The airport on Savai'i, one of the islands in Western Samoa, is a grass runway and a bench in the shade. A week ago, Church News staff writer Gerry Avant was waiting there with others in the oppressive humidity of the tropics. Among the most experienced travelers on the Deseret News staff, she hoped to catch a flight back to Apia aboard a six-passenger island-hopper of an airplane that came and went at the whims of its pilot.
She puzzled over one dilemma: The passenger list was decided by total weight, not by total bodies, and the man ahead of her was a very large man.But, like most of Gerry's travel stories, this one had a happy ending. Soon the props whirred, blowing back palm fronds, the plane settled on its grass runway and Gerry was invited to sit in the co-pilot's seat. The plane, unlike its predecessor two weeks earlier, did not smash before landing, but taxied routinely to a stop. And Gerry added yet another experience to her large repertoire, which has included visiting 20-30 nations from Australia to Asia, from France to the Philippines.
She travels to cover events for Church News but has a passion for human interest stories that drives her to work from early morning until late at night.
Her interest in stories may have been kindled in her childhood. Her family had a general store in a small town in Georgia. "On Saturday nights in the winter," she recalls, "people would gather around the pot-bellied stove and talk until midnight. Old people, blacks and whites, told tall tales. One of my great regrets was that I was too young to realize what a great resource that might be."
Later she became a teacher for two years, then came west to do graduate work at Brigham Young University. Then she took an internship with a local television station and came face-to-face with breaking news stories. Later she joined the Deseret News staff.
She was good at her work, but "I never enjoyed hard news," she says. "I never wanted to be reporter who had to blow the whistle on public officials or on business fraud. I enjoy writing about the positive and upbeat."
So it was natural for her to come to Church News where she's worked for 16 years. And her penchant for interesting stories has been a natural benefit to the publication, whether she's poking about in Glasgow, Scotland, or Grouse Creek, Utah.
In her continuing search for articles, she travels light. A shoulder bag holds everything she will need for up to two weeks. Small sealed plastic bags hold necessities. Her wash-and-wear clothes are rolled in one corner, three or four cameras are tucked in the other. Excess travel paraphernalia stays home.
"I can always find soap and water," she said. And that was true, at least until she went to Savai'i Island, where the hotel's water system lost its pressure. But Gerry is resourceful. Now she's going to add a few sealed pouches of drinking water to her shoulder sack. Obviously the luggage of a woman in pursuit of stories, not comfort.