The city of Timbuktu, on the edge of the Sahara Desert, was a center of trade and Islamic learning before it gained a reputation as being far-off and inaccessible. Tourists flocked there for the annual Festival in the Desert until 2012 when the Islamist takeover of northern Mali once again made it a town tourists could only dream of visiting. But even if tourists can no longer come, Timbuktu can come to them, thanks to Postcards from Timbuktu, started in 2016 by guide Ali Nialy and American hostel owner Phil Paoletta. Mali's last master calligrapher, Boubacar Sadeck, creates the cards. In Timbuktu, Nialy's guides transcribe the messages and take the cards to the post office to be stamped. The cards get to Bamako on a UN flight, and Paoletta checks the addresses at his hostel, the Sleeping Camel, before the cards are taken by motorbike to the Bamako post office.

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