Well, we have released a whole bunch of postcards into the wild. They arrived at the Bamako Post Office early this morning after a convoluted journey through the north of Mali.
The clerk at the Timbuktu Post Office was quite confused when Ali showed up with a stack of postcards (this post office doesn't see much activity these days), but he quickly jumped into action. The two of them went through the postcards one by one to determine the postage and to put the Tombouctou stamp on them.
After more orders rolled in over the weekend, Ali needed to once more pay a visit to the Post Office clerk. The actual Post Office was closed, but Ali found the clerk at his house and they stamped out the postcards in his family's courtyard. I learned that this project may exhaust the city of Timbuktu's supply of stamps, and we may need to actually send more stamps ourselves at some point.
Our original intention was to drop off the stamped postcards at the Timbuktu Post Office itself. The clerk cautioned against this, explaining that it could take several weeks just to get to Bamako. We considered a few alternatives, including putting them in a shared 4x4 that would travel overland to Bamako. Ali knows someone at the Timbuktu airport, however, and we eventually weaseled them onto a UN flight.
We thought this would be the quickest way to get them to Bamako, but Ali called me the next day to tell me that the package of postcards was taken off the plane in Gao, and it was now sitting in the airport there. Now we had inadvertently made the postcards' journey even longer!! If you are unfamiliar with the geography of Mali, have a gander at the map below to understand what this meant:
Fortunately, the postcards did not disappear into the desert around Gao. They were placed on a flight departing the next day for Bamako.
A mutual friend of mine and Ali's - Adama - delivered the postcards from the airport, at which point I took them over to Bamako's central Post Office to drop them in the giant yellow "Outside Africa" box.
I spent a few minutes joking with an older female clerk at the Bamako Post Office. She was Songhoy from northern Mali. You'd think we would have had an interesting conversation about the fact that I was dropping off heaps of postcards from Timbuktu. Instead, we insulted each other based on the fact that I have taken a Dogon last name (Bintou is Dogon), and Dogons are "joking cousins" with the Songhoy ethnic group (this system of joking cousins goes back to Mali's first constitution under Sundiata Keita. It serves as a universal ice breaker as well as a means to solve everyday disputes. It always ends with both parties laughing at each other).
Anyway, Madam Touré assured me the postcards will reach their destination, but she told me not to hold my breath for the postcards destined for North America. It seems there is typically a bit of a hangup when they arrive in France (the first destination for all the postcards after Mali). I look forward to finding out when they actually arrive.
One reason that I really enjoy this project is that while people order the postcards online, and we send the orders to Ali via Whatsapp, the rest of the process is very low tech. A card is branded with a handwritten note and a few stamps, and then it travels a very far distance, passing between many hands along the way.
Now, it's time for a little bit of patience. The cards are on the way! Stay tuned.