10 Ways to Use Heaven (Beyond Radio Codes)



Another entry of the Blogging Abroad Blog Boot Camp and it is hard to believe we are halfway through! This entry’s theme: I never knew (aka what cultural aspects we were unaware before arriving in country…so for me almost everything).  I am a guilty of over researching in all aspects of life but especially countries I visit. Yet a menagerie of historical facts and a previous 4 day stint in the country does not provide an adequate view of how a PCV experience shapes perspectives of the Rainbow Nation. This prompt also coincides with my (and SA 31’s) one year in country mark on the 22nd   and tomorrow the next CHOP cohort (SA 33) will arrive! There are so many unique aspects about South Africa that I have gained from living here. For the sake of brevity, here is an example of how my host culture (amaZulu) impresses me with their linguistic creativity

As the most spoken indigenous language in South Africa, isiZulu has a strong presence throughout out the Southern African Continent. Beyond the lexical dominance isiZulu is a really neat language to learn, with its unique palatal click, fame as the language sung at the beginning of The Lion King, and base of Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s melodies.Yet the heart of isiZulu is it’s creativity to reuse words and construct new phases.

When most Americans think of “Zulu” they probably contemplate the radio alphabet or an African culture that starts with the letter “Z”. English does not fully embrace the letter “Z” and I can picture the military official on a role from “A as in Alpha” reaching the 26th letter in a panic until they remembered the amaZulu. Shaka’s people saved the day and “Z as in Zulu” continues keeps telecommunications afloat.

isiZulu like most languages in Southern Africa is noun-based and sentence structure is dependent on the noun class it falls under. Since all nouns belong to one of 15 noun classes, a word like “Zulu” has multiple meanings. In other words, simply saying “Zulu” does not make grammatical sense.

“Zulu” in isiZulu means heaven. With additional noun classes, prefixes for locatives, and phrases, heaven takes on at least 10 other meanings like an etymological chameleon.

10 Ways to Use Heaven (Beyond Radio Codes)

With “zulu” you can…

  1. Discuss heaven or the weather: izulu (noun class 5 for miscellaneous)


    Clouds over Cathkin Peak= High probability the weather is about to change at Site 1.0

  2. Express that there is a thunderstorm in the area: izulu liyaduma


    Side of Amajuba’s family rondavel soaked during a severe thunderstorm (and my 7 year old host nice being daring while getting soaked).

  3. Describe rainy weather: izulu liyana


    When it is misty in the Drakensburg (pictured here) or Amajuba, there is almost always rain. Even the heron on top of the telephone wire is hunkering down for the droplets.

  4. Refer to the culture or people: amaZulu (Abantu in noun class 2 is people, and thus the Zulu people are amaZulu)


    Families washing their clothes at the river in an amaZulu tribal authority (site 1.0)

  5. Identify where many amaZulu originated: KwaZulu-Natal aka KZN, my province and place of the amaZulu (this is a locative that does not belong to a specific noun class)IMG_0149
  6. Show a homestead where a family with the surname of Zulu stays (also KwaZulu but this works for any isiZulu surname. I currently stay at KwaMazibuko or place of the Mazibuko family)


    I have no idea if any of these homes are KwaZulu specifically(the surname as this was an amaZulu tribal authority), but here at Site 1.0 in the Central Drakensburg (that sliver of snow on the left is Lesotho) you can see the cluster of buildings that form homesteads

  7. Respect the many Christians in KZN by articulating their beliefs and depicting heaven as a destination: ezuluwini, another locative also the name of a valley in Swaziland (sitSwati is a similar language and ezuluwini has the same meaning and another locative).


    My Amajuba Family is part of an apostolic church, and they wear white clothes to their services. I always am in awe of how stunning they look and they keep the clothes clean!

  8. Give directions involving an upward motion : phezulu, which comes in handy when children are operating fireworks (directions do not belong to a noun class)


    Phezulu: the only way fireworks should go

  9. Request for someone to speak louder: kulumele phezulu/You speak up.


    A taste of the many meetings I attend for the local government. This is my municipal chamber and at this Local AIDS Council Meeting, microphone use was expected!


  1. Be able to explain that you are learning the language: Ngiyafunda isiZulu/I am learning isiZulu. (isiZulu, noun class 7 for inanimate objects and language )


    The Peace  Corps isiZulu labeled language aids, and the book on the right is actually a primary school textbook from  host family 1.0 that accidently got packed during the site change…whoops. Since it was published during the early 90’s it has witnessed a lot of history, and I am working on getting the book back to them.

The next time someone is communicating on the radio and the need arises to clarify “Z,” they probably will remain unaware of their mistake.

Because it really is “Z as in Heaven.”


The Northern Drakensburg’s Amphitheater, somewhere in this formation, there is an unseen (in this photo anyways) trickle of water from the top called the top called Tugela Falls: the world’s 2nd highest waterfall







One thought on “10 Ways to Use Heaven (Beyond Radio Codes)

  1. Pingback: Blog Challenge Responses Round Up #5 - Blogging Abroad

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