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.
As I turned a corner, the sound grew louder, then crackled, then gave out completely. With a great sense of urgency a boy ran in front of me in the direction from where the music was coming. It seemed like the whole village paused in that moment. Fiddling with an intricate weave of orange and grey cord that connected a solar panel of unknown origin to the cable of the boom box, he managed to resurrect the music—an act followed by an enthusiastic applause from his friends. The rhythmic beating of the drums resumed to the speaker, as did the boy and his friends to their work, busily forming bricks to bake under the intense sun. I walked on, soaking in the beautiful melodies and a newfound appreciation for human ingenuity in such an isolated environment.