Remembering isiZulu

It’s funny what your brain remembers. While learning a new language, it’s been especially entertaining to make note of what my brain retains. While I sometimes struggle to remember how to properly respond to questions like “Where are you going?” or “Where have you been?”, I have no problem quickly and fluently telling someone to go home – “Hamba ikhaya”. Recently while reflecting on what isiZulu I am remembering, an obvious common theme was hard to ignore.

The Zulu I seem to hold on to the most, outside of daily greetings, revolves almost exclusively around the people I know and love.

Thembi has become sisomdala wami – my older sister.
Sibu is bhuti wam – my brother.
Mazwi is isithunzi sami – my shadow.
My little brothers are bafana bami – my boys.
Thula is sisomcane wami – my younger sister.
Mthobisi is bhutiomcane wami – my younger brother.
I jokingly call Mndeni mkwenyane wami – my husband.

And that’s just the names I call them.

Baba sometimes calls me indodakazi – daughter.
Thembi calls me sisomcane – younger sister.
Thula calls me sis wam – my sister.
Mndeni jokingly calls me koskaz or makhoti wami – my wife.
My congregation calls me Nomusa – grace.

It’s definitely not classroom language learning. There’s too much emotion tied into my limited vocabulary.

I’m certainly not going to be fluent before I leave. But I will keep learning new names and making new friends and expanding my vocab. And if I ever screw up, there’s always a willing teacher near by to help correct my mistakes.

Disclaimer: This isn’t the only Zulu I know, just the stuff that’s the most emotionally charged and therefor, the easiest to recall.


New Normals

This post comes straight out of my newest newsletter. If you haven’t received a copy of said newsletter and would like one, please leave your email address in a comment below and I’ll make sure it’s sent your way!

I’ve heard that this time of year can be difficult for some when it comes to writing newsletters and blogs. Not only are we caught up in all the feelings brought about by the idea of being half way through our year (yes, ladies and gentlemen, we are past the halfway mark), but everything in our new homes has become…normal. Which is funny, because normal is not something I was looking for this year. It’s a new normal, but it’s normal. It’s normal to fall asleep to the cacophony of night time insects and to be woken by the call of the hadida birds – a grating call worse than your roommate’s alarm during finals week. Phutu, curries, potatoes, conversations between strangers that mean nothing to me, marriage proposals, the popular soap “Generations” – normal. Normal that my name is “Ra-shell”, normal that my name is Nomusa, normal that I stick out like a sore thumb, but am loved because of or in spite of it. Normal that I straddle two very different communities and cultures in my very small town. My new normal includes zebras practically in my back yard. Normal is being ushered into the front yard by excited little hands and loud screams of excitement after every single work day. Normal is living in a household that now holds 16. Normal means that I struggled to find pictures to add to my newest newsletter, because it’s more rare that I’m grabbed with the instinct to grab a shot of a seemingly strange incident. Strange has now become easy access to internet, wifi is stranger still. Strange is when I haven’t been to my church in two weeks, busy visiting rural churches in the area. Strange is hearing an American accent in the grocery store and realizing I can’t tell if it comes from Boston or LA. Strange is not walking the two kilometers it takes to get to work and back. This, and more, is my new reality. And it’s beautiful and so very different from those I’ve experienced before. And it is totally and completely normal.

Little Moments pt. 2

I looked at Mndeni and, in Zulu, said something both sassy and sweet. Malume (uncle in Zulu) laughed.
“What?” I asked, “What are you laughing at Malume?”
“You said that perfectly.”
I blushed. “Ngiyabonga (thank you) Malume.”
“I am also laughing because this is perfect. You are part of the family. You are our family. ”
I blushed harder and grinned like an idiot.


I have decided
I love smudges in my journal.
Imperfections of the moment,
They used to aggravate
my carefully hidden OCD inclinations.
I used to hate the way they marred
memories, quotes, treasures.
Ugly scars distracting
from the aesthetic I had so carefully planned.
But the grease stain
From curious fingers just turned three years old,
The smudged ink, barely penned,
Painted across the page
In the haste to leave on time,
The touch of curry in the corner
Remnant of multitasking gone awry,
The five-year-old’s inked masterpiece on the last page
Now hold memories.
Mischievous smiles, nervous laughter,
Quickly flared anger, more quickly still extinguished
By the apologetic eyes of little brothers
Speak to me from the smudges.
Marring perfection, gently reminding
That nature is not perfection.
That life is simply the messy bits
The smudges, strung together
Sewn into and onto our beautiful reality.
They are scars.
Scars holding stories.
And now I find myself wondering
How I can create more.

My Favorite Things – Vryheid Version

Sung (out loud or in your head, it’s your choice) to the tune of the Sound of Music’s “My Favorite Things”. Obviously, all rights to the original “My Favorite Things” belong to somebody else. I was just trying to be clever.

Grins on their faces and mischief their toil

Brown hands made darker from rich garden soil

Constant laughter in my memory rings

These are a few of my favorite things


Phutu and curries and hot peppers burning

Zulu that trips up my tongue as I’m learning

Song birds that rustle the leaves with their wings

These are a few of my favorite things


Smells from the kitchen and Auntie’s bright laughter

Tea breaks and chatting when work follows after

Heaven sent sun on my soul makes it sing

These are a few of my favorite things


When the pangs hit

When the tears sting

When I’m feeling sad

I simply remember my favorite things

And then I don’t feel so bad.

Little Moments pt. 1

As Mazwi perused over my license and passport, he enthusiastically asked me to show me where my name was. I pointed and his finger pinned mine in his haste, worried he might loose the place. “Rah-chul…” He paused, confused by my middle name. “Lisabeth,” I prompted. “Oh!” his brown eyes lit up in recognition, “Lisabeth. Swe…Swe…Swenson!!” His childhood triumph skittered across his face only momentarily before it was replaced with another look of confusion. “But where is Nomusa? Nomusa is your name too. Where is it?”

How does one explain to a five year old that the name he knows me by wasn’t my name until I came here?

Ten Ways I’m Becoming South African

1. I typically say things like, “It’s not a train-smash.”; “How’s it?”; “Get in the bakkie.” (pick-up truck); “Shame.”; “Haibo!” – a Zulu expression, typically used when children do something surprising, either negative or positive.

2. I watch American movies and there’s always a moment of confusion when I’m convinced people are driving on the wrong side of the road.

3. I’m averaging a mug of tea every two hours, even on 90+ degree days.

4. I sometimes forget my umbrella on days that it drizzles, but never when the temperature is any where near or above the 80s.

5. Half of the stickers on my water bottle are SAfrican – one from my church’s diocese, proclaiming to the world that I am “Proudly Lutheran” and one for the Kaizer Chiefs (#khosiforlife), a local soccer team who, to be honest, haven’t been doing so great this year, but as my brother tells me, being a fan isn’t about just supporting our team in the good times (my entire family are die hard Chiefs fans). Which means that my stickers now show my support for marriage equality, Alaskan beer, Lutheranism, and SAfrican soccer. Really, what else is there? 

6. LunchBar (something akin to a 100Grand Bar in the States) and P.S. I Love You (sort of like a KitKat) are rivaling my love of Rolos and Gummy Worms. Reeses stay uncontested as number one.

7. A meal feels incomplete without rice or phutu – a sort of mashed potatoes consistency starch made from cornmeal. 

8. When trying to speak French to two men from Switzerland, I could not force my mouth to speak anything but Zulu. 

9. My marriage proposals from complete strangers are dwindling into the single digits per week.

10. I constantly confuse my family by calling both our house home and the States home. Little do they know the amount of internal confusion it creates too.