It occurred to me tonight, watching Sarafina and hanging out at my folks' place with my brother, I'd never told you about Jerome.
I feel like an old lady pontificating about Ellis Island, but this is a good one.
When I was 23, we went on safari in South Africa. This was 2001, the summer before Sept. 11th and immediately after my "DA" died. It was, I'll admit, a weird time in my life.
So, you know, Africa is kinda the perfect place to go.
My dad had really planned the trip and I went with the flow, deciding to ask what exactly was happening during our layover at Heathrow.
"We're flying to Johannesburg, and then taking a small plane to Mala Mala."
Oh. Okay. I had 20 hours of (coach) travel ahead of me. I put my hair in pigtails and threw on pajama pants.
I told you. This was a weird time in my life.
We ended up flying from London to "Jo-burg" amidst the South African Rugby Team, a collection of incredibly hot guys exactly my age who introduced me to my first taste of Africa.
These are cute guys. In matching sweat suits. Speaking something resembling Dutch. With blonde highlights.
I was like Annie arriving at Daddy Warbucks’ house. I think I’m gonna like it here.
We landed in Johannesburg and rushed to catch our flight to Mala Mala, in Kruger National Park, aka: the middle of nowhere.
In my pajama and pigtails, I followed the herd, as it were. We’d been traveling for 24 hours. And I was in no mood.
Flying into Kruger National Park makes it very easy to pretend you’re working for National Geographic. 20 of us got off the plane, our luggage spread out on a tarp. For some reason, Alex’s bag was missing and the family went off to find it while I, still in jammies and pigtails, guarded our luggage. Oddly enough, while I guarded that luggage, 3 men with machine guns guarded me.
I stood alone, in darkest Africa, monitoring monogrammed bags and trying not to make eye contact. The family soon returned, Alex’s electric razor having been purloined in Jo-Burg but otherwise, in tact, and we were met by someone from our hotel.
“Henry”, looking very much like Prince Henry, had been sent to Mala Mala by his 80 year-old father, a colonial founder and apparent asshole. Henry was technically a Lord and Henry was afraid of China and roller coasters. My father immediately tried to set the Beth+Henry=Love wheels in motion.
‘Twas not to be.
Oh, because of Jerome.
We were greeted at Mala Mala by a gorgeous bellman, who seemed highly intent on learning our names. Um, bring my bags to my room, pal. I’ve been on a plane since 1983. We don’t need to exchange pleasantries.
Turns out, we do.
Mala Mala holds only 16 guests. And this bellman wasn’t a bellman. He was our safari guide. We’d eat three meals a day with him and along with our African Guide “Chris”, spend every day in an open air Range Rover looking for elephants.
His name was Jerome and he was basically Matt Damon, but tanner, in sunglasses and a safari outfit. It was his job to find us animals 10 feet away and know our favorite cocktail.
“Bette, I’ve goot your vodka soooda wit lime, love.”
Oh, it must be 4pm.
Instantly and silently, I promised the entirety of my being to Jerome.
And instantly and silently, I cursed my pigtails and pajamas. FUCK. No one told me about Jerome.
Turns out, Jerome was assigned to the Spotswoods. After breakfast, he’d take us on a morning drive. Oh look. Lions. Jaguars. Jerome.
Then we’d have lunch.
Then another drive.
Wild dogs. Giseles. Water buffalo. Jerome.
Suddenly, I care deeply about gestation periods.
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Jerome.
I thought my head might pop off and explode in the African desert.
He was that hot.
Worse, I was on all kinds of funky anti-Africa medication. Those pills gave me crazy dreams, dreams in which Jerome and I were living in wild, impassioned sin. Sadly, Jerome was also my wake-up call, so you can imagine by unconscious bliss of making out with Jerome by the Mala Mala Business Center only to be woken up at 6am by the leading man of my dream, announcing, “Bette, I’ll see you at breakfast in thirty, love?”
Oh. Oh yes. I…um…just need to…compose myself.
Which is when I decided to bring up apartheid.
Turns out, Jerome, celebrating his 23rd birthday the night before with a rousing game on “drinking UNO” was not allowed to discuss the appalling racism of his adopted country. (Oh yeah, Jerome was from Botswana. Fabulous!)
We saw the whole shebang, animal-wise. Apparently, we observed rarely seen animals and acts of nature, inciting Jerome and the Zulu-speaking “Chris” to declare, “Goodness me!”
But I didn’t care.
I merely cared about Jerome. And his incredible, indescribable hotness.
He sent us an e-mail not long after.
I saved it.
Really. I still have it.
He was working as a security guard in a Glasgow Burger King and was hoping to venture to the New World.
I've never heard from him since. But anytime Sarafina is on, or The Power of One, or Matt Damon, or anything having to do with Africa, I think of Jerome.
And 7 years later, I still swoon...