Peace Corps/Bemba Glossary

A guide to the most frequently used Peace Corps terms and acronyms, as well as some of the most frequently used Bemba words in this blog.

All Bemba words are italicized and are pronounced more or less phonetically as far as English speakers are concerned. The only major exception is the “c,” which is always pronounced “ch.”

Ba – General term of respect used before a name.

Bana – Mother of. “Bana Muso” would be “Muso’s mom.” Any woman who’s had a child will instantly earn this new name (typically – but not always – that of her firstborn), in addition to her existing Bemba and English names. If she has twins (mpundu), she’ll become known as “Bana mpundu.” Once she’s had her first grandchild, she’ll then become “Banakulu Katongo,” or whatever that kid’s name is. Often, no one even knows or remembers her original name. She’s now known simply as so-and-so’s mom or grandmother. Thus there are some women in Mfuba whom I know only by the names of their offspring.

Bamaayo – Mother, and also any respected woman.

Bashi – Father of. “Bashi Mwaba” would be “Mwaba’s dad.” Any man who’s had a child will instantly earn this new name (typically – but not always – that of his firstborn), in addition to his existing Bemba and English names. If he has twins (mpundu), he’ll become known as “Bashi mpundu.”Once he’s had his first grandchild, he’ll then become “Bashikulu Katongo,” or whatever that kid’s name is. Often, no one even knows or remembers his original name. He’s now known simply as so-and-so’s dad or grandfather. Thus there are some men in Mfuba whom I know only by the names of their offspring.

Bataata – Father, and also any respected man.

Bola – Football (or “soccer” in American English). Also sometimes used to refer to netball, a popular women’s sport here.

Boma – Any Zambian district capital. A holdover from colonial times, it stands for, “British Overseas Management Administration.”

Capwa – It’s finished.

CHIP – Community Health Improvement Project – PC Zambia’s health volunteer program.

Community Entry – First three months of a PCV’s service, when the PCV is supposed to remain within his or her village and district.

Community Exit – Last three months of a PCV’s service. As during Community Entry, the PCV is supposed to stay in the village, not taking vacations or attending workshops but just wrapping up loose ends before returning to the United States.

Conservation Farming (Ubulimi Busuma in Bemba) – A method of soil conservation being touted by the Zambian Department of Agriculture, it involves minimum tillage, retaining crop residues, and rotating crops.

Counterpart – A local community member who works with a PCV.

COS – Close of Service. The time when a PCV leaves his or her country of service.

Dambo – Wetland, or, in Bemba, ilunga.

FRA – Food Reserve Agency. Zambia’s national maize-buying and selling agency.

FSV – First Site Visit. When PCTs who’ve been in Zambia less than a week get to visit a PCV in his or her village and get a taste of life and work in rural Zambia.

GLOW – Girls Leading Our World. Peace Corps-sponsored girls’ education and empowerment program, which includes annual camps for teen girls. Some PCVs also have GLOW clubs in their villages.

Gu Crew – Collectively, all the PCVs who live in Luwingu District, west of Kasama. Though I technically live in Kasama District, my home is closer to Luwingu than Kasama, and some of my favorite NoPro PCVs are in Luwingu District, so I’m an honorary Gu Crew member.

Icimbusu -(pl. ifimbusu) Pit toilet. And yes, it’s a hole you squat over.

P1080039Icitenge -(pl. ifitenge) All-purpose, brightly colored wrapper, worn by village women everywhere and used for many household functions as well.

Icitumbua – (pl. ifitumbua) Deep-fried dough. Possibly Zambia’s most common street food.

IST – Interim Service Training. Refers to the training PCVs receive immediately after their first three months of service, known as Community Entry.

LIFE – Linking Income, Food, and Environment. The PC-Zambia program I’m working in, it focuses mainly on food security and income-generating activities.

Mfuba – My home village, located 6 kilometers off the tarmac, right between the Bomas of Kasama and Luwingu.

Mid-Terms – Conference PCVs attend mid-way through their service.

Mbushi Goat(s). Same singular or plural.

Muzungu – Literally, “white person.” Depending on my mood, being called a muzungu is either funny or annoying.

Mwisakamana – Don’t worry.

NoPro – PCV slang for Northern Province, Zambia, of which the town of Kasama is the provincial capital.

Nsaka – Thatch-roofed shelter, typically used for cooking, eating, and general hanging out. Most rural Zambians use their houses only for sleeping and for hosting very special guests. The nsaka is where they live.

Panono panono – Little by little, bit by bit, or slowly slowly. Commonly used, because that’s how life, work, and change happen here.

PC – Peace Corps.

PCT – Peace Corps Trainee – a status kept from the time volunteers fly into country, through their three months of Pre-Service Training, and until they are officially sworn in as volunteers.

PCV – Peace Corps Volunteer.

Provincial House/Provincial Resource Center – An office/living space where Zambia’s PCVs come to get work done, and to spend time with other PCVs. There’s one in every province where PCVs serve, and we often refer to ours as the “NoPro House.”

RAP – Rural Aquaculture Program – PC Zambia’s fish-farming volunteer program.

RED – Rural Education Development – PC Zambia’s teaching volunteer program

Sana – A lot.

SSV – Second Site Visit. When PCTs get to visit what will become their home villages and provinces for the first time.

P1080677Ubwali – Nshima, aka Zambia’s staple food and greatest culinary pride. A kind of doughy substance eaten with one’s hands and used to scoop up other foods, known as umunani, or relish.

Umunani – “Relish” in English. AKA, anything eaten with ubwali.

Village rat – A PCV who spends a lot of time in his or her village.


2 thoughts on “Peace Corps/Bemba Glossary

  1. I’m about to move to Zambia in June with Peace Corps….was this blog given to you or did you create this? I have a current blog already and I was going to incorporate my time in Zambia on my current one but I didn’t know if they gave you this one.

    • Hi Imade,

      Sorry for the late response: I’ve been away from the blog for a while! Created this blog myself. Peace Corps doesn’t give PCVs blogs. (Thank goodness – if it were a requirement, probably fewer PCVs would write them!)

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