Sarah’s South African Vocabulary Reference Guide

Whenever I sit down to write emails, newsletters, blog posts, letters, or have conversations with folks back in the US, I constantly have to think about what new words or terminology I have learned and use here. I try to edit myself to make sure I’ll be fully comprehensible, but some words have become part of my everyday vocabulary and it’s difficult. I thought, as I prepare for my final few months here, and I look to getting back to the US in August (holy moly is time flying), I would share a South African Vocab list with you all as a reference. Of course, much of what I hear on a daily basis is spoken in isiZulu, and that would have to be a whole other blog or even a book to start introducing isiZulu to you all back home (plus I still have so much of it to learn myself). This will primarily be the English words I hear, or common terms for things in my day-to-day life here. Some definitions will be brief, others I’ll try to add some context to.


The first thing to know is that the English spoken and written here is British English. The spellings differ from American English, as well as some terminology. For example:

-Boot: The trunk of a car.

-Holiday: A common word for vacation. Recently, I took a holiday to Cape Town.

-Hoot: Honking a car horn.

-Petrol: Gas. For example, instead of going to the gas station, you go to the petrol station.

-Toilet: The bathroom. This is key. Many houses here have the toilet in a separate room from their bath. So, I quickly learned that if you ask to use someone’s “bathroom” when you’re visiting their home, you get a lot of weird looks. “Why does this strange white girl want to take a bath in my house?” Instead, you ask to use the toilet.


Transportation is a bit different here. The biggest distinction: driving on the left side of the road. This also means keeping left in the lanes on a highway, and left turns have the right of way. Alongside this, the driver’s side of the car is on the right instead of the left. This definitely took some time getting used to, anytime I saw a car coming at us from the right side I would flinch and await imminent collisions. Luckily, I don’t drive here. Though, after living here for eight months, I’ve grown used to it, and I’m actually a bit worried I’m going to drive on the left side of the road once I get back to the US. It’ll take some practice. Some transportation vocabulary:
-Robot: Traffic lights. For example, you may hear “the robot turned green, you can go now.” I’ve heard that this is because when traffic lights were introduced here, the closest thing folks here could compare them to were robots.

-Kombi (kohm-bee): Large communal taxis. They are often either 15-passenger vans, or larger airport shuttle type vehicles. These are what I take to and from town. They differ from meter taxis here, which are comparable to a taxi in the US. I often take one kombi from my house to the taxi rank, and then one more to town. It takes about 20-30 minutes and costs me 9 rand to go either way. You can take them short distances or long distances – even to travel hours and hours if needed. They are the primary method of transportation in townships; many people cannot afford cars. There is no set schedule for kombis, they run once they are full. Sometimes people get to the kombi and it is immediately ready to go, other times, there can be quite a long wait before it leaves. It’s just another part of the laid back relationship that this country has with time. Also, there is no sense of personal space on a Kombi. The drivers wait until every seat is full, and sometimes they are willing to add a few extra people beyond capacity. You often end up practically on the lap of the person next to you. I guess it can be a good way to get to know people in your community, but really it’s just a good way to get nice and sweaty.

-Taxi Rank: Basically a bus station for kombis. The one in my township is pretty small – about 20 taxis start and leave from there. But the bigger the area, the bigger the rank. When my fellow YAGMs and I took our first kombi rides in Pietermaritzburg upon arriving in country, we stopped at a rank with probably 100-200 kombis. It can be a bit hectic to find the right one, as none of the kombis are marked. This is where the kindness and hospitality of people here comes in handy; I’ve never gotten on the wrong kombi because people are so willing to help me find where I need to go.

-Bakkies (back-ees): A pickup truck that can act as a taxi, van, bus, or really anything to transport people. The back of the truck often has a cover and benches inside, and transports people to and fro. They are more common in rural areas, but can be found everywhere. Bakkies act as school buses or can be used in place of kombis – a fellow YAGM takes a bakkie into town whenever she needs groceries. They can also be uncovered. Riding in the back of pickup trucks, or bakkies, is extremely common here.


Now I’ll just share some common words that I hear in my community. Some of these words are isiZulu, some are English, and others I’m not quite sure where they come from! 

-Tekkies (teh-kees): Tennis shoes. I love this word. I want to use this word forever. It is so cute.

-Sorry: I’m assuming you all know the meaning of the word “sorry.” Here, it can apply to almost any situation. If I was telling someone that I had a bad day, if I got bumped into while walking down the street, or even if I just tripped over the curb (not that that happens often or anything)(okay, it happens most weeks) then I’ll hear a chorus of “sorry!” surrounding me. It’s used more as a way of saying “I’m sorry that happened to you,” instead of “I’m sorry for doing that to you.”

-Soapies: Nighttime Soap Operas. Soapies are very popular here. They run from about 6:30-10:30 Monday-Thursday. If we’re home when they are on, they are almost always playing on our TV, as well as most other houses I’ve been to around here in the evening. There are dozens of them playing on the main channels here, so there’s no way to watch them all. Some of the ones we watch are “Generations: The Legacy,” “Skeem Saam,” “The Queen,” “Isibaya,” and “The Lockdown.” Soapies have been really cool to follow, because they are generally in the language from the area where they are set. Many are in isiZulu, and captioned in English, so it’s my way of “practicing” my isiZulu… or at least that’s what I tell myself. Others are in the 10 other national languages here, but are almost always captioned in English. The Soapies also show different cultures from around the rainbow nation, and portray things that are happening in current events, or different movements. Sometimes they follow crazy soap opera plots with love and murder, but other times they follow school, racism and race relations post-apartheid, sexuality, religion, and families.

-Leagues: In the church, there are different “leagues.” There is the Youth League (ages 12-35ish), the Young Adult League (ages 30-50ish), the Women’s Prayer League (ages 40+ish), and the Men’s League (ages 40+ish). Folks in my area will often join a league, in which they pay a membership fee for the year and attend lots of conferences and events. The women get together to pray most weeks; the youth meet up pretty regularly as well. The leagues run many fundraisers for the church, Bible studies, leadership conferences, and revivals. I have attended conferences for each league here to get a picture of the church and how it operates in my area. I’ve been to most of the youth league conferences here, and it’s where I’ve made many of my friends in the community. In some of my photos, you may notice that people in church are wearing black and white uniforms – each league has their own uniform that they wear for the events they have, as well as most Sundays of church. It’s very common for pretty much everyone to join a league in my area, but the participation levels differ by each area of the country.

-Braai (bra-ee): Barbecue, or grilling meat. It can both be used as a verb or as a noun: to braai meat, or to attend a Braai. The word “barbecue” here just refers to the sauce; braai refers to the grilling of the meat. Often a Braai will be held as a celebration – at the end of a conference, at a birthday party, or as a get-together with friends and family. The church is hosting a huge Braii after the Easter service on Sunday. Braais consist of a whole bunch of meat. Usually there is braaid chicken, steak, and boerewors (a type of sausage, like a bratwurst). I’ve never had as much meat as I’ve eaten in South Africa.

-Shisa Nyama (shee-sah nn-yah-mah): the isiZulu words for “hot meat.” Shisa: hot or burn. Nyama: Meat. A Shisa Nyama generally refers to a location, essentially a barbecue eatery. The one near our township is next door to a butcher. You start at the butcher and pick out the meat you want. They have every option you could imagine: pretty much every part of a chicken, cow, goat, sheep, or pig. I’ve tried ox heart, kidneys and livers galore, steaks, chickens, boerewors, cow tongue, tripe (intestines), sheep neck, meat I cannot even tell what it is, and “walkie talkies” (the beaks and feet of a chicken. Get it? Walkies? Talkies?). Once you buy your meat from the butcher, you go next door to the Shisa Nyama and they braai your meat for you, and add delicious braai spices. If you’re looking for somewhere to have a platter of meat served with on a slab of wood with no utensils except your hands, this is the place for you.

-Tuck Shop: a sort of snack shop in the Townships. They are often run from people’s homes or garages. Some tuck shops carry some groceries; most tuck shops primarily sell snacks and essentials. There is one about three houses down from our house, and it is where we usually get bread. They also have an assortment of snacks and drinks, and it’s always a struggle to not load up on junk food while I’m there.

-Serviettes: Napkins. Turns out the word “napkins” here refers to either children’s diapers or menstruation pads. Learned that one pretty quickly too. But only after a few stares and glares in restaurants after I asked for a napkin with my meal.

-Yebo (yeh-boh): the Zulu word for “yes.”

-Hibo (high-boh): A sort of exclamation. This is often used as a way of saying “wow!” It can convey shock, surprise, or any exaggerated emotion.

-Rand: the currency in South Africa. This year it has been fluctuating around 12 rand equaling 1 US dollar.

-Lobola (loh-boh-la): A dowry, or literally translated: a bride price. Dowries are still a very present part of the Zulu culture. Traditionally, men will present their fiancé’s family with an agreed upon number of cows. The cows can either be used as livestock or meat, or sold for a sum of rand. The idea is that the husband must prove to the wife’s family that he is able to financially take care of their daughter. There are lobola parties, similar to engagement parties, in which the whole community will come and present gifts for the families. Some modern versions of lobola are gifts instead of cows. The Zulu king has recently stated that he believes that lobolas are no longer necessary in relationships – and that too many families are abusing the system and asking for too much of the future husbands. They may begin to phase out the system. It’s been fascinating, and often difficult, to experience this aspect of the culture as I’ve been here. My host mom, Mbali, is engaged. Her fiancé currently lives elsewhere for work, but they are getting ready to start lobola negotiations.

-Gogo: Grandmother. It can also be a term to call an older woman to show respect. It conveys honor, and the acknowledgment that with age, comes wisdom. The Zulu people have a large admiration for their elders and ancestors. It’s what I call Mama Mngoma, the gogo who drives me to work each day and whom I often sit with in church. She makes sure to introduce me as her granddaughter to everyone we meet. Women are called “mama,” younger women are “sisi” (sister), men are “baba” (father) or “bhuti” (brother).


Hope this all helps, and gives you a bit more of a picture of what I’m up to over here!



I took some time last month to visit a fellow YAGM volunteer in Port Elizabeth, Evan. I love that this program gives me the opportunity to visit other volunteers. It’s a much different experience than simply traveling to a new area of the country – instead we get to meet their host family and friends, go to work with them, and share in their experiences. Evan lives in a Xhosa and Colored community. I got to attend the daycare that he works at and hang out with some adorable kids; I got to meet Evan’s host parents, host sister, host baby brother, and his friends; I got to walk along the boardwalk in town; we even attended a high school band, orchestra, and choir concert with a family from his church at one of the local private schools. It made me realize how fully immersed I’ve become in the Zulu culture, and that I have barely gotten to see any other cultures that South Africa holds. It was my first time being in a community that primarily speaks Afrikaans, instead of the Zulu language. It was a beautiful area on the southern coast of the country, and I was so grateful for the opportunity to see more of what this country has to offer.

I urge you all to keep in mind the Ted Talk that I shared at the beginning of my year – the one on the Power of the Single Story, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The story that you hear from me and that you hear of my year is just one story from an American visiting South Africa. Even the stories of others that I hear and share are primarily those of the Zulu people. I am not, nor have I heard, even a fraction of the stories that this country has to offer. I have had incomprehensibly different experiences than even the 9 other volunteers that came here in September. And we are nothing compared to those who truly call South Africa their home. South Africa is called the Rainbow Nation due to the expansive number of cultures and peoples that live here. There are 11 national languages. My visit to Evan was my first taste of living in the different cultures this country holds dearly. Let me know if you’d like links to the blogs of other YAGM volunteers in South Africa to hear more about their years!



One of the teacher’s at the daycare
Coloring time! My favorite time.
Evan and Izi!
The family who took Evan and I to the high school concert!
Me, with Evan’s lovely host family!

After my visit, Evan and I met up with a few other YAGM volunteers in South Africa to take a holiday to Cape Town. It was a glorious week. We went to the top of Table Mountain, one of the new seven natural wonders of the world, and I couldn’t take my eyes off that mountain all week. I fell in love with that mountain. I’m truly obsessed. We saw wild African Penguins on the beach. We went on a tour of Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was in prison for many years during apartheid. Robben Island used to be used for political prisoners during apartheid, but once they stopped housing prisoners, they eventually became a museum. Especially cool, because many of the folks they employ used to be political prisoners there themselves – including our tour guide. We walked through markets, ate way too much food, put our feet in the Atlantic Ocean, and explored the gorgeous city. I know for sure that I will one day come back to South Africa, and after visiting the family and friends that I’ve made here, I will definitely go to Cape Town once again. I would recommend it to anyone.

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The beautiful views on the drive from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town
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Long bus rides aren’t as bad when you’ve got views like these!
Table Mountain!
Andi, Emily, and I on top of Table Mountain – Cape Town in the distance
Evan, Andi, Emily, and I on Robben Island! Table Mountain in the distance.
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The view from Robben Island! Have I mentioned how much I love Table Mountain?
Nelson Mandela’s Prison Cell
Our tour guide at Robben Island
Saying hello to my new friends
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Seriously in love with these penguins
A beautiful sunrise to end the trip!

Happy Spring to those in the northern hemisphere! And happy autumn to those in the southern hemisphere! I’m hoping this autumn will bring cooler temperatures my way. Keep in touch!

Who run the world?

A few weeks ago, on the evening of Saturday, January 21, 2017, I, along with my host mom, Mbali, one of her sisters, and her soon-to-be stepdaughter, gathered in front of the television screen. It was 5 pm in South Africa, and 10 am in Washington DC – the time that the marches began. Though the news coverage also followed other post-inaugural activities, we were in it for the marches. We sat in front of that television screen for about 4 hours straight, watching the crowds gather, watching clips of the speeches that were given, and watching the coverage of marches across 50 states, 7 continents, international, worldwide. Records were broken. Hope glistened. We had the rare treat of eating pizza that night for dinner, and that afternoon I had made a peach cobbler so we could celebrate sisterhood and solidarity with a yummy treat as we watched. Sisterhood is sweet, am I right or am I right? We talked about presidential politics and the fears that both Americans and South Africans face. We talked about how strong women are, as well as all those who stand up against injustice. As much as I wished that I could’ve been at those marches and much of the current resistance myself (a friend of mine even added my name to her sign so I’d be at the march with her in DC), it was a night to remember.

Over the last few weeks as I’ve been asked over and over and over and over again by the South Africans around me about the recent US election, as I’ve felt anger and sadness and fear over the future, as I’ve checked the news incessantly and struggled with the lack-of-instant-access-news that twitter and regular data plans offer, as I’ve thought about how I can use my future to fight back, the women in my life have brought me strength. The women who have come before me, who walk alongside me, who I know, who I’ll never meet.

So I thought I’d share a toast to women.

To those who were a part of the womxn’s marches

To those unable to march due to work schedules, disabilities, distance, or any other reason

Those who felt excluded from aspects of the marches, by signs equating having a uterus with being a women

To those who are not a part of the gender binary that we’ve constructed – and to whom I apologize for my binary conducive language in this post

Also to those with uteruses who are afraid for their reproductive health access in the future

To Planned Parenthood

To the trans populations, and all those who are LGBTQIA

To my Mom, who has taught me to be loud, be smart, be strong, be funny, but most of all be loving

To my pseudo-sister-in-law Brontë, my role model in the quest to be the best ally one can be to all peoples, always seeking more information, and who has shown me the way to wonderful pop culture (like Buffy and Twin Peaks)

To my aunts, cousin, grandmothers, and ancestors I’ve never met

To all of the wonderful women from Messiah Lutheran Church, who are like family to me

To the Zulu women who have welcomed me into their country, their arms, and their families, who have fed me more food than I could possibly eat, and who call me a member of their families

To my host mom/sister/roommate Mbali and her constant, passionate speeches about the need to end objectification, the empowerment of women, and how she is a netball star, and her never-ending sense of humor bringing me to fits of giggles

To Mama Mngoma, my Gogo, who drives me to and from work many days, who has is raising her grandchildren, running the church, and introduces me to everyone as her granddaughter

That being said, to all the Gogos who have raised their grandchildren and are running their families

To those who don’t see themselves represented in pop culture or in the media

To Muslim women, may we show them love and support as they face the calamities and racist propaganda of modern media

To refugees, who are simply looking to find a better life for themselves and their families

To the women stuck in the American criminal justice system

To my new friends in South Africa who have loved to show me around their beautiful country, and have graciously translated conversations and dialogues that I can’t understand (and who love to laugh at my terrible dance moves – apparently no one does the robot here)

To Mrs. Mthethwa, the social worker I work alongside who has one of the biggest hearts I’ve ever known, and ends each day of work with a big hug and a “thank you, my darling”

To those affected by the patriarchy that’s heavily present in South Africa, those who feel stuck in their homes, those who feel trapped in their prescribed gender roles

To those who are still heavily affected by apartheid

To Mama Mkhize, the deputy mayor of our municipality who always makes the time to dance down the aisles of our church to give her offering

To the women of the Black Lives Matter movement

To the black women who have lost their lives or their families to murders by the police or the state

To the native women of the Americas, who constantly struggle for their rights, especially in the midst of #NoDPL

To female politicians who continually have to assert their rights to be in leadership positions – may they persist even in the face of warnings

To the female YAGMs who have come before me, including Savanna and Taisha, without whom I wouldn’t be where I am today

To the ladies who run the YAGM program: Steph, Julie, and my country-coordinator Tessa, and all the women of the ELCA who helped make the year work, who strive to instill in us the love of our world and remind us that America is not the only “great” country and should not “always come first”

To my fellow YAGM gal pals around South Africa and around the world, who are walking alongside women of many nations and many cultures

To musicians and artists

To writers and journalists

To the women behind the scenes in film and television

To those who have been sexually assaulted, and those who for many reasons do not feel that they can report

To the women who led the leadership conference I recently attended who refuse to let society tell them where their role is in South Africa

To those awaiting lobolas/dowries, and those who may feel stuck in that system

To the women of all cultures and all 11 national languages in South Africa who continue to fight the effects of apartheid, and work to be allies with the women around them

To those who are one of many wives in a polygamous marriage

To female comedians and celebs who work to attain power and autonomy, and fight against the seas of harassers who try to police their bodies, their actions, their words, their clothes

To the women who have been called shrill, bossy, harpy, bitchy, or any other degrading term

To the women who have been victim to hate crimes or hate speech

To those who are victims of bullying or Internet harassment

To those who are shamed and policed for their bodies and choices

To the ladies I’ve idolized from television: Leslie Knope, CJ Cregg, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Rory Gilmore, Veronica Mars, the women of SNL, Abby and Illana, and all the other characters that have taught me to be myself in the midst of this messy planet, fight the monsters of the Hellmouth we call the patriarchy, that knowledge is power, comedy has the power to change, and to always treasure your friends like the beautiful musk oxen they are

To the teachers and professors that I’ve had who have instilled in me the love of education and the pursuit of knowledge

To all of the historical figures that I have not even begun to name, as that would take more than a blog post to write about

To all of my angelic female identifying friends, from Bellingham, from Auburn, from FLBC, from around the country, who I hold so dearly in my heart, who have made me the woman I am today, who I have shared countless laughs and conversations and snuggles and coffees and sugary sweets, and are also too innumerable to begin to name in a single blog post – you are all kick-a** angels and I owe my world to you

To all those I didn’t name here, and the list that will continue to grow in my heart for the rest of my life. You are powerful, you are beautiful, you are important. Please know the power that you have in your own voices and hearts, and do your part to fight for the rights of your sisters and brothers. Call your legislators. Volunteer in campaigns you care about. Speak in front of the committees of your state senate. Join marches and protests. Reach out to friends. Consume and spread only factual reports. Fight back against propaganda. Start getting ready for the 2018 midterm elections – a lot of change happens in congress and state government, so we need to show up to vote by the millions. Remember that it is a gift to listen and lift up voices that might not be heard around you. It is a privilege to not feel fear for your body and your rights in the current atmosphere, so use that privilege to make voices heard.

Balwe Nawe – Fight With Us 

The Rainbow Nation

So as you may know, this blog is titled “A Year in the Rainbow Nation.” If you were unaware of that, feel free to scroll up to the top of this page just to make sure and it will be written in large letters across a print of the South African flag. When I was first setting this page up before I left for the year, I was very anxious about what to call it – unnecessarily so. I texted many different friends, and asked anyone who would listen for advice. I didn’t want it to sound too cheesy or poetic or corny or pretentious. This was actually initially the working title until I thought of a better one, but the more time went on, the more the title fits perfectly. There are a few things that go into this being the title of my blog. First, I have been living in South Africa for about four months now, and I will be here for about seven more months. Indeed, about one year. That’s part one – “A Year in…”. Part two of the title stems from South Africa’s nickname, “…the Rainbow Nation.”


Why is South Africa called the rainbow nation? A friend of mine, and fellow YAGM South Africa volunteer Evan Collins, shared some information on the topic in a recent newsletter of his and was gracious enough to let me snag some of his research. The reason South Africa is known as the rainbow nation is the same reason that the country adopted its current multicolored flag, celebrating the vast diversity and the sheer number of different cultures coming together in one country.


There are 11 national languages. There are countless different cultures. Of the 51.7 million people living in South Africa (SA), 41 million of them are black, 4.5 million are white, 4.6 million are colored (I’ll get back to the use of that term in a moment), and 1.3 people are Indian or from other Asian countries. This country actually has the second highest Indian population outside of India itself, and let me tell you, I’ve had the best Indian food of my life here – curry for days. Curry powder cooked into just about everything. It’s beautiful. The black population consists of a few different groups – the Nguni (Zulu, Xhosa, Ndebele, and Swazi), Sotho, Shangaan-Tsonga, and Venda. I live in a Zulu community. The term “colored” is widely used here to refer to those who are mixed race, or perhaps have lighter brown skin. It’s taken some time to adjust to the term, as it is an offensive term to use back in the United States regarding people of color. The white population is mostly made up of folks of Afrikaaner heritage, descending from the Dutch who originally came to South Africa in 1652.


Along with all of these cultures, as I mentioned, there are 11 national languages here. The 11 languages are:

  • Zulu (22.7%)
  • Xhosa (16%)
  • Afrikaans (13.5%)
  • English (9.6%)
  • Sepedi (9.1%)
  • Twana (8%)
  • Southern Sotho (7.6%)
  • Tsonga (4.5%)
  • Swazi or SiSwati (2.5%)
  • Venda (2.4%)
  • Ndebele (2.1%)


South Africa is ranked in the top 10 most multilingual countries in the world – something I see evidenced every day, as most people I talk to here are fluent in at least 4 or 5. My host mom Mbali is fluent in five different languages. People are baffled that many Americans only speak one language, and might have just a few years of instruction in a second language. A few of these languages share similarities, for example if you speak Zulu it’s easier to pick up/understand Xhosa, the same way that perhaps Scandinavian languages share resemblances. I live in a Zulu community, in the province KwaZulu-Natal, so the primary language I’m surrounded by is Zulu – conversations, church services, meetings, exchanges all occur in the Zulu language. That being said, most people I’ve met have learned at least a bit of English in school so I’ve rarely run into a complete language barrier. I’ll often have someone sitting next to me, volunteering to translate what’s going on.
These languages are not all spoken nation wide, but found within the different cultures in different regions of the country (which, to help picture, is about the size spatially as the state of Texas doubled). When the YAGM SA volunteers arrived in country, during our first two weeks of orientation we had about 21 hours of language training. I was in a Zulu class with the two other girls in KwaZulu-Natal, there were four in Gauteng who learned Tswana, the one in Limpopo learned Venda, and one in the Eastern Cape learned Xhosa. These 21 hours were helpful to start to learn pronunciations and simple/common exchanges, and laid a foundation to start to learn the languages in our communities. It gave us a starting point, but not a lot else to go off of. I’m still struggling to learn the language and the structure, but most people here have been impressed with my pronunciations and Zulu accent.


My favorite way to work on my Zulu language skills are watching the nightly Soapies (Soap Operas) which are often in Zulu (combined with different languages depending on the show) and captioned in English. At least, I tell myself that it’s a good way to practice. Many people here watch the Soapies religiously, including my host mom. That being said, as the shows are captioned in English, it leads to the point that much official dialogue in the country is in English. English is the official language of the Government and Parliament. Many other shows in South Africa, especially reality television, are in English. Most students here learn not only their home languages, but also learn either English or Afrikaans in school (a language very reminiscent of Dutch). Watching “Idols SA” during my first few months here (like “American Idol”) was fascinating because though they used English as their primary language, amongst the Western pop songs that were sung, I got to hear the contestants sing traditional songs in traditional dress in a wide variety of different South African languages and cultures. The show “My Perfect Wedding” follows couples during the last few days until their weddings, and then show the weddings themselves. Weddings here often take two days. Day one is the “white wedding,” looking more similar to the weddings we usually have in the US. Day two is the traditional wedding, and watching this reality show has given me the opportunity to see how different cultures within the country celebrate, and the traditions they have on their special day. I hope to attend a wedding here before I leave.


As apartheid ended in the mid 1990s, there are still some tensions between white Afrikaaner populations and people in black communities – when I’m out grocery shopping or walking around town with my host mom Mbali, we get countless odd looks as it’s still rare for people who are white and people who are black to hang out together. Fellow white YAGMs here have also heard it expressed that the black families voiced their gratitude that apartheid had ended, so that the volunteers are able to come to their family gatherings. We were all placed in communities that are not the wealthiest, or some who struggle with poverty, not living in the suburbs of cities or in expressly wealthy communities. We’re living in Townships and Rural areas, to see the South Africa that may not be expressed in television.


I will get more into history surrounding apartheid in a future blog post, including more information about townships which are primarily black communities that were created during apartheid to keep the black population separate from the white, and not living in the suburbs or the towns themselves. Just as slavery and segregation still have lasting and powerful effects on American communities, the same can be said here, especially since apartheid only ended about 20 years ago. Through living in a township, I have been exposed to different parts of the Zulu culture each and every day – food, traditions, slaughtering of animals (luckily I haven’t had to see that happen yet), dance, clothing, beadwork and jewelry (holy moly is it gorgeous), language, and music.


This is all, of course, a very light overview of the books and books worth of information that I could share with you all, but I hope it gives some light to the expansive diverse beautiful colorful nation that is South Africa. I hope it inspires you to start learning more about the country on your own. It’s an incredible blend of tradition, culture, dance, fashion, song, and language. South Africa, the rainbow nation, has welcomed this tiny American white girl in with wide-open arms, ready and excited to teach me about being a part of the Zulu culture. They help teach me the language, and are overwhelmed with excitement with each new word or exchange I learn, and I could not be more grateful for them. Let me know if you have any questions about the country that I could try and answer, or about any of my experiences so far! Future blog posts to come that will hopefully go further into detail about the history of apartheid, things I’ve learned in South Africa, and pictures of my time here. Love you all!

16 Days of Activism

Recently, while working at the Place of Safety in Ngwelezane, I was able to help prepare for and attend an event through the center to commemorate 16 Days of Activism in South Africa. It was such an amazing experience to be a part of.

These 16 days each year mark efforts to end the violence and abuse of women and children. It originated from the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute coordinated by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership in 1991. This stretch of time is organized through the UN as well. The 16 days are from November 25th – the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – to December 10th – International Human Rights Day. Also included in this stretch of time is World Aids Day – December 1st – and Universal Children’s day.

The following information comes from the South African Government’s web pages. The official slogan for this stretch of time in South Africa is “Count Me In” – a statement inferring that it is up to all of us to end the violence against women and children, not just the victims and the abusers. I’ve heard these 16 Days be discussed on the television, the radio, during church services, and during a Men’s Prayer League event within the church. This year was especially significant; President Zuma even recently made a statement about these 16 days because the time also marked the 20-year anniversary of Nelson Mandela signing the first South African Democratic Constitution.

South Africa adopted the 16 Days of Activism campaign in 1998. They have many objectives for the campaign within the country. They want to attract all South Africans to be active participants through attention drawn by technology, social media, art, journalism, religion, culture, customs, businesses, and other sorts of activists. They want to expand accountability beyond the Justice, Crime Prevention, and Security cluster to expand to all Government clusters, but also acknowledge that the violence perpetuated is not just a government problem, but also a problem within society. All citizens need to work together and have collective responsibility.

The violence that they seek to eradicate includes not only physical violence such as murder, physical assault, and sexual assault, but also emotional trauma, neglect to children, as well as the blights of their current democracy. This includes the violence of starvation, poverty, racism, sexism, humiliation, and degradation. They are encouraging citizens to volunteer with NGOs and community groups that support women and children who are victims of abuse and perpetuate peace. They also encourage the communities to speak out against this abuse. This includes not only reporting abuse that they see, or finding ways to get help if needed, but also to start conversations about putting an end to the violence before it occurs. Men and boys are encouraged to talk about abuse and actively discourage violent and abusive behavior, kids are encouraged to speak out against bullying, and all citizens are encouraged to try and understand how their own attitudes and actions may be perpetuating sexism and violence.

I’m delighted that two of the objectives for this campaign include educating men and boys to talk about abuse and violence and discouraging this behavior as well as looking inward to what attitudes and actions may be perpetuating violence by all citizens. I think a problem that many countries and communities struggle with, including the United States, is that working against violence often comes solely in the form of supporting those who have been abused, or empowering those who need help to find it, rather than eradicating the abuse before it occurs. Many classes that I’ve taken classes for my Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies minor at WWU have focused on the notion that eradicating misogyny and sexism needs to come not only from female identifying feminists, but male identifying ones as well.

There is a documentary by Jackson Katz, “Tough Guise,” that focuses on violent masculinity that promoted in much of Western culture, and how it influences violence and societal behaviors (there is a heavy influence of Western media in South Africa as well). He says, “We often talk about violence being a learned behavior, but it’s more to the point to say that it’s a taught behavior. By shifting the focus from ‘learned’ to ‘taught,’ we shift the onus of responsibility.” This is to say that our western culture often actively teaches the idea that to be a “man,” one must follow certain actions that often lead to violence. Hypermasculinity is an exaggerated sense of hegemonic masculinity and the performance of aggression, virility, and courage.

Katz follows, “There’s the America that recoils in horror whenever a brutal mass shooting erupts onto our television screens… And then there’s the America that can’t seem to get enough of violence as a form of entertainment and ritual… Hollywood movies are one of the great teaching forces of our time.”

 This is by no means to say that all violence stems from Hollywood or films, but influences from the media encourage many behaviors. The documentary “Miss Representation” (which I highly recommend) looks at the concept that the objectification of women in the media leads not only to violence, but also to low efficacy and self worth of women. If women are being seen as objects to be consumed in advertisements, they are less likely to be seen as human beings and therefore more likely to be assaulted, as well as finding lower worth within themselves. Men even try to defend rape culture with misogynistic objectifying logic. In arguments about the autonomy of women, I’ve heard hypothetical examples of a woman as an object to try and prove a point. “Would you leave a loaded gun unattended?” “Would you leave your house unlocked and expect your possessions to not be stolen?” Women are not objects that can be accessed 24/7. Men are in control of their actions.

Yes, the patriarchy is alive and well in the United States – especially evidenced by the recent presidential election where many in our nation voted for and elected a man who is a proven abuser of women, and one who has absolutely no respect for their autonomy, humanity, dignity, and worth. We need to defend women more than ever, and this must start with conversations with all citizens. In South Africa, there are many things I’ve seen in the country where there is clear evidence of sexism. Gender roles, roles within the home life, and even some marriage rituals. That being said, I’ve also seen a lot of promise in eradicating this. My host mom, Mbali, is a young female reverend who is committed to empowering the women around her to take the space they deserve and use their voice. She is taking a leadership class right now to continue her efforts of empowerment. There are campaigns to end the objectification of women, including that which is perpetuated through the western media’s presence here. The government has bills on the empowerment of women and gender equality. There are the 16 Days of Activism.

It is not my place to come into a culture I’m not familiar with, radicalize it, and try and fix all the problems I think need fixing. That is where colonialism comes in and leads to insustainability and turmoil. That being said, I can do my best to lift up the voices that I hear, and stand with those who are making changes in their own country. I’m excited to be a part of events throughout the 16 Days of Activism.

The event at the Place of Safety had a heavy emphasis on protecting children, and included much education to men and other adults on eradicating violence, abuse, and neglect within their household. I helped prepare materials to be distributed, edited the English in informational packets to be used in discussions with fathers and parents, helped set up for the event itself, and took pictures for the Center. The event had a speaker from the Department of Justice, as well as skits from the children in the center, and songs from the children’s choirs. One of their organizing slogans, besides “Count Me In,” was “Balwe Nawe” or, “Fight With You.” Work alongside each other to protect women and children and end violence, and fight together. Kids made signs for the event that read, “We are the future – protect us”, “Enough is enough”, and “If I say No, I mean it.” The event was extremely powerful.

There is much to be done in the United States and in South Africa to continue the protection of women and children, and to eradicate sexism and misogyny. I encourage you to have open discussions about eradicating violent words and violent behaviors with your friends, family, co-workers, children, and neighbors, especially in the recent times after the US presidential election. Look within yourself for behaviors or ideas that may lead to sexism or violence. Words are harmful, and may also lead to harmful actions. Speak to your legislators if you are worried about the words and behaviors of those in power. Give love and care to those who need support. Balwe Nawe.


Summer Updates!

Hello, everyone! Just wanted to write a quick update and share some photos of what I’ve been up to the past month! As you may know, I’ve recently started working at a “Place of Safety.” This is a place that has a boarding school and activity center, which houses and educates children who have been orphaned, abandoned, or abused. Many of these kids come and go as they are placed in safe homes, foster families, or reconciled with other members of their family, but some kids remain there for a while. The Place of Safety houses kids from ages 0-16. Unfortunately, due to a strict confidentiality agreement, I am unable to share any photos from working at the center so as to maintain the safety of these kids. I’ve been predominantly working with the social workers and in the reception area, but as my Zulu language skills (slowly) improve I will work more with the kids who live there.


That being said, I’ve been up to a few different things over the past month! First, I had the ability to visit a fellow YAGM, Andi, in her site placement, and we all just finished our first YAGM retreat just about one week ago!


Andi lives in a rural area of KwaZulu-Natal called Ndlovini. It’s a beautiful place in the rolling hills, far away from city life and cell phone reception. I stayed with Andi in her site for a few days, getting to accompany her to her own workplace, as well as seeing the differences between living in a township (where I live) and farm country. Andi lives on her own in what is called a Rondeval, which is a traditional circular African home made of either mud bricks, or (in Andi’s case) cement. We used gas-burning stoves to cook our meals, and I had my first true experience in the Art of Sponge Bathing (props to you on that one, Andi). She lives just a few feet from a Crèche (what preschools are often called in South Africa) and a few feet further from a hospice center. We spent most of our time working in the Crèche, either helping in the kitchen (home cooked meals for each and every kid!), but also spent some time helping in classrooms, handing out coloring pages and helping the teachers in any way we could. The staff there was so welcoming, and so excited to have me visit their beautiful home! When Andi and I went on a walk around the area one day, we were greeted with “Sanibona! (Hello, all! in isiZulu)” by each and every passerby, walked next to a gorgeous river, and saw many cows, goats, chickens on the way. It was a wonderful week, so nice to catch up with a fellow YAGM, and experience a different area of the country!

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My home in Ngwelezane, and behind is our church!
Andi and I cooking dinner in her Rondeval!
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The view from Andi’s home.
Children singing for morning assembly at the creche!
Children playing at the Creche


Not long after finishing my site visit with Andi, we had our first YAGM retreat. We meet as a country group a few times throughout the year to think about our time here, reflect and hear about experiences of the other volunteers, do some fun outings, and check our privilege in a country so recently post apartheid.


The timing of the retreat perfectly lined up with Thanksgiving, that way we could spend the American holiday together. Our sessions focused on topics such as privilege, advent, reflections, and logistical details of our year. We took trips to gorgeous botanical gardens full of indigenous South African plant life, went to a farmers market where I got crepes and a cappuccino, and strolled around a game reserve where we saw Zebras, Giraffes, Wildebeests, and Monkeys! I got sunburnt while only being in the sun for just over an hour, even after slathering myself with SPF 50 sunscreen – I am not cut out for South African summers. I got to have lunch at a teahouse and hear stories and experiences from a white Afrikaaner who joined the anti-apartheid struggle as a young girl. I got to hear first-hand about what it means to be a white ally and advocate for people of color who are actively being marginalized (she has more recently worked for organizations that distribute non-mainstream media in forms of satire and music, aka, she is my hero). We spent the morning at an art museum in downtown Pietermaritzburg with art dating back to the 1800’s, from artists right here in South Africa. Many of the art pieces reflected on what it means to be living in a country that has so recently become a democracy, and sights of South African townships. I bid on two different pieces, and lost both. I didn’t have a lot of Rand to bid coming out of my stipend. We spent a night in Durban, on the coast of the Indian Ocean, getting to swim and relax and meet people from all over the country (I got sunburnt, again slathered in SPF 50).


We also got to celebrate American Thanksgiving together! It was so nice to be together since we could not be with our families back home, and we also had some time to use wireless internet to FaceTime back home! We spent time in community playing card games and talking, and spent part of our day reflecting on the painful acts of Americans towards the Native American population that the holiday commemorates, as well as the brave acts of justice and the terror that the indigenous peoples and protestors of the Dakota Pipeline are currently facing. I’m thankful to be part of an organization that is so committed to social justice, and learning about what that looks like in many different communities and cultures. When it came to our Thanksgiving dinner, we weren’t able to defrost a Turkey in time, but we had some delicious chicken, mashed potatoes and 6 desserts! 2 pies, a cobbler, puppy chow, peanut butter balls, and chocolate chip cookies were our main course of the day, as they were some of the foods we were missing most from back home. I am so grateful for my fellow volunteers, as well as my country coordinator, Tessa, for having us in her home for the week!



A painting of a township – such a beautiful image of what we see every day in South Africa
A painting of Gogos (grandmas) together
A beautiful painting that I bid on (and lost)
A selfie of our YAGM group on Thanksgiving! Complete with our table full of desserts!
Saw this at a teashop we went to, and obviously loved it
Andi, Emily, and Me at the rainy farmers market!
Emily and me at the botanical gardens!
The botanical gardens!
Our group at the botanical gardens!
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I found coffee at the farmers market 🙂
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The beautiful Indian Ocean!
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The beautiful Indian Ocean!
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The beautiful Indian Ocean!
Zebras at the nature reserve!
Zebras and Wildebeests at the nature reserve!
Beautiful Pietermaritzburg




I’m now back in my site placement in Empangeni. I just started back at work again, and I’ve spent the past week attending prayers for World Aids day on December 1st, helping with a 16 Days of Activism conference at work (more information to come on that one), church services and meetings, catching up on sleep and laundry, and getting ready for a big youth conference in a few weeks. As always, it’s great to hear from all of you, so keep in touch! Love to all!