The humbling African sun pulled away the last few stands of clouds, calling the moon out for its 12-hour shift, as glasses filled with red wine started to clink, boisterous chatter took over the entire compound’s airways, and the iron caps from the beers bottles made annoying tinkling sounds when the wind blew. The daily night ritual at Jollyboys’ backpackers in Livingston, Zambia had begun. This made the way for sexually frustrated twenty-somethings’ to let loose, ripping-off their repressed Western personalities.
I laid inside the wicker hammock (three feet away from the bar) that sat ideally under the shady baobab tree thumbing through my Rough Guide Travel book. My camera had conquered everything touristy in Livingston within hours: Victoria Falls, a sham of a museum, and the vibrant vendor’s market that sold everything; my three days lay over in Zambia was proving to be fruitless.
My hammock swung in tune to the early nineties pop songs that were being cranked out by the portable CD player plugged into the heavy duty speakers inside the bar. The bar light started to flicker onto the carbon pages of my guidebook when he walked towards my composed body with an agenda. Every step he took, I pretend to read about the history of my next destination, Tanzania, thoroughly until he crouched down in front of my face and slowly began:
"Now… why a pretty girl… like you is laying here all by herself?" His body completely blocked out the light, and all I could see were his off-white bunny teeth creating a spectacle.
"You should come with us"
"Nah," I said chewing my Double Mint gum like a teenager on giggles.
"I’m Jasper," he said.
Jasper then reached for my right hand, initiating a handshake. Instead, he grabbed both of my hands and pulled me out of the rattan cocoon I created. The butterflies in my stomach were too smothered with infatuation to create protest signs, and I followed him to the bar to partake in the backpacker’s ritual.
A half an hour later the bar started to get filled with outsiders. First it was frustrated business- men with loosen flowery ties, then youngish men with very tight pants and canoe shoes slithered up to the barstools; afterwards a few girls from Livingston sprinkled the crowd with their red plastic boots and road-kill weave hair. They only spoke to men that stayed with the backpackers.
Then the music changes, from the sing-along pop tunes to a sultry African rhythm of polyethnic beats with subtle grinds.
Our conversation went in-tune to the Congolese Rumba: surface, quick and sexual. We stood by the bar loafing, and between sips of Black Label beers, rapid puffs of Rothman’s cigarette and the implusuating Kwaza kwaza, his hands slid down my hips, eventually shaking hands with my booty. I jousted myself between his legs and performed a Hollywood laugh at all of his jokes.
With his "lets make love" eyes squinted, Jasper’s took a long drag on the Rothman’s cigarette and blurted out with the carcinogenic smoke, "you should come to my holiday work party." The sodium-filled cup of noodle soups, and bread with peanut butter dinners were not cutting it; my pockets said "yes," immediately and my tummy wobbled for joy.
Our date was set, Saturday, December 18th at 6pm, one day after initial meeting.
Jasper worked as a tour guide for a UK base tour company in Livingston, and like many of the young Black men who worked in the tourism center in Livingston, Jollyboys backpacker was his second home.
He walked into Jollyboys overly confident with a stale mustard suit, a kaleidoscope of colors silk shirt -- that induced vomit, pointy greasy dark brown church shoes, and impenetrable sunglasses. My mouth was opened wide from his glow of tackiness, and the fact that he really showed up.
" Ah, you didn’t think I was coming," he bawled, and reprimanded me by pointing his sternly index finger towards my gape.
An intelligent sound of "Ah………." Stumbled out of my mouth. I flew into the dorm room opposite the garden where I shared with four German guys who were visiting Africa for the first time and took pictures of insignificant things - an odd Japanese guy who biked from the Congo to Zambia and the Bulgarian masturbator expatriate who lived in Austria, and insisted on wearing Speedos for his sleeping attire.
I only carried practical/comfortable clothes backpacking, and I grabbed the least drably jeans, placed my flip flops on my feet, and borrowed a sexy halter top from one of the female travelers.
We arrived with his co-workers in a tree green colored tourist shuttle with panoramic windows that Jasper’s job provided, and landed in front of a huge five star hotel near Victoria Falls. Everyone was dress to kill-sparkling in their tailor made suits. I felt under-dressed, but every time I looked at Jasper’s suit it boosted up my self esteem twenty points.
As soon as we stepped off the bus, Jasper moved between the crowds of his co-workers like a president candidate running for the ballot: jiving, wide watermelon smiles, shaking hands and introducing me to everyone as his girlfriend from America. I gave him my "Zoolander" confused look when the term "girlfriend" continually flowed from his lips, but my steer got lost in translation.
My eyes stuck on the delicious mountain of food on the buffet table and stumbled towards our seats. The waft of the rich meat stews, rice and pastries created panic inside my tummy. Finally, the main presentation begun: the food.
"Oh, baby, you should taste this" he said and shoved a huge piece of steak into my mouth with his fork.
"It tastes good right?"
I quickly looked around the table at my fellow chewers to see if anyone noticed, but their heads were focused on observing the bottom of their plates. After I finished chewing the steak in my mouth, Jasper then force-fed me piece of the grilled chicken from his plate.
"Please, don’t do that again," I said.
"What you mean baby?"
"I don’t want to eat your food," I passively shouted between my teeth.
"Baby, why you acting like that?" Jasper wined, while wiping the chicken grease from his mouth with his white napkin bib. "Come on now, this is a nice time, enjoy yourself," he added, and went back to eating his chicken.
The night went on just like every universal work holiday party, a drunken orgy of wacky dances, painted festive smiles, and exceeding the suggested daily caloric intake. I returned to the buffet with two of my plastic containers that I purchased at the local supermarket earlier that day, and started to pile the remaining food into my bowl as everyone got swept away in the dancing and conversation.
Our fingers interlocked (pretending like this was the first time we entered first base) when Jasper walked me back to Jollyboys after the party. We reached a bight orange gate that could be seen a mile away and parked in front of it. I secretly checked my breath – making sure the chewing gum was keeping my mouth fresh for the good night kiss, and then he said:
"We should get married," he smiled, "we work well together."
I gave him the "Zoolander" look, double with a "you done lost your mind" Brooklyn twist, but that too was lost in translation.
"Think you had too much to drink," I said and released my fingers from his grasp.
"No! I didn’t," he protested and dead silence filled the air.
Our eyes instantly dropped from each other’s glowing cheeks unto the rough concrete ground.
"I can’t move here," I calmly explained. "I don’t even know you and I have my family in New York."
"You know me. You can move to Zambia, the Government grants a lot of opportunities to foreigners and maybe we can start a business together."
"Are you crazy," my voice progressively became louder, "I can’t move here! And marry you!"
Please! Please! Please! Think about it, Jasper shouted. "We can start a business here."
I took my plastic bag filled with my container of food from his hand and went inside the backpackers’ compound. "I will think about it," I said, while waving him goodbye.
"I will come by tomorrow to talk with you more about it."
"Okay, I will see you then."
My bus departed at 4 a.m. the next morning for the capital of Zambia, where I caught the Zambian Tanzania railways via Dar es Salaam; going on schedule with my backpacking itinerary.