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Sunday
Aug312008

Progress Calling

When it comes to communication in Mali, you can check your western sense of assumed technological superiority at the border.  The profusion of cell phones in Mali is staggering.  Almost everyone we encounter in the cities have them, not to mention a strong minority of people we met in the bush.

The benefits of this profusion are fairly obvious: communication facilitates commerce and serves as a valuable lifeline in a desert environment.  And speaking or desert, the flat, open spaces are ideal for cell phone tower performance; we found connectivity in almost every location we visited on the trip.

That service is provided by either Orange or Malitel, but Orange is the overwhelming marketer in the country.  In fact, the Orange logo was more ubiquitous than any other advertised brand I saw throughout the country.  Orange makes Coke look like rank amateurs when it comes to marketing here!

One travel tip: most, if not all, Malians use pre-paid services.  "Top up" time cards, which look like little lottery tickets because of their scratch-off access codes, are for sale everywhere.  Instead of dealing with your phone service from abroad, cozy up to a guide or driver and offer to top up their card in exchange for usage.  USD$40 kept me in sufficient call time back to the US over a three week trip.

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