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







A Plea to ASPPH

Dear ASPPH (Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health),

As a proud graduate student at one of your accredited invitations (Bear Down MEZCOPH), I love the “This is Public Health” campaign. Stickers in both Spanish/English grace my planner and this laptop.

I do not lie...

I do not lie…although the Spanish one has seen better days.

However I have a request, I noticed that on your the research page under the sticker tab the only South African languages represented are English and Afrikaans. The language spoken by most of the population, isiZulu, is not. I may be biased as a PCV in amaZulu tribal authority, but having Afrikaans without any of the indigenous languages does not sit right with me.

I do not believe that anyone was malicious with the decision, and with 11 official languages in South Africa alone it is hard create stickers for every language group. Before moving to South Africa, I would have assumed that Afrikaans would be sufficient. To be fair there are many people in South Africa, my 90 year old host gogo/grandmother in Mpumalanga for example, who only know Afrikaans. Honestly until I moved to South Africa and familiarized myself with the history, I would have assumed this is okay. I want to use this as a teachable moment.

In 1953, the South African government under apartheid rule established the Bantu Education Act. The whole purpose of this act was to control access to education for all races in South Africa in order for the Whites to maintain power. Blacks were provided with “an education designed to provide them with skills to serve their own people in the Bantustan ‘homelands’ or to work in manual labor jobs under white control.” There is blatant evidence that the government initiated education during apartheid was inadequate. This full impact of this act continues to instigate the blatant economic disparities present in South Africa. However one of the most horrific acts of violence during apartheid rule, the June 16, 1976 Soweto uprising same event the National Holiday Youth Day originated from, was triggered in part because the government decided to intensify Bantu education by making Afrikaans a primary language of instruction. It is estimated hundreds of learners/students were killed in the Soweto uprising, but statistics from that time period are inaccurate.

Afrikaans is a part of South African culture, and in order to meet South Africa where they are at, it is appropriate for ASSPH to have an Afrikaans “This is Public Health” sticjer. What I am asking is an isiZulu sticker on the website as well (and maybe a Tswana one as well to represent the Sotho-Tswana language family) . There are 4 Kenyan languages featured, I think there can be two more South African language stickers one for each Bantu language family present in the country. In the last South African 2011 census, the most prevalent 1st language was isiZulu spoke by 22.7% of the population, followed by Xhosa at 16.0%, and then Afrikaans at 13.5%. Both isiZulu and Xhosa are from the same language family (Nguni) and even with the differences native speakers can understand both languages.

It may seem ridiculous to type a 2 page plea over a sticker. However I love my field, and see how public health improves lives. The province I live in, KwaZulu-Natal is ground zero for public health especially with HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. When I think about what epitomizes public health, I see my home based carers. They are the ones preventing further illness and helping their communities live fully with HIV/AIDS. Maybe the international community disagrees with the effectiveness of Home Based Care, but these individuals are public health. I cannot help but think that they would view these stickers only in Afrikaans as a slap in the face with the history. Someday I would like to show their value and how they contribute to the public health field with these stickers (and if I can order them please let me know…I will pay). However they do not understand English well, if I had an isiZulu sticker as well they could have a brief language lesson as well.

Afterall, Nelson Mandela said it best:

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

“Uma ukhuluma nomuntu ngolimi aluqondayo, uyakuzwa. Uma ukhuluma naye ngolimi lwakhe, lokho kugxila enhliziyweni yakhe.”

Ngiyabonga, Ke a leboga, Dankie, Thank you for listening and the consideration.

Katey Redmond PCV South Africa
Community HIV/AIDS Outreach Project, 2015-2017
MPH student, Family and Child Health, Global Health Option,
Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, University of Arizona

PS: ASSPH did not have an contact e-mail so I did not send an e-mail. I just wanted to respectfully share my thoughts (but if anyone would like to send this on my behalf, you have my consent).
Here is a rough (it has been a scramble to get my site in order) representation of what an isiZulu sticker would look like:


Because Impilo Kawonkewonke sounds  livelier than Public Health

Sorry that I did not have the time to research a Tswana translation.

New Mexican Problems in isiZulu

People acquainted with me before this South African Life, know that I am a proud New Mexican. Albuquerque will always be home for me, even if I choose to live somewhere else. I am always amused when people struggle to spell my city (I do not understand America’s irrational phobia of q or z). I am an incompetent speller without Mircosoft’s aid (I could not spell Tucson right until I lived there for 4 months…that is another story) but we had to spell Albuquerque right on spelling tests starting in 2nd grade. The Basque name basically uses the same k like sound for q’s like English (granted it has probably been Anglicized but all verbal Americans are capable of saying Albuquerque if they try).

It was a slow Thursday at work and I was hanging out in the soup kitchen with some of the carers. We were looking at the centre’s menagerie of children’s books to see if I could find a basic isiZulu book to read to our OVCs (Orphans and Vulnerable Children) that afternoon for isiZulu practice. I found a book with an illustrated cactus and tried to tell the carers that this plant was also at my home. The PCV that I visited here in the Berg back in 2013, was also a Burquena. I have fond memories of creating tortillas in the kitchen area per her suggestion, and now I am the unofficial homemade tortilla maker for SA 31 (Ngiyabonga Kristen)!

I love this photo…505 pride in SA back in 2013

I love this photo…505 pride in the Berg back in 2013

Anyways I mention Nobhle and how we came from the same town. Suddenly I became aware that there are two q’s in the name. While most Americans panic at the site of q in the middle of the word, it is a different ball game in isiZulu. See q is one of the three tongue clicks (c and x are the other ones…more in future posts), and I would argue it is the most involved. The other two letters involve the tongue vibrating across the teeth, but q is a firm click from the top of the mouth. It is taxing for this American to do multiple q clicks in a row. I can get by ordering eggs (amaqanda) but more than one makes my mouth tired. So I took a deep breath and tried to Zululize (as my teacher would say from PST) my city.

Carer: What is the name of your town?
Zama: Albuquerque no wait…Albu click, uer, click ue

The Carers and I laughed for 30 seconds straight. Eish y’all I tried.

The “Zed” Solution

Originally written on February 1, 2015

Remember when I asked how Sepedi speakers handle having no “Z or zed” in the alphabet? One of the current PCVs who stayed with us this week, reminded me that all South Africans are familiar with English and the “z” sound. So they are more than capable of pronouncing Zimbabwe, Zulu, and Mozambique.

I am probably going to become quite familiar with zed. You see yesterday we got our languages assignments.

And the language is….


I will be attempting to speak Zulu for the next 2 years! I am really excited since Zulu was my first choice as it is a very challenging language. Also, it means there is a high possibility I will be placed in K Zed N (what South Africans call Kwa-Zulu Natal)! I am open to possibilities but it would be really neat if this mountain girl winds up in the Drakensberg for Peace Corps Service!

All the best,