This time we hopped a prop plane to the Serengeti from Dar. Last time we drove. For hours. Along bumpy roads with a myriad of S-curves. Up into the hills and down again. It was 1996, a time before iPods and wireless and smartphones. Before airlines decided to squeeze as many seats as they could into economy class. Before the in-flight entertainment gave you dozens movies and tv shows at your fingertips.

The plane had eight channels, or maybe ten. Four or five played movies on loop, and the rest had TV shows: comedies, dramas, and documentaries. If you timed it just right, you could start that the very beginning of a movie. But more often than not, you went back to the channel only to find the movie was already ten minutes in.

We landed in Nairobi, and crossed the border towards Arusha. I just gotten my first CD: Alanis Morisette’s Jagged Little Pill. But, since it was the only CD I owned, I didn’t have a Discman. But I did have a tape player, so I’d recorded the whole album onto a cassette that I’d brought with me. I played that cassette over and over through the many hours of driving. It was the first pop music album that I owned and I loved it.

We stopped at a hotel for lunch one day. It sat atop a hill overlooking a lake. A giant chess set was set out in the back. The pieces were almost as big as us. We maneuvered them into place, wrapping our arms around them, lifting, and dropping them on another square.

In the park, we came across a cheetah and her cubs. They were slinking through the long grasses, watching a herd of gazelles chow down. A short distance from the gazelles the cheetah stopped and dropped, her cubs doing the same. Ten minutes went by. More jeeps arrived. Another ten minutes. Even more jeeps came. After another ten minutes, the gazelles wandered off, leaving a small one behind, still chewing on the grass. The cheetah cubs moved quickly. Within a minute they had the gazelle on the ground. The rest of the herd watched from a safe distance, as the cheetah and her cubs tore apart the gazelle. The jeeps turned around and drove off one by one. 

Asha SundararamanComment