Monday, February 1, 2010

jazz in the afternoon.

After dropping Meg home from work on Friday, Maryann Carpenter (who runs Hillcrest AIDS Respite Center) stopped by to mention the Rainbow Restaurant, a venue in Pinetown (about 20 minutes' drive from here) that was rumored to have live jazz on Sunday afternoons. We were intrigued.

And so, after sleeping in late-- and by late, I mean until about 9:00-- we packed into our car, picked up Ruthie (Maryann and Steven's daughter), and drove to Pinetown to see what the Rainbow Restaurant had to offer us.

We took the exit into Pinetown, and my mind immediately flashed to all the dangerous scenarios that the AV staff had warned us about during orientation.  We were suddenly driving through an area where shops were boarded up, garbage littered the street-- yet behind the somewhat grimy facade, people moved here and there, doing their Sunday business at a large outdoor market, selling wares and buying goods for the week ahead.  Women with large parcels balanced on their heads always serve as a reminder of the exotic nature of my new home in South Africa, but as we drove down the busy street, it dawned on me that these women were merely making efficient use of their hands.  Instead of being weighed down by shopping bags, they could now lead their children and grandchildren by the hand without fear of losing them in the crowds.

We found a parking spot after searching for the Rainbow for a few minutes.  As we drove up and down the street, searching for number 23, I felt a bit uneasy that we had come; we were heavily in the minority and though I spend five days a week as one of the only white people in Molweni, I felt very strange in this new place with no idea what to expect.  But we parked the car nonetheless, made our way to the other side of a busy main road, and through the gates to the restaurant.  As we approached the entrance, a couple of guys hanging around outside the door greeted us with friendly smiles which put me at ease.  We each paid our R50 to get in, and made our way inside.

The air was heavy with the smell of food, alcohol, and the buzz of bodies-- sweat mingling with excitement and satiated appetites all around.  It was dim inside; the curtains had been drawn in an effort to keep out the heat of January's last day.  All around, people laughed, talked, and paid no heed as four white American girls inched their way around the perimeter of the crowded space in search of a table.

After finding a spot to the right of the stage, we ordered some drinks and waited for the music to begin.  On the other side of our booth, six men in impeccable button-down shirts laughed and chatted, bobbing their heads to the jazz record filling the silence prior to the first set.  I don't know what it is that sets musicians apart from their earthly counterparts, but I knew just by looking at them that they were it.  And sure enough, after a brief announcement from the proprietor, they ambled onto the stage and a dim hush overtook the waiting audience.

And then... jazz happened.

I'm trying so hard to describe in words the sounds, smells, tastes, and feelings of the three hours we spent at the Rainbow on Sunday afternoon, but I'm not sure I can do it justice.  Though I've struggled a lot over the past few weeks with a very schizophrenic identity as a white American female volunteer, living and working here in South Africa, much of my confusion and anxiety melted away to the tune of a couple of saxophones, keyboards, drums, bass, and guitar.  I felt that I'd been there before, yet I was excited to have discovered such a place amid the chaos of my new life.
With cold cider in my glass, warm jazz melting into the walls around me, and surrounded by faces that all seemed very familiar, I felt more comfortable than I have since arriving here in South Africa almost three weeks ago.  The Rainbow seemed like an oasis in an unpredictable, confusing place-- and I was happy to relax there and drink in every last drop.


  1. It all sounds rather steamy, are you sure it wasn't a shebeen? Just stay vigilant and safe please my dear, whilst enjoying the smells and sounds.

    Missing you xx

  2. Sounds wonderful! I'm glad you're being conscious of your surroundings but still able to enjoy them. Can't wait for more updates!! <3

  3. Sounds so great, wait get me there right now! I spent about 35 seconds imagining if I would be able to balance something on my head and determined that I would not. Please learn that over the next ten months and teach me upon your return!

    Also, it snowed here on my birthday while you were sweating in a li'l hotbox.

    You forgot to write about how I turned 20!

    Love you, miss you so0o0o (sang to the tune of the end of Lil Critta by Megan Cloughley)