In the hills of the Atakora in northern Togo live the Tamberma (or Batammariba) people, who live in fortified adobe compounds that look like medieval sand castles complete with turrets, called Tatas. The area has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, which offers the Tamberma some protection. Far off the beaten path, these people mostly live in isolation, with great distances between the individual compounds.
Tata architecture is quite amazing. Built as several stories, the first floor is used for storage, cooking, and livestock, while the mostly open top floor houses a courtyard for drying grains, sleeping quarters, and the granary. The Tamberma believe that the west is the direction of life, so all doors face west.
Though tourists do make their way up here, they are few and far between. But in keeping with the nature of adventure travel, our guide, Paul Agboglo, was a spontaneous man who liked to visit places he’d never been before. He thrived on meeting new people and understanding their world. So when we happened upon one particularly beautiful compound, we stopped the van and walked over.
What we found there was an endearing sight: a beautiful mother with six of her eight children present. The oldest child I would guess to be around 10 years old, while the youngest was only a few months old. They welcomed us shyly, but graciously. It was obvious that they had received visitors before, but they were not driven by money or Western gifts.
The oldest girl was a beauty, with striking eyes, and was the splitting image of her mother. She showed us around and went through the motions of grinding their grains, demonstrating how to enter the bedrooms where they slept, and generally how they live. It was obvious that she also helped with other household chores and tending to the other children.
I was drawn to her beauty and spirit—what a special soul she had! I wondered why she wasn’t in school. Was there a school nearby? We certainly hadn’t seen any on the main road for miles. Nonetheless Paul distributed some of the school supplies we had purchased that morning, knowing that supplies would be a welcome gift to any of the families.
Soon after this exchange, Paul told us about LeapingStone, a wonderful non-profit that is working to build and upgrade schools in West Africa. The organization was started by WT Adventurer Natalie Huberman after she was inspired by her WT trip to the region. Recently, Wilderness Travel donated $4,000 to help LeapingStone complete their second school project in Togo. The organization is continuing their fundraising effort to help provide school supplies to the new students, and they always appreciate donations.
After returning home, I decided I wanted to lend a hand to LeapingStone myself. I offered help to them however I can, especially by spreading the word to friends and family. The girl with the beautiful eyes moved me in more ways that she’ll ever know.
–Photos and text by Shannon Hastings, WT staff, Tribal Ghana, Togo, and Benin