for National Geographic News
The National Geographic Channel's reality show Worlds Apart gives participants and viewers alike the opportunity to develop a fresh world view based on firsthand experience. With no contests or staged situations, the challenges these families face are real, as are the friendships and insights they gain from their experiences.
In tonight's season premiere of Worlds Apart, Scott and Lynne Russell and their two children, 15-year-old son R.J. and 12-year-old daughter Alex, leave home behind for ten days in order to experience life in Ghana, a West African country roughly twice the area of their home state, Alabama.
Their host family, Abdullah and Agnes Bawa, daughter Hilda, 18, and son Thomas, 13, prepare for the arrival of their American guests by building a new room off of their mud brick family compound. Ten-by-ten square feet, the room adjoins the common area, an open room at the center of the compound where daily functions like cooking and bathing take place.
The Bawas are the only family in the village who speak English, learned by Mr. Bawa while serving as a United Nations peacekeeper in Lebanon and Israel during the 1960s. He works as a guard along Ghana's border with Burkina Faso, earning the equivalent of U.S. $4 per month. Mrs. Bawa is a successful entrepreneur in her own right, hiring other villagers to work in her peanut fields. By comparison, the Bawas are considered people of means in the village.
Upon arrival, though, the Russells delve into a lifestyle very different from their own. The Bawas are members of a small tribe known as the Frafra who live in the northeastern part of Ghana. Farmers by trade, the Frafras raise crops such as millet, sorghum, and yams, and supplement these staples by growing peanuts, maize, rice, and beans.
Division of Labor
Division of labor is clearly defined: women and girls tend the fields, gather firewood, haul well water, and look after children; boys herd the village cattle; and men hunt and direct village operations. People work from before the sun rises until it sets, and at the end of the day lie down to sleep on thin mats laid out on the ground.
Yet amidst the difficulties of this life, the Russells find much richness. "I think the Bawas have more solid relationships with each other, because they need to depend on their friends and their family more than we do here in the States," observed Lynne. Scott agreed. "They have time to love each other, where I think we get so busy doing things we forget the basic foundation of family."
The Russell children come away with new perspectives, as well. "They [children] have extreme responsibilities," said R.J. "Six-year-olds have to tend to cattle for the whole day! But six-year-olds in the United States, their life is just about playing."
Despite language barriers with the other villagers, help is always around the corner. Said Lynne, "There was another woman named Felicia who could not speak English at all and yet she helped me so many times during our stay there. She always seemed to be around right when I needed her and then just disappear when she was done with her task of helping me. She's someone I wish I could have gotten to know better."
Through the generosity of the Bawas and their village, the Russells are able to succeed through many personal challenges. To repay the Bawas for their hospitality, Scott determines that the Russells will purchase a cow to give at the end of their stay. It is a gesture that brings the Bawas to tears. "After we had given the cow, Mr. Bawa's son told us that the gift of a cow usually comes from a family member or a close friend," remembered Scott. "He said that it was very significant that we gave them a cow."
Back home now in the States, the Russells count this adventure as a life-altering experience. "I remember right after we returned, I was driving in traffic, frustrated and grumbling," said Lynne, "and Alex said, 'Just chill outit doesn't matter!' She said she had a new attitude of patience. When I asked her where she learned it, she said it was from the trip."
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