Not getting any travel postcards? A project in Mali delivers delight — and a lifeline.

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By Bailey Berg,

Phil Paoletta
A collection of postcards dispatched by Postcards From Timbuktu.

It’s not often that Phil Paoletta receives disgruntled emails about his and Ali Nialy’s project, but when he does, it’s because someone thinks their West Africa-based company is a scam.

The duo started Postcards From Timbuktu in 2016 with a mission to help unemployed tour guides gain an income by sending cards from a city that’s become shorthand for a far-flung, if not imaginary, place.

“They think Timbuktu isn’t a real place and we’re printing fake postcards and stamps to make it seem like something’s coming from a place in a joke,” Paoletta said.

It then falls to Paoletta to explain that Timbuktu is, in fact, a real city, that the person who wrote the message is not a grifter a la a fictitious “Nigerian prince,” and that one of their friends or family members ordered a postcard for them thinking they would enjoy receiving correspondence from Mali.

More often than not, though, the recipients of the postcards are delighted, especially this year, when international tourism has largely come to a halt. In fact, the armchair-travel nature of the postcards has led to the project’s most successful year yet.

“We had a lot of postcards for people that were stuck in quarantine and wished they could be traveling,” Paoletta said. “This way, at least, they have a postcard that traveled all the way from Timbuktu.”

[We no longer wish you were here: Are postcards, those beloved vacation staples, becoming obsolete in the age of electronic communication?]

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