Monthly Archives: August 2015

My 5 Favorite South African Expressions

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When you fully immerse yourself into a new environment, you are bound to discover interesting nuances that are unique to that environment. This can range from the way the people greet each other, to their languages, accents, handshakes, favorite music, dance moves, idea of a good time, and many more. I always advise folks to keep an open mind as that decision alone can be the difference between having a very memorable story to tell over drinks or a story you’d rather bury under drinks. Please drink responsibly.

Ever since my move to South Africa, I’ve grown very fond of a few expressions. These are my top 5 expressions because not only are they fun to say, they also make me feel like a local, effortlessly.

  1. “Howzit?” pronounced: [houz zit]. This is the American equivalent of “How are you doing?” or “How are you?” or “What’s up?” It is a form of casual greeting that can be used for both your peers and seniors. It is acceptable in the workplace (I use it a lot in my office). The key to pronouncing the word is in the “z”, you have to stress the “z”. It is almost like saying “Howzzzit”. On your next trip to South Africa, when you walk up to the gentleman or lady checking your Passport/Visa, just say “Howzit?” before you hand them your documents and watch their face glow with a smile as they automatically welcome you as one of their own. I did this when I was returning to Johannesburg from my business trip in Nairobi, and it works!


  1. “Sharp” pronounced [shahrp]. This is the typical response to the Howzit question above. The jury is still out on how many “Sharps” are appropriate which means you have freedom on how many you want to share…depending on your mood and how much free time you think you have. Just keep in mind though that it could get annoying if you over use it. Let’s just say I learned the hard way. I’ve heard people say “Sharp” twice and I’ve heard it said four times. It can also be used to as a form of acknowledgement for directions, compliments, or suggestions. The other instance I’ve heard it been used is at the end of a phone conversation. The person on the other line will usually say “Sharp” as they wrap up the conversation. One of my relatives, UD, who lives in South Africa uses “Sharp” the best. He has a unique way of saying it that is quite intriguing. Although he says it once, it still takes about the same amount of time as someone saying “Sharp” twice. He does it in a manner that is deliberate, calculated, and synced to a rhythm. The length of time he takes is always the same. It is as if he purposely drags out the “a” which makes it sound like “Shaaaarp”.


  1. “Izit?” pronounced [Iz zit] On one hand this is used to casually seek confirmation rhetorically in a conversation. On the other hand, it can be used to express disbelief. Your pronunciation and tone of voice determines which category it falls under. When two South Africa locals are talking, this expression comes up a lot. The funny thing about this expression is that when I first heard it being used in a conversation I was part of, I thought I wasn’t being clear enough or they were struggling to understand my Nigerian-American accent. Being the clueless foreigner, I interrupted myself to clarify what I had just said, then continued on. After a few more occurrences and self-imposed interruptions, my response became “It is” with a smile as I continued on. My colleagues found this response funny. They say “Izit?” subconsciously that it took me pointing it out before they noticed they used it so often. The running joke in the office became responding with “It is” after anyone said “Izit?”. I remember when Jenn visited me in South Africa, I purposely used this during our conversation which threw her off, as expected. She did the exact same thing as me and paused to clarify. I laughed inside as she continued. Then I said it a couple more times again, and about the fourth or fifth time, she responded with “It is”. #greatmindsthinkalike


  1. “Shaaame” pronounced [sheeeymm]. This requires a bit of art to pull off as it is very contextual. It can be both positive and negative. When you feel sad for someone you say “Shaaame”; when you see a cute puppy you say “Shaaame”. I hope you are as confused as me.


  1. “Robots” pronounced [roh-bots]. This is the equivalent of “Traffic lights” for Americans. I first heard this when I was hanging out with UD. We were driving and he kept saying how the “Robots” didn’t seem to like him today of all days that he was in a hurry. I kept looking around to see where the so-called “Robots” were but couldn’t find any (lol). I didn’t want to ask since he assumed I knew what he was referring to. Nonetheless, my curiosity kept tugging at me. So when he said it the third time, I then realized he was referring to what I knew as traffic lights. I decided to validate my intuition with him, and he confirmed I was right. We both laughed for a few minutes as I wrapped my head around the concept of traffic lights as robots. I guess it does make some sense… or not. I will say this though, when you give directions via WhatsApp, it is much easier to type “Robot” than to type “Traffic light”. #justsaying

One thing is for sure, the world is so big and its people so unique, you owe it to yourself to get out there and spend some part of your life exploring and understanding both, at the same time if possible.


Special thanks to the BTS Africa ladies for being glamorous and fun during this photo shoot.

If you have other favorite South African expressions, please share in the comments. Also, if you have other unique expressions from other countries that really stuck with you, please share as well.

Education Can Stop The Vicious Poverty Mindset

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Money can be a very personal and uncomfortable topic to discuss with a stranger. However, when the person sitting across genuinely cares and is equipped with the capability to help, the uneasiness slowly fades away and is replaced with an open and honest discussion. This discussion usually leads to knowledge sharing. With knowledge as the foundation, ideas are sparked. These ideas then turn into goals backed up with time sensitive actionable plans. Money Mondays is a financial literacy workshop carefully designed to turn basic financial knowledge into actionable plans that deliver the highest impact for people in low-income communities. The program content was developed by AVO Vision (a BTS company) and is sponsored by South African Brewers (SAB), one of the world’s largest brewers by volume, in partnership with Better SA, a leading volunteer organization in South Africa.


I had a chance to experience this workshop first hand. There were 30 participants at the workshop which took place at the Thusong Youth center, in the heart of the Alexandra Township in Johannesburg, South Africa. The session started with the facilitator, Tlou (pictured above), encouraging the participants to share memories of money, both good and bad. As expected, the room was filled with silence as no one volunteered any stories. So Tlou then shared a personal story about how an incident that caused her to lose her entire month’s salary motivated her to get a better grasp on managing her finances wisely. Her story accomplished two things. First, she showed vulnerability which allowed the participants to empathize and relate with her. Second, she earned their credibility because she not only highlighted the expertise she’s developed over the years; she also affirmed her commitment to ensure they walked out of the session with a different mindset about money.

The workshop touched on budgeting, financial goal setting, the different bank accounts and their advantages and disadvantages, the most common financial scams and cyber theft, how to boost your income and cut costs, basics of insurance and types of policies, and how to use credit responsibly.

Later in the day, the participants were joined by Finance professionals from SAB. The Finance professionals acted as coaches and provided a second set of eyes on the personal budgets the participants created and their short-term and long-term financial goals. As you can imagine, the room was abuzz with idea exchange. The relaxed, fun and informal tone made discussing the tough topics palatable and it wasn’t random to hear groups burst into laughter, in fact it was highly encouraged. When I spoke with a few of the coaches after their one-on-one session, they all felt they were having an immediate impact and that the participants were responding well to their recommendations. When I probed further, a majority of the coaches pointed at the openness and keen desire of the participants to learn a new concept and immediately apply that concept as a sign that success is just around the corner for them. When I spoke with the participants, they all seemed excited to begin turning these recommendations into actions. Their choice of words in how they described what they would do next was an indication of their mindset shift.

The coaches did point out a few potential challenges that could derail the participant from achieving their financial objectives. The challenge most commonly mentioned was accountability. To address this challenge head-on, one of the coaches set an appointment with his group to connect in a month’s time to measure progress on their short-term goals. In addition, they established and agreed on a regular cadence to ensure they hold each other accountable; now that is how you coach!

One big takeaway for the coaches was that we all share similar aspirations for life no matter our environment. We can all have big bold goals, we just need to put together a plan of action and commit to following through no matter the obstacles that may come our way. Some of us are lucky to be born into more conducive environment that gives us access to amazing resources that we may sometimes take for granted, like 24/7 electricity and clean water. A couple of the ladies at the workshop shared with the class that their long-term goal is to build a school one day. The authority and confidence in which they spoke about their goal really inspired me. And by attending the workshop, they were taking the right steps towards their goal.


I strongly believe that education can stop the vicious poverty mindset and uplift generations out of poverty. When a majority of people are educated, that can be the catalyst for progress and positive change. Governments, societies, families and organizations that prioritize education usually benefit from the investment. I am privileged to be part of an organization that dedicates resources to educating members of their community. If you want to leave a legacy, figure out ways you can transfer some of the skill and knowledge you’ve acquired over the years to someone less fortunate. When you do, you are impacting generations to come; also you may just get an invite to a wedding or a special invitation to an exclusive party. If you have any doubts, just ask Tlou; she’s been invited to countless weddings by former students.