Post 28 — Important Lessons

The students who attended the Dependent’s School were a mixed group. Most were the children of the teachers/principals who had been brought to the island by the United States government or offspring of other industry such as the Coca Cola Bottling Plant or Starkist Cannery. Classes were taught in English so most of the students were palagi, but there were also Samoan kids who had been educated on the mainland and had a good command of the language.

The proximity to the harbor was a huge distraction to the learning that was supposed to be happening in the classrooms. There was a constant stream of watercraft churning through the bay to the docks, from jerry-rigged fishing boats to majestic cruise ships. Giant metal cleats were cemented into the ground right outside the fourth grade building, and ropes as thick as a tuna fish were wound around them to anchor the huge boats.

Centipede Row, which was very close to the school, shows how close the harbour was tot he buildings. This picture is actually from 1948, taken by Dr. Jim Harris, and can be found at  http://jmflanigan.smugmug.com

Centipede Row, which was near the school, shows how close the harbour was to the buildings. This picture is actually from 1948, taken by Dr. Jim Harris, and can be found at http://jmflanigan.smugmug.com

One warm afternoon during an unsuccessful grammar lesson, the teacher turned around to find the entire class gazing out the open doorway at a remarkable high wire act. Stretched taut, the ropes provided a tantalizing bridge for any rodent that wished to board and sample the cuisine of the cruise ship’s buffet. The entire fourth grade sat at their desks, mesmerized, and watched a rat race up the vertical rope, only to run smack into an inverted cone that had been attached to the line for that very situation. Unable to get around the barrier and unwilling to swim, the wee beastie was forced to turn around and nearly took a dive into the drink. Hanging by one foot, it finally managed to pull itself back up to the hemp and looked around in embarrassment, hoping that no other rodents might have seen the faux paw. It shook a tiny fist at the cone and then ran back down the rope, where it disappeared amid the piles of pallets on the dock. Cheers broke out as the entire class applauded.

“Well, I can’t compete with that,” said Mr. Regula. “Let’s have recess.”

The classrooms were often hot so any chance to go outside was welcome. The sparkling water of Pago bay lapped at the rocks just a few yards from the school and was very tempting, but technically swimming was off-limits during school hours. There was a large, grassy courtyard where a variety of games would begin as soon as the equipment was unleashed. Tetherball was very popular but only two could play at a time. It also had another big flaw: the fact that the ball was connected to the pole. For that reason alone, most kids opted for volleyball. All it took was a bad pass or an errant spike and a whoop would go up as the ball sailed out-of-bounds and right into the ocean. “Sami ball!” someone would shout, and a dozen kids would kick off their thongs and jump into the bay. The ball was finally retrieved after much splashing and would eventually be thrown back to the waiting players. No one ever kept score; the game was to see how many times the players could knock the ball into the water before the teacher yelled at them and made everyone play jump rope instead.

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2 Comments to “Post 28 — Important Lessons”

  1. Hi Chris, I have read every one of your posts and so enjoy them. I have a couple questions, what time frame are you in when you mention the school in fourth grade? Is that the Fia Iloa school? I know that your family arrived on Island before mine !! I want to know if you are aware that testing was also a means used to allow Samoan students to attend the excelerated program? I remember the selection process was viewed by some to be very controversial. Maybe some of your other followers may have comments or input?? Keep up the great ” LETTERS” Riki

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    • Thanks, Riki. This was in October 1964; the Dependent’s School was only there for a year. Fia Iloa opened the next year. I know there was some controversy about how Samoan students were admitted and some talk of elitism because most of the students were palagi, but I don’t know the whole story. Carolyn told me that many of the Samoans who attended were the families of military personnel serving in Viet Nam who had been raised stateside but then brought back to the island because the government offered free relocation. Comments are welcomed from people know more about this.

      Chris

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