While I travel, I always relish the opportunity to go to church in a foreign country.

Actually, I’m always very interested in going to important places of spirituality around the world – I think it provides great insight into the human condition.

To see a group of people – from different walks of life – gathered together by something much bigger than themselves.

Call it God, faith, belief, spirituality – its always a sight to behold.
(and if all this talk of faith and God and whatnot makes your stomach churn, that’s cool, its not for everyone and this’ll be the last time in this piece you’ll have to read it – but I’ll say this, we all believe in something)

Anyway –

While I was in Johannesburg, I went to church (a reformed Christian church) where the service was entirely in Afrikaans and I had no idea what was going on.

Luckily, Stefan (pictured below because he is dashing af) was kind enough to literally translate the entire mass for me.


It was the sermon delivered by the pastor that was particularly striking – and which is what I’ll share with you in this piece today:

Sawubona – is a Zulu greeting used by one of South Africa’s largest ethnic groups.
In fact, the majority of the South African population uses it.

Over time, it has become popularized to essentially mean the same thing as ‘hello.’

However, it has a truer and more important meaning.

Sawubona – ‘I see you’

I see you.
It’s not hey, hi, hello, howzit.

It is: I recognize you, the person you are, the essence of your existence.

It is understanding that in any specific interaction, every person involved is of equal importance.

And the response in turn is Ngikhona – ‘I am here’

This is a reciprocation, an acknowledgment, that the individual is also present and aware of the other persons humanity.

There’s a Zulu folk saying:
“A person is a person because of other people”

I’ve always believed that people need people.
And by that I mean, people were not created to be alone.

That’s why lonely people become cat ladies – because even then, they need company, interaction and love.


And when I was walking through the townships, greeting the locals – you could truly feel the extent to which they believed the words they were saying.


They looked you in the eyes.
Shook your hand.
They genuinely cared – in that moment, that brief exchange – about me, about who I was, about my story.
(also like, why an Asian was in Africa)

In those moments, I finally understood the concept of equality.
It’s not about who has what.
It’s not about who has access to what.
It’s not even about poverty alleviation.

It’s all about how we see each other.
How we view each other.


Because when we are finally able to see each and every person as equal –
the access to basic necessities
the structural barriers to change
the disparity in quality of life
– that will all undoubtedly fall into rightful parity.

Sawubona friends.

Ryan Cheng is the founder of The 88, and is passionate about telling stories surrounding travel, culture and identity.

Get in touch ~
Instagram: @chinkinthearmour


  1. I’m so glad you had such a moving experience. I am sure that it really shaped you. Hopefully, humanity will live with more gratitude towards itself and the world. Let’s hope for the best and love this universe as much as we can!

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