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By Judi Moreo
A gorgeous 6’ 2”, blond-haired, brown-eyed photographer was actually standing in the doorway to my office, laughing and smiling, saying, “Come with me to South Africa.”
I had never been outside of America. And I had a modeling agency to run. I hadn’t taken off for a holiday in 6 years. His invitation was tempting, but I didn’t feel I could take the time for a vacation or holiday. So, I thanked him and shrugged it off. Perhaps one day I’d have time for holidays.

My secretary came into my office and asked, “Did HE just invite you to go with him to South Africa, visit his home country and meet his parents?” “Yes,” I said. “Wouldn’t he be surprised if I actually went?” Then, the idea struck me. “Buy me a ticket,” I told my secretary, “And get me the seat next to his. It will be a wonderful joke. After we show him the ticket and see what he says, we’ll cash it back in.” She bought the ticket. The next time he came into my office, I showed it to him and, sure enough, he was surprised.

“I invite everyone to come to South Africa,” he said, “but no one ever accepts. I will call my mother and have her make arrangements for you.” And out he went.

What great fun! We had called his bluff and were thoroughly enjoying our little joke. About an hour later, my secretary came in and said, “I think the joke is on us. I didn’t realize I bought you a non-refundable ticket.”

What started out as nothing more than a joke ended up becoming an ultimate vacation.

I met my South African photographer friend, Vimmi, at the airport and within an hour, we were on our way to South Africa. I couldn’t recall ever having been so excited. I must have asked him 100 questions in the first hour. He explained to me in no uncertain terms that he was going home to see his family and had no intention of entertaining a foreigner by doing touristy things and sightseeing. Once we changed planes in New York, he took a sleeping pill and went to sleep leaving me to my excitement and questions. I read the literature that my secretary had collected for me. I learned about Johannesburg, Pretoria (the capital of South Africa), Durban , Cape Town, and Sun City (a gaming resort in what is called “a homeland”). I watched movies and talked to the people who were seated around me. It was a 10-hour flight from New York to Johannesburg, so there was plenty of time to meet the other passengers and get to know them. Many of them were from South Africa and others had visited before, so they gave me pointers and sightseeing tips.

Vimmi’s mother, Marty, met us at the airport in Johannesburg and they drove me to the Landrost Hotel, downtown, where she had made a reservation for me. It was a beautiful, old, historical hotel with dark wood paneling, high ceilings, plush furnishings and Persian rugs. I felt like royalty. Once I was checked in, they left and I went to my room. I was alone. Not only was I alone, I was alone in a foreign country about which I knew nothing except what I had read in those brochures and learned from the people I had talked to on the plane. What was I to do?

Early the next morning, I went down to the lobby and consulted the concierge who told me a tour that day was not possible as you had to make a reservation on the previous day. But, he said he would arrange tours for me for the next three days. Today, he recommended, I should put my money in my boot and my camera in a paper bag and take a walk around downtown. The idea of the paper bag was not to look like a tourist. It wasn’t long until I figured out that my disguise probably wasn’t working as my flaming red hair and brightly colored attire were really out of place in the business district of Johannesburg. Everyone I passed wore grey, black, or tweed business suits. I noticed one man in particular as he was dressed in black and white; everything was stark, beautiful, tailored, and expensive. He was more striking than Tom Selleck at his peak of popularity; he smiled as he passed me. I was lingering and looking in store windows, noticing the architecture, going in and out of stores, looking at tourist treasures and didn’t think too much about it when I passed him again a while later. Once again, he smiled and nodded.

As I stopped for the light before crossing the street at the corner of Coetze and Kline, I happened to look up and see a small outdoor café on the second floor of a building across the street. The cafe was located on an outdoor terrace with many colored umbrellas shading the tables from the sun. I was thinking how beautiful it was when the Tom Selleck look-alike walked up behind me and said something that I didn’t understand. So I said to him, “I’m sorry. I only speak English.”

“I was speaking English,” he replied in a heavy accent.

“What did you say?”

“I said that I’ve been running up and down this street for a half hour now trying to find out if anyone knew you so they could introduce me, but no one did, so I figured I’d better introduce myself before you get away. I’m Jeff Hoffman.”

“Well, nice to meet you Mr. Hoffman.”

“Would you like to have a coffee?” he asked indicating we should go to that charming café that I had been admiring. I saw no harm in sitting in an outdoor café, having coffee with the most handsome man I had seen in many years, so I agreed to go for “a coffee.”

Mr. Hoffman turned out to be divorced, a few years older than me, a successful businessman, and he was very interesting. He offered to show me around Johannesburg, but I explained that I had tours booked for the next few days. He then suggested that he drive me back to my hotel. I said that if he’d like to walk me back and point out the sites of downtown I would be happy to have him accompany me. So we walked, talked, and arrived at the hotel a couple of hours later. He invited me to dinner and I agreed as long as it was in the dining room at the hotel. After all, I was in a foreign country and didn’t know him at all. After dinner, he said “Good night” and that he would call.

The next day, I took my first tour. I had fun talking to people that I probably never would have talked with had I not been alone. I met people from England, Australia, and Asia. We saw the city, watched a performance of African dancers, toured a gold mine and even panned for gold. As the bus pulled up to let me off at my hotel, I saw Jeff Hoffman standing on the curb.

“Hi,” I said. “What are you doing here?”

“I’ve come to make sure you get a good dinner,” he said. Once again, we had a fabulous meal and enjoyed talking with each other about our different cultures and our lives. He explained to me that he was from Rhodesia and when the communists took over his country, he had moved to South Africa with his family. I was fascinated with his life and he was happy to share his experiences with me.

Each evening, as I returned from my daily tour, he was standing at the bus stop waiting to take me to dinner. Then I went on a three day tour to the Kruger National park, where I photographed animals in the wild. Everyone on the tour slept in round huts with thatched roofs called rondovals. In the Kruger Park, all eight of us who were on the tour ate our meals together and had cocktails called “sundowners” in the bush as we watched the sun go down. We even had dinner in the bush…a fabulous dinner served on folding tables with white table cloths, china, and even candles. Later we observed the night creatures as they came out of their daily hiding. What a wonderful adventure I was having.

Sure enough, when the tour bus pulled up to return me to the Landrost, there he was again. He said he figured that by now, I would need some clean clothes. He had come to take me to dinner and pick up my dirty laundry. He said that I should not pay the high hotel prices for having my laundry done, but give it to him and he would ask his maid to do it for me. Then, when we were together on Friday evening, he suggested that on Saturday he would take me to the Indian market. Surely, I could trust him enough by now to get in his car. After all, he had returned my clothing!

So Saturday, we went to the Indian market, shopped, ate exotic Indian foods, laughed, walked, and shopped some more. He invited me to his home for dinner.

On Sunday morning, Vimmi called wondering where I had been. They hadn’t heard from me all week and were beginning to worry. He said he was also feeling guilty that he had dropped me downtown and left me on my own to fend for myself. I told him I was having a wonderful time, but he insisted that he and his mother were going to Sun City, the gambling mecca in Bophutaswana, to see an entertainer by the name of Julio Iglesias. Julio was not yet known in the United States, so I had never heard of him, but I felt it would be fun to travel and see a bit more of the country. I packed up my bags and went off with Vim and Marty to see Julio’s show.

Marty had forgotten to fill up the gas tank in the car which caused us to run out of gas half way to our destination. So I called Jeff and he brought us some “petrol” for the car. Marty invited him to join us on our trip but he said he didn’t want to impose; after all, he had a business to run.

We were late arriving in Sun City and had missed most of the show. We made our way into the showroom in our traveling clothes, just in time to see Julio sing his last song. Marty was very upset. The tickets had cost her a lot of money and she had really wanted to see Julio’s show. Not knowing who he was and being from Las Vegas, I said I was sure that we’d be able to go backstage and meet him. So we marched up to Stage Door 4 where a group of ladies were screaming and jumping up and down. I walked right to the front of the crowd, with Marty in tow, presented Las Vegas modeling agency business card to the security guard, and said, “Please tell Julio that I’m here.” Before long the security guard came back with a gentleman who asked us to follow him.

Back stage, reporters from around the world waited to interview Julio, as waiters in black tails and white gloves served champagne and hors d’oeuvres. Needless to say, we were a bit underdressed in our traveling jeans and t-shirts. I even had a chocolate drip on the front on my shirt – the result of having eaten a candy bar in the car after it had melted in the sun. Julio entered the room with my card in his hand and said, “Judi, how nice of you to come.”

“This is my friend, Marty,” I said, “She so wanted to see your show but we ran out of gasoline and were late and missed all but the last song. Please will you autograph her program?”

He not only autographed the program, he took Marty’s face in his hands, kissed her on the cheeks, and sang her a song. She was blown away! He then greeted the press, thanked everyone for coming and when we finished our drinks, we said our goodbyes. Marty and I were like teenage girls as we went outside and sat on the patio, giggling, not believing that we had managed to get in backstage and that Julio actually sang to her and kissed her cheeks. She swore she would never wash her face again.

The following morning, we went out to sit by the pool and Julio was already there. He called to us, “Judi…Marty…come and say hello.” We were ecstatic. We spent the day swimming, parasailing, and waterskiing. We ran into some friends from Las Vegas who were now dancers in the production show at the Sun City Hotel. It was such a glorious day; it was incredibly beautiful there and we had such a wonderful time.

When I got back to my room, there was a message to call Jeff so I did. He asked if upon my return to Johannesburg, he could take me to out to a small town about 50 km outside of the city to meet his father, sister, and her family.

That, too, turned out to be a wonderful outing. His family members were all so nice and asked many questions about America and my life there. They served a wonderful meal and told me about their lives.

Vimmi then decided I should go to Cape Town to the beach for a few days with him and Marty. It was the most beautiful place I had ever seen. Vim and I laid on the beach in the sun and watched gorgeous people walk by; everyone was friendly and they all smiled at us. I was sure they were smiling because they somehow knew I was from America. Vimmi swore they were smiling at him. We enjoyed granadilla popsicles at the beach, ate out at the Greek restaurant on the corner down from Marty’s apartment, and drove around the Cape giving real baboons rides on the hood of the car around the downtown area. I was fascinated by how the baboons would wait on the side of the road for cars going out to the beach, jump on the car and ride one way; later, they’d jump on a car to ride back to the edge of the city. Imagine….hitchhiking baboons!

Jeff called every night and when we arrived back in Johannesburg once again, he was waiting for me. I only had two days left before I was to return home. We spent almost every waking second together…sightseeing, shopping, we even attended his son’s cricket game.

When the day came for me to return home, Jeff drove me to the airport to say goodbye. We stopped at a restaurant near the airport to have lunch. As we finished lunch, this wonderful, stylish, kind man with dark hair and dark eyes pulled out a small box and gave it to me. I opened it and discovered a beautiful, handmade gold ring set with a champagne diamond. Jeff smiled at me and said, “Come back to South Africa and be my wife.”

Editor’s Note: Jeff Hoffman died two months before they were to be married. Judi moved to South Africa anyway and remained there for 8 years.


 

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Therese (Australia)

“You’re a Saint Mary! Thoroughly enjoyed your book and can’t wait for a follow-up book with some happy moments for you to share with us.”