Embracing the Zulu life!

Sanibonani! Ninjani? (Hello! How are you?)

Siyaphila! (We are fine!) We have been living in Zulu host homes for almost a month now, and what was once very new and very different is gradually becoming normal! For us UK volunteers, it took a lot of getting used to!

We are living in a beautiful community called KwaNyuswa in the Valley of 1000 hills. The views here are breath-taking and on a clear day you can see for miles and miles into the distance. I wish you could capture the sheer beauty on camera, but a photo doesn’t even come close to showing how amazing it is.

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The first and most noticeable difference between our life in the UK and the Zulu lifestyle is the food. No complaints at all, it is delicious! But very different too; Zulu culture, similar to many African cultures, is to eat in order to fill up so that you can last as long as possible before your next meal. That means that every meal is very VERY carbohydrate heavy, with a minimum of 1, usually 2 large portions of starch: rice, pasta, potatoes and “maize meal” which can be cooked in lots of different ways – porridge for breakfast, pap (sticky) or phutu (grainy) for lunch and dinner. The majority of meals will have some sort of a stew – beef curry, chicken soup, fish stew, mostly fairly spicy and really tasty, with lots of sauce to soak into the rest of your plate. The main vegetables here are pumpkins and butternut squashes, as well as tomatoes, onions and carrots which go nicely in soups. For our packed lunches, peanut butter and apricot jam sandwiches have become a regular favourite, along with avocados, bananas, apples and delicious, juicy, in-season oranges. Yum!


The second difference in our host homes is the lack of running warm water. Bathing is interesting – some of us are lucky enough to have a tap in the house, and others have to fill up a bucket at the tap outside. Then you heat up some water in the kettle and pour it into a wide shallow bucket. “Bucket baths” basically consist of lots of splashing – you pour the water over you, lather up, then splash it over you to clean off all the dirt and dust! It took some practice to get the right technique, but it’s becoming easier now. And a gecho in the bathroom is a common sight!


We wash all our clothes by hand in buckets which, if you’re not used to it, gives you blisters very quickly. But the plus side is that everything dries really quickly on the washing line out in the sun!

Once a day we have “load shedding” which is a 2 hour period where the electricity goes off. It’s not too bad if you know what time it’s happening because you can prepare and make sure everything is charged up and you’ve got a torch nearby if you need it, but it can be a pain when it comes unexpectedly! The absolute worst is when it means that dinner is delayed by 2 hours.

An interesting part of life in KwaNyuswa is the transport. Public transport doesn’t exist, so we get to and from the HACT offices in local taxis, which are minibuses that comfortably seat 13 people but quite often squeeze in around 17 or more. Once everyone is in, you get out your money and amalgamate it as a row, then pass it to the front. The unlucky person who gets the front seat then sorts out everyone’s change and passes it back down. It’s a process that requires honesty and trust from all the passengers, because there are lots of opportunities to quietly pocket someone else’s taxi fare, but no one ever does. It’s something we have grown to admire about South Africans.

Living with a host family is a really special experience that we value a lot – it has allowed us to really connect with the community and live how they live, as well as practicing our Zulu. Here are a few Zulu phrases we have learnt:

Ngicela amanzi? – please may I have water?
Ngiyajabula – I am happy
Ngilambile – I am hungry (an important one to know!!!)
Ngikhathele – I am tired
Ikuphi ithoyilethe? – where is the toilet?
Ngiyabonga – thank you

We’ve also learnt phrases that are useful for playing cards with the kids:

Ithuba lakho – your turn
Thatha – pick up
Unakho… – do you have…?
Sizodlala kusasa – we will play tomorrow
Kuhle – well done

If you have any questions about what it’s like to live in a Zulu community, please leave a comment below! We hope you’re enjoying your luxurious bath tubs, washing machines and ant-free homes!


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