Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

In 1968 I was granted a semester’s sabbat...

In 1968 I was granted a semester’s sabbatical leave from Columbia College. The meaning of this “sabbatical” was “a rest, with pay.” After completing a study of artificial respiration, I wanted to observe the recreation of children in less well-developed areas. I planned to do this in Hawaii, Samoa, New Zealand and Australia.

I had often asked my students in recreational leadership, “What do people enjoy spontaneously when they’re not directed, not organized into teams, have no special equipment or rules?” I chose a four-day stopover in American Samoa to help me answer that question. My local travel agent said, “The children are taught in English and Samoans use American money; you’ll have nothing to fear.”

Before claiming my luggage at Samoa’s airport, I was directed to a short line of people waiting at the Hotel International desk. When I suggested that I wanted to wait until I arrived in Pago Pago to choose a place to stay, the information clerk smiled and explained that there was no choice. I got in line with about six other travelers.

The price seemed rather steep for one person, but there were no single rooms, so I paid, of course. The lady put a lei of beautiful fresh flowers around my neck and directed me to the hotel limousine with the others. “Oh, I have my bicycle!” I said, “I’ll just ride out.” She thought it was about six miles from the airport to the town. Looking back on that, I wonder why I didn’t verify this, and why I didn’t send my 20 pounds of luggage on the limo. I did, however ask for directions.

The lady said. “Oh, you won’t get lost. Samoa is an island, and the road winds along between the mountain and the ocean. The hotel is right on the road.” Good! I claimed my bike and bags, carried them outside and began to reassemble the bike. The handlebars had to be turned, the front wheel mounted, the chain mounted and the brake cables hooked up. This took about 30 minutes, and I had done it many times.

Three fellows watched and asked questions about the bike as I did this. “You can’t ride out to ‘Pango Pango’ tonight,” one said with a strong native accent. “Why not?” I asked as the limo pulled away and drove out of sight. “Because it’s going to be dark,” he replied. “Well then, I’d better hurry,” I said, thinking he was kidding. I mounted the bike, smiled, and glanced at the sun, high in the sky.

The scene was beautiful. Children were out in small homemade boats. One seemed to have a bent sheet of corrugated metal roofing for a hull. A middle-aged woman was wading in a wrap-around garment, groping for something. A few people were paddling around in the clear blue water. Waves rolled in on the gravel and left their foam on sandy beaches. There was an occasional truck on the blacktop road, which had no shoulder except loose, rounded pebbles. Bike tires would have no business getting off the pavement, I noted. I passed several native huts with a bit of light laundry hanging on lines in the sun. The huts seemed to have no outside walls, and I could see stacks of mats. Sleeping pads, I guessed. I wondered why all of the laundry was flat. Where are their jeans, pajamas, underwear? It didn’t matter, but I was curious. The light changed somewhat because the sun was going behind the mountain.

Ten minutes later I knew that the man at the airport wasn’t kidding! It was getting dark fast. I pedaled faster. If the hotel was six miles from the airport, I’d still have more than half of that to do. There was almost no traffic now. Sometimes there were no homes in sight. Just the mountain, the road and the ocean, as the hotel lady had said. Light spray blew against the right side of my face when the big waves rolled in. I was riding farther away from the edge of the blacktop, now, so as not to have a mishap. A sprung wheel or a spill on those rocks would really set me back.

It quickly became pitch dark. No street lights. No yard lights. The few homes I was passing had only one bare bulb hanging in the middle of the open room. The fellow was right. It was too dark to ride! I slowed my pedaling and pulled toward the road edge when the lights a vehicle came up behind me. It passed, and I was glad. I had mostly traveler’s checks, but someone might want my Peugeot PX-10 or the two $20 bills in my hip pocket.

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