The only sound I heard as I trekked into the village was the scratchy thumping of a boombox. The rhythmic beat of a West African band lulled me into a contentedness; I had almost forgotten how strange it was to hear recorded music playing in such a remote part of the world. Some 30 miles south of Timbuktu, where the Sahara melts into lush rice paddies and the Niger River crawls around oasis-like islands, scarce (and expensive) generators come closest to anything resembling an electrical grid. The remote villages live off of the river and the imports being hauled into Mali in large, colorful boats. Kids run past with massive plumes of hay balanced on their heads; donkeys wait patiently in the shade for the 46-degree sun to set.