Family trades E.B. home

for a hut in Kenya, Africa
Experiences filmed for National Geographic

By vincent todaro
Staff Writer

Family trades E.B. home

The Palmer family of East Brunswick is featured in the pilot for the new National Geographic Channel series Worlds Apart. They are pictured in front of their hut with the Kenyan family who hosted them during the taping.The Palmer family of East Brunswick is featured in the pilot for the new National Geographic Channel series Worlds Apart. They are pictured in front of their hut with the Kenyan family who hosted them during the taping.

for a hut in Kenya, Africa

Experiences filmed for National Geographic’s

‘Worlds Apart’ series

By vincent todaro

Staff Writer

EAST BRUNSWICK — It wasn’t a Survivor show, but it certainly tested their resolve.

Chris and Susan Palmer, along with their three children, Allie, 15, Michael, 13, and Jamie, 8, did not spend their New Year’s Eve partying with friends or counting down to midnight with Dick Clark.

They spent it flying to Kenya to live like the natives for nine days as part of the new National Geographic Channel series Worlds Apart.

And the Palmers did it on their own accord.

Not trying to win prize money or impress anyone, the Palmers agreed to the trip after producers from the show contacted East Brunswick looking for a family willing to tough it out in a Third World country. Susan Palmer said her family was recommended by Township Councilwoman Catherine Diem.

The family’s visit is detailed in the show’s hour-long pilot, now being aired on the National Geographic Channel. The next showing is scheduled for Saturday at noon.

The Palmers were on major network television yesterday as the featured guests on Oprah.

"We had the [network’s] vice president come to us in late November when the producers had contacted East Brunswick," Susan said. "They were looking for a family with two to three school-age children."

After an e-mail and videotape exchange, the Palmers — Susan, a PTA president, and Chris, a vice president with a Manhattan-based fragrance and flavor manufacturer — met with producers from the show, and were told in December to pack their bags because they were heading to Kenya.

"They selected us because they were looking for a dynamic family and someone willing and ready to go," Susan said, adding that no one in her family had ever been to Africa.

And it wasn’t as if the family was being lodged in a modernized city either.

"We went to Nairobi, Kenya; then we took a small plane one and a half hours from Nairobi to the middle of nowhere," Susan said.

The area they were taken is known as Korr, in northwestern Kenya. The Palmers were then taken to what would be their home for the next nine days — a hut belonging to a large Kenyan family who were members of the Readille tribe.

"We had no running water or electricity," she said, "And no phones."

The show was not any kind of competition or challenge, she said, but rather a cultural exchange, and the Palmers were asked to bring along American items to show to their Kenyan host family, the Orgubas.

"We had been avid readers of National Geographic for some time," she said. "We’re interested in that sort of experience."

Susan said they knew they were being taken to Nairobi beforehand. They didn’t known they would be going to Korr until the night they boarded the plane from Nairobi.

Still, Susan said she was not shaken.

"I thought it would be a great opportunity for my children to really see a different way of life," she said. "I knew it would be vastly different from how we live. I thought it would be a real unique opportunity for them."

It was a challenging adjustment for the children.

"At first I thought it would be really cool," said Allie, a student at East Brunswick High School. "But the first three days, it was terrible. I had a few breakdowns and cried [that] I wanted to leave."

"But by the last day, I didn’t want to leave," she said.

A lot of people comforted her when they saw the shape she was in at the beginning of her visit, she said. The third night was the turning point though.

"It was a gorgeous night, and everyone was there," Allie said, adding that the gathering brought a real feeling of community.

Susan said the experience was overwhelmingly positive, and that her children learned things they never would have otherwise. Herding goats, fetching firewood and getting water from wells were just a few of the activities her kids engaged in.

And the Palmers showed the Orgubas a few things about American life as well. They brought a kite, as well as some board games such as Twister, which turned out to be the favorite.

The Orgubas will also get a special gift — their own pictures. No one in the tribe had ever seen their own image because they have no cameras or even mirrors.

She described Korr as being "in the middle of a desert, very barren and hot."

The Orguba family has seven children, all of whom go to school, a contrast from most families in the tribe who are illiterate and unschooled. The Orgubas also speak English and are Catholic.

The tribe is monotheistic and polygamist, she said. It is also somewhat nomadic and believes in sacrificing animals.

She said the Orgubas have it harder than others in the country, as they are especially far from water.

"It’s a hard life that they live," she said. "Access to everything is difficult. It took us four and a half hours by truck to get to the nearest big town to sell goats and get supplies."

Regardless, she said the people seemed happy and enjoy a very close-knit community.

"It’s slower-paced, and if you want something done, it takes a long time," Allie said.

"It’s addictive to be so slow," she said. "I liked it because it was slower. You feel a little bored when you get there. I finished the books I brought after a few days, but it wasn’t to the point where I was begging for a TV back. You get over it."

"You don’t miss the things like TV," Susan said. "You miss water and other services. There’s not even a chair to sit in, and you feel like you’re never clean."

One thing that was intolerable, however, was the food. The Orgubas make meals out of goat’s milk and blood. Susan said she cooked her family stew every night they were there.

Life spans are shorter and AIDs is a major problem in that region of the world, but people generally live into their 60s in Kenya.

"I prefer it here (in the United States)," Allie said. "You need certain amenities they don’t have, like water and a telephone."