was beautifully done, but so much to process in one visit. I learned about the genocide in school, but the brief history lesson in the comforts of an American classroom did not tell us much about the horrors people experienced, nor convey the weight of the sadness and pain caused by the genocide. By the end, there wasn’t a dry eye from anyone in the group I was with.

I also visited the Campaign Against Genocide Museum, which explained how the genocidal forces were defeated.

Overall, I would highly recommend visiting this city for at least a few days. It is somewhere I can only hope to make it back to soon!

As for the downsides? I personally didn’t experience any during my visit.

Is there disorder behind all of the order? There very well could be. As this NPR article says, “President Paul Kagame’s repressive administration is controversial. Yet it has maintained stability in this poor country and spurred development in a region dogged by turmoil and corruption.” There are plenty of articles out there questioning the current administration to read if you’re interested, but for this post, I wanted to focus on the positives, as Kigali sure had a lot of em 🙂

My Gorilla Trekking Experience in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda

Before heading to Tanzania, I wanted to experience a bit of the neighboring countries. Upon researching top destinations nearby, I was intrigued by Absolute Africa’s Gorilla Stop tour to Southern Uganda. The Mountain Gorillas, beyond being beautiful and fascinating animals, are an endangered species, with just ~800 remaining in the world, so I figured while I’m in the region, I should go see them. It seemed like a once in a lifetime experience. Also, in my head I was like “I’m gonna be like Jane from Tarzan, sweet!” And that’s about all I knew going into the experience. My lack of research and go with the flow attitude made for one interesting trek.

To give some background, there are gorilla trekking experiences in the Congo, Uganda, and Rwanda, a big difference being the cost of the permit. With the gorillas being endangered and many people wanting to see them, it is a rather expensive excursion, but the money for the permit goes to conservation. Once you arrive, you are briefed on the experience, then everyone is split into groups of up to eight people plus a leader, two people providing security, and porters if anyone would like their bags carried for them. Walking sticks in hand, you head down a path to see your group’s family. There are trackers that go out early in the morning to try to find the families to help the groups see the gorillas as soon as possible. While there is no guarantee of seeing them, most people do. With a price tag of $600-$700, it sure would be disappointing to walk out without seeing them, making it one really expensive hike.

I was tracking the Bweza family. When we set off on our hike, the trackers hadn’t found the family yet, but we felt hopeful. As we began the trek and realized how steep of a climb we had ahead of us, we started to worry, not wanting to exert so much energy to come out without seeing them. Once we hit extremely the muddy patches, with the kind of mud that tries to steal your shoes right off your feet, our worrisome mentality intensified, saying “we better find these gorillas!!”

Sure enough, we did. After just over an hour of trekking, we found a silverback. Within a couple minutes, he was off into the forest. We found him and lost him a couple more times, eventually losing him altogether. About an hour after that, we found our family! 

It was pretty surreal being just a few meters away from them, watching how playful the young ones are and how caring the mothers are to their children. They’re so similar to people, making them all the more fascinating to observe.

Now for the parts that I wasn’t prepared for: 

  1. I cannot stand the feeling of being wet. If I’m in the shower or submerged in a pool, no problem. But being poured on? Absolutely not. So being in the rainforest during a thunderstorm with the sky pouring buckets of water on us led to a whole lot of swearing in my head. I would try and smile to myself or sing a happy song, but once my shoe would get stuck in the mud again or I’d nearly wipe out from the slipperiness, the stream of profanities would ensue. Despite my shoes being water-proof, I felt like I was stepping in puddles INSIDE of my shoe with every step that I took. Gore-tex is helpful, but stood no chance in this weather. The bottoms of my pants were coated in a thick layer of mud (mixed with what I believe was some forest animal fecal matter). My pants, once a light gray, were now dark gray, soaked all the way through. I will give a shout out to my Frogg Togg raincoat, though. That thing really kept me and my backpack nice and dry. 
  2. It was more about photography than I thought it would be. I was excited to be in the presence of the animals in the wild, but most seemed to have come to capture the animals through their camera lens. Anytime I would put my phone away to just stop and watch them, people kept asking if I was okay.
  3. We were told we’d have to stay 7 meters away from them during the briefing. That ended up not being the case on the hike, as we were encouraged to get much closer to them. While the family of gorillas was taking shelter from the rain, the trackers used their machetes to chop down the branches around them, opening it up for more photo opportunities. What I thought would be a distant experience became close and invasive, with the gorillas shouting out each time the trackers pulled their shelter away from them.  As soon as our group left, the gorillas left to find a new shelter.

Am I glad I went? Yes. 

Would I have gone if I had done more research ahead of time? I’m not sure. 

Would I go again? Nope. 

For me, it truly was a once in a lifetime experience. It was surreal and unforgettable to be so close to such beautiful animals in the wild, but with all the other parts of the experience in mind, once is enough for this girl’s lifetime. That being said, I would still recommend people go if this is something that interests them. Most people I’ve met who have done it rave about it. Some of the people on the Nairobi to Cape Town overland tours say it’s the best part of their 70+ day journey. Overall, it taught me I may not be as open to wildlife adventures as I thought, particularly in rainy weather. One of what I’m sure will be many learning experiences for me this year. 

If you’re going to see the gorillas, here are a few tips:

  • It is likely to rain, so come prepared with a raincoat and a waterproof backpack or cover to protect your bag. 
  • Unless you have the best rain proof gear out there, bring yourself a change of clothes. No one in my group did, so we spent the 1.5 hour+ drive back to Kisoro shivering in our sopping wet clothes. 
  • Hiking rain boots (like wellies) would be a much better shoe than a regular hiking shoe.
  • Use the walking stick! I am not normally don’t like to hike with one, but in this terrain, they are going to keep you standing upright. 

Thanks for reading! 🙂

Why I’m Going

A lot of people have asked me why I’m leaving my perfectly good life in Chicago to go on a ten month (or longer) adventure abroad. While I don’t feel the need to justify it, I found it valuable to reflect on my intentions for the year. So here are some of the reasons why I am traveling for the remainder of 2020.

  1. The timing is right. At 23 years old, I have the rest of my life ahead of me to work and to “settle down.” I have no pressing financial obligations, I’m not romantically involved with anyone, my family is happy and healthy, and my friendships couldn’t be stronger. If ever a time to feel confident in leaving home, it is now.
  2. I’ve been dreaming of doing this since I was 16. My first trip out of the country was at 16 years old to Moshi, Tanzania, where I am returning to for the first few months of this trip. I wrote a journal while I was there and in it, I said that after I graduate college, I am going to take a trip similar to the one I am about to embark on. While I have gone through many changes since I was 16, my dream of doing this has been consistent.
  3. What’s the worst that can happen? I believe there are far more people who regret not traveling than regret traveling. While many of the places I am going this year are unfamiliar to me, they are safe. The bad things that could occur in these countries are the same bad things that could happen to me walking down the streets of Chicago.
  4. To challenge myself. Traveling abroad by myself inherently puts me in situations much different than what I’m used to experiencing at home. Trying to figure out cultural norms, learning how to get around knowing little, if any, of the language of the countries I am in, and don’t even get me started on navigating my dietary restrictions. All difficult, but all great learning experiences. I am going to intentionally push myself, mentally and physically, knowing that I will come out stronger for it. One of the things I’m most looking forward to this year is an overland tour through Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa. I will be camping every night, facing terrain and bugs much different than I’ve faced glamping in Wisconsin. Am I going to freak out? Probably, and probably more than once. This trip, in the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, “is an experiment, as all life is an experiment.”
  5. I want to make a difference. Long-term, I want to pursue a career that will help solve some of the pressing issues facing society, but I don’t know what exactly that’s going to look like yet. I need to better understand myself, where my strengths lie, and what I am most passionate about. I hope to come back from this as a stronger leader with a clearer sense of direction, more equipped to face challenges, to think laterally, and to ask better questions.
  6. To experience the beauty of being human. I think if we all took more time to learn how people different from us live, we would have a greater sense of humanity and be more willing to come together. As Melinda Gates wrote in The Moment of Lift, “If there is any meaning in life greater than connecting with other human beings, I haven’t found it.”

So off I go to listen, to learn, and to enjoy this big, beautiful world. I could not be happier or more grateful for this opportunity! I look forward to sharing stories and photos throughout the year.

Welcome to my blog!

As of February 19, 2020, I am off to travel for the rest of the year! First stop: Africa. I will be on a tour through Rwanda and Uganda until March 1. Then I head to Tanzania to volunteer with Neema International for three months. Next is an Overland Tour through Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa. After that, three months in Europe, then another three in New Zealand. Depending on where I’m at with my budget and how I’m doing being away from home for so long, I may or may not continue traveling in 2021.

I am writing this blog primarily for family and friends to stay updated with my whereabouts, but it’s also here for anyone who’s curious to read about my adventures around the globe! I’ll be sharing stories, photos, tips and tricks for traveling, and really anything else that I think people might enjoy reading about.

I’ve titled it My Purposeful Adventure because I will have an intention everywhere I go. Whether my purpose be something meaningful, like doing work for an organization in Tanzania that I care deeply about, or silly, like eating as much gelato as I possibly can in Rome, I will go into each day having a clear idea of why I am where I am.

To learn more about Neema International, visit