December 2023 UPDATE: Yes, we are still in business. No, things are not easy. We are now routing the stamped and postmarked cards from Timbuktu to Senegal by bus. They then take the train up to Dakar to the central post office there.
Once the cards arrive at the post office in Dakar, things move fast! Before that, not so much. Count on 1.5-2.5 months for delivery. But we will make sure you get your order. We realize that this runs counter to everything we are to expect from modern day e-commerce. Please excuse us. Your patience and understanding are greatly appreciated.
Remember the last time you received something meaningful in the mail?
Despite the marvel that is the modern postal system, we typically find our mailboxes overflowing with credit card offers and magazines we don't want.
But what if I told you that you could receive (or send) a meaningful piece of mail from Timbuktu while also providing some work to some unemployed tourist guides?
Yes. Timbuktu is, in fact, a real place. It is located in northern Mali, on the edge of the Sahara Desert. It is a charming city of sandy streets, deep history (it was once a center of trade and Islamic learning, with one of the world's earliest universities) and a Sahelian mix of cultures.
So, how does this work?
1. Choose one of the postcard designs at the bottom of this page. In addition to several images of Timbuktu, you can also pick a hand drawn postcard, designed by a student in Timbuktu, with additional proceeds going to their classroom. You can also upload your own image for a completely customized postcard. And, we even have a few other items you can order now, too!
2. Write a custom message (in any language you want). A passive aggressive note directed towards your roommate will carry a lot more weight if it comes all the way from Timbuktu. So will a reminder to keep attacking that New Year's resolution. How about this: convince a friend you are in Timbuktu, and tell them to go to your house to water your plants. Birthday notes? Love letters? Get well soon? All possible. You can also have the guide write their own custom message -- simply write [please write your own message] in the custom message box.
3. Enter the shipping address of the person who will receive the postcard and make the purchase (shipping is free). Each address requires a separate order at the moment, so if you want to send to multiple people you will need to order the cards one at a time. *We are working on finding a solution to this*
4. Sit back and relax. Your postcard is coming. Its journey is long. It may take a couple weeks or a month or even longer to get to you or to whom you sent it. The actual card is born at a Bamako print shop. From there, it travels north for 24 hours and arrives in Timbuktu, where an unemployed former tourist guide will write your custom message before taking it to the Timbuktu post office (see pic below). Then it's a long trip back to Bamako, to Mali's central post office, where your postcard will begin its international journey, which could be thousands of miles. Want to know a bit more about your postcard's journey? Check this out.
5. Feel good about yourself. You just sent a meaningful piece of mail. Everyone loves meaningful mail. You also put some money into the Timbuktu economy and provided some work to a former tourist guide (there hasn't been tourism in Timbuktu since January 2012 due to a rebellion and jihadist occupation, a French military intervention and now, lingering insecurity).