“Mwane” is earned, not given

“Mwane” is a Luvale term with infinite meaning. It’s said at the end of almost every phrase (“Chimene mwane” means “Good morning”, “Kanawa mwane” means “I’m fine”), and is sometimes used to say “yes” or “thank you.” However, I’ve noticed in my time here that “mwane” can be dropped from a normal phrase, so people may just say “Kanawa” for “I’m fine.” When I first heard of this, I realized that “mwane” is more of a term used in a sentence for respect, which seems to be a reoccurring theme for me on this trip. As I dive deeper into the language, my use of this word becomes increasingly meaningful to my experience.

Landing in Zambezi was a waterfall of emotions. The smiling and waving kids rushing to the plane made me feel welcomed and special. Their blank faces and staring eyes when I said “Hello” made me feel like I was wandering through an alien planet and I waded my way in a sea of children. The choir singing songs with the word “Gonzaga” thrown in to honor us made me feel blessed to be in the presence of such caring people. Walking to the convent in silence with the students who don’t speak much English made me feel out of place.

Everything I’ve experienced since then has made me realize that there are a lot of firsts for me on this trip. First time in Africa. First time eating goat. First time sleeping under a mosquito net. First time attending a wedding, not to mention my first Zambian wedding. First time using a language so rare that Google translate can’t even find it. First time flying in a 6-person plane manned by a student pilot (thanks to Captain Olivia Antoine, we all flew safely). First time being served in a community where I didn’t expect to gain so much friendship, gratitude, memorable moments, and hope for my future as well as the future of Zambezi.

While attending Father Yona’s wedding service (a mix of strict Catholicism, upbeat singing and dancing, and party lights that I think I had in my dorm last year), I finally understood one certain truth about this uncertain experience I’ve had so far: respect is earned, not given, but the love of the Zambian people is given eternally.

Before I left the States, I had a brief exchange with Dr. Josh Armstrong in the basement of Tilford. I told him I was slightly stressed about going to Zambezi, and he offered me advice that has stuck with me. He told me to not get stuck in my own head so much, which I tend to do all the time. Being in Zambezi has challenged me to act without overthinking. I’ll see a Zambian walking down the road toward me, and rather than questioning my ability to speak Luvale, worrying about making proper eye contact, or potentially disrespecting their culture by inappropriately shaking their hand, I don’t think too much anymore. I get out of my head and into the moment. To my surprise, they laugh and smile understandingly when I butcher the language. They can make equally improper eye contact with me as I can with them. They help me improve my Zambian handshake skills so I don’t screw up in the future. By acting before I start overthinking, I can be comforted by the fact that the culture here will provide a safe environment for my learning experience. All the people here need to know is that you’ve made an effort to learn from them, and that’s all you need to earn their respect. I’ve come to know that my mistakes here will eventually earn the respect of the Zambezi community. This process won’t be short or easy, but I didn’t come halfway across the world to learn a new culture from inside my mind. In the time between now and the end of the trip, I will try my best to show endless amounts of love for them as they have for me. They show interest in my life, give up beds for me, and offer me more than I deserve. The love we’ve recently received at our homestays have opened the door to show some of that love back in way that allows us to respect them as well. I never knew how hard it was going to be to be served by others.

Zambia has surprised me in many ways. It’s much more similar to the States than I imagined. In Lusaka, there are houses in walled areas and paved roads throughout. There are telephone wires and bustling traffic. People sell things and beg on the side of the road. Teens walk through the mall shopping and causing havoc. People in parking lots help each other with locked keys and broken down cars. People have smartphones and listen to Migos, Drake, and Justin Bieber. It wasn’t until I began talking to Father Dominic and Harry that I realized everything I’ve seen so far is also something that I’ve seen in America before. We have beggars on streets, rebellious teens in malls, and helpful hands on the road. When some people think of Africa, they believe it’s all AIDS, starvation, dusty roads, and huts. Zambia, like many other African countries I’m sure, is not like this, and deserves the same amount of respect as America does for what it’s worth.

In other news, everyone here is doing very well aside from the occasional sunburns and multitude of mosquito bites. We just got back from our homestays where we spent a night with a Zambian family to learn more about the community from inside the homes of the locals. Classes start tomorrow, so expect to hear more about both of those in the days that follow.

Kisu mwane,

Josh Bulawa


P.S.: Much love to my family, friends, and anyone else who helped me get here. Mom, happy early birthday! I just bought you a gift from the market today and can’t wait to be back home after spending so much time away. To my friends who told me not to get a haircut before leaving for Zambezi, I’m never listening to you guys again.

P.P.S.: From Alyssa, @T. Big soccer kicks!

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6 Responses to “Mwane” is earned, not given

  1. Ethan Kane says:


    When I read your title to this blog post I immediately imagined it being the slogan for a Nike ad that takes place in Zambezi…or Maybe an ad for the local soccer team, ZamCity. It has like an intense training montage of some guy training for the soccer tryouts with a bunch of kids running behind him. And at the end he’s walking up to the soccer field and it cuts to a dark screen that says
    *said in an intense voice*
    Mwane’s are earned not given… Nike…

    That being said, you already have some great insights on how to approach this experience to make the best of it. I remember struggling to the find that balance between overthinking and just flowing from moment to moment. so proud of you for putting that struggle to words. It also brings to mind something Josh Armstrong told me. “Zambezi offers a lot of moments where you have to actively make the choice to engage or disengage. I hope you choose to engage.” Embracing the tensions and let go of the fear of mistakes frees you up to learn so much more from the tensions of Zambezi as you reflect later. It’s the classic ol’ “learning begins at the end of your comfort zone” bit. And Zambezi will definitely push you outta dat comfort zone.

    So so excited by the image of all of you sitting around a makeshift table reading this. Can’t wait for y’all to explore this place that really holds my heart!

    Ethan Kane

    Ps. Good luck on your first day of classes!! Be confident in yourselves! Remember you inherently offer so much just with your presence! You already get tons o’ Mwanes from me! Also sorry I let my imagination run away with me on that ZamCity ad.

    Pps. Kris and Anna, is there still a Butt-pincher chair??

  2. Dr. Joshua says:

    Thanks for bringing us into your first days in Zambezi, Josh – they are so full and I appreciate the ways that you are noticing. Keep those eyes and ears open.

    Fr. Yona just sent me some photos and videos of your braai from last night – wow, bold move teaching our Zambian partners the GU Kennel cheers “WE ARE G U “. I loved the energy Josh – after what had to be a long day and night – you were not overthinking that moment!

    I am getting ready for bed, saying prayers for your first days of classes and projects. I know two things; (1) It will not go as planned. (2) It will be fine.

    We believe in you and remember, its about the relationships. Be courageous. Be you. It’s enough.


  3. Valerie Fetzer says:

    I have anxiously been checking the blog and am so happy to see that you’re one of the first ones! I could really relate to what you said about trying to fight the feeling of being stuck inside in your head so that you can be fully present, thus gaining more respect. I loved that. I’m so jealous that you guys got to go to a Zambian wedding! What the heck that’s so fun!! Goodluck with your classes today, I’m sure you all will do fantastic admist the chaos. Keep on having the time of your lives! We are all thinking about you constantly throughout the day!!


    Colleen and Devon: I am sending you guys the BIGGEST hugs–I hope you can feel them from a world away!!

  4. Valerie Fetzer says:

    So I already wrote a comment but it seems to have gone missing… but I’ll write another one because everyone knows that second is the best.

    Wow! A Zambian wedding within your first few days there. I am seriously jealous. It is so awesome that you are aware of these feelings so early on. I could really relate to what you said about fighting the feeling of being stuck inside your own head so that you can be fully present, thus earning respect. I loved that. Your blog took me back to those first few days in Zambezi, feelings and all. And oh boy did I get goosebumps when I saw that picture of you all at sunset (as well as the idea of a multitude of mosquito bites because ouch). I hope you continue to embrace Zambezi with the same openness you have because there are so many wonderful things this community has to offer. And like what Josh Armstrong said and Ethan brought up again, there really are so many moments in Zambezi that challenge you to either disengage or engage. Good luck on your guys’ first day of classes, I know you all will do fantastic amidst the chaos. Keep on having the time of your lives; we are all thinking of you guys constantly throughout the day!!

    Kisu kisu kisu mwane, (not sure if that’s grammatically correct in Luvale)

    Colleen and Devon: I am sending you guys the BIGGEST hugs–I hope you can feel it from a world away.

    Also what Ethan said, does the infamous butt-pincher still live??? That nasty thing will getcha! I shudder at the thought.

  5. Mr. Kraken says:

    Fantastic post, Josh!

    Keep living in the moment with your mind open. The outside world is an adventurer’s paradise and you are right in the middle of it. I’m so proud of you and of all the Gonzaga students there. Continue to forge ahead with courage and curiosity, and be well.

    Sent with love and respect.

  6. Kathy Schindele says:

    Love your post Josh! You will have a once in a lifetime experience . One of my favorite sayings is “Positive attitude, positive results”. With your open mind and heart I know you will have an wonderful outcome. Have a Great first day of classes!

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