Category Archives: News

Timbuctu Is a Travel Dream. Mali is Reality.

Timbuctu, Mali

Timbuctu, Mali, photo by Elin Reitehaug

The legendary Timbuktu stands in the African country of Mali.  When travelers daydream, one of the things they daydream about is Timbuktu. But in recent years, revolution has brought the country Mali to a standstill.  One of the things that stands in the way of a stable country is the high illiteracy rate.

You can do something about that.

Building a school in Mali Building a school in Mali

You may recall that Passports with Purpose had a goal of $115,000 to help the organization buildOn construct schools in Mali. They raised a very respectable $84,000. That awesome accomplishment  (which builds two schools plus providing adult literacy programs in one of the poorest countries in the world) makes me happy. But it isn’t quite the original goal.

Today is the big day when Passports with Purpose notifies the people who won some loot in their fund raiser for schools in Mali. 

But the people who contributed to Passports with Purpose efforts to help are WINNERS, even if they don’t get loot.

The deadline for winning that “loot” is past.

If you missed the deadline, and you still think it is a nifty idea to build schools in Mali, there’s good news for you. You can still donate. Just go to the Passports with Purpose donate page. 100% of your contribution goes to buildOn, the group who works with locals to provide schools and literacy programs.

I would be doubly thrilled if the hard work of the travel bloggers behind this project wound up raising enough money to fund ANOTHER school in Mali, wouldn’t you? Every little bit helps, so if you have not yet contributed to Passports with Purpose, please give yourself the gift of feeling really good about helping people who REALLY need the help.

Book Cover--Timbuctoo, Mali
And if you’re still dreaming the traveler’s dream of Timbucktu, read my review of Timbuctoo, by Tahir Shah– a historical look (in fictional form) at the search for the exotic Timbucktu. But if you’d like a look at the real Mali, read Jessica Voigt’s review of How to Make a Quilt in Africa.

Supporting Education, Literacy, and Empowerment in Mali

Cultural Travel

By Jessica Voigts

Book Cover: How to Make an African Quilt
Destination: Mali

Book: How to Make an African Quilt: The Story of the Patchwork Project of Segou, Mali  by Bonnie Lee Black

Mali is the 5th poorest country in the world (UN Human Development Index), and has one of the world’s lowest literacy rates.

This year’s Passports with Purpose project is to raise $115,00 for buildOn to construct three schools and fund three adult literacy programs in southern Mali. Steadfast in their commitment to break the cycle of poverty and illiteracy in Mali, buildOn has sustained their school construction program in the country amidst the current civil unrest north of the capital.

Passports with Purpose is an annual event; a fundraiser by travel bloggers to help communities in need. Created in 2008, it has changed lives around the world, by building wells in Haiti with, libraries in Zambia with Room to Read, houses for families in India with Land for Tillers Freedom, a school in rural Cambodia with American Assistance for Cambodia, and donations to Heifer International.

Bonnie Lee Black in Mali

Bonnie Lee Black, picture used with permission of Bonnie Lee black and Wandering Educators.

But Mali is so far away, one might note. How can we get involved? Here’s a personal story, of living in Mali and helping others. It’s an inspiration to get involved, to support Passports with Purpose and other philanthropic organizations working in Mali…

It’s one of THOSE books. You tear through it, unable to put it down. Read while cooking, eating, even postponing sleep until you just can’t keep your eyes open any more. I’m very happy to share my latest read, one of THOSE books. Yes, it’s one of the best books I’ve read all year. Written by Bonnie Lee Black, How to Make an African Quilt: The Story of the Patchwork Project of Segou, Mali is an incredible read.

A former Peace Corps volunteer, Bonnie headed to Mali and changed lives (her own, included). If you’ve ever wondered if your NGO or Peace Corps or volunteer work has made a difference, this is a book to dive into and savor. For you will recognize many common truths about working overseas – the joys and challenges, the amazing people, the interest and hard work of some to better their lives, and the powerful role that educators play in this transformation.

Women in Mali quilting

Women in Mali quilting, Photo used with permission of Bonnie Lee Black and Wandering Educators

In this book, Bonnie shares the inspiration and tracks the progress of an unusual project to help people help themselves. After working with the Peace Corps in Gabon, she headed to Mali to build a welcoming home, peaceful garden, wondrous community. She worked with young girls to teach them how to crochet plastic bags into something useful, in a class that taught hard work, crafting, and ways to make money from their work.

Teaching Mali girls to crochet

Teaching Mali girls to crochet. Photo used with permission of Bonnie Lee Black and Wandering Educators.

These Malian women’s new skills can – and will – make a difference in their lives. It’s the power of education to better lives; it’s the vision, strength, and hard work of one woman to implement change and empowerment. I can honestly say that Bonnie Lee Black is a hero – in more than one sense of the word. She knows her SELF. She works tirelessly to educate and assist others, all with a sense of humor and grace. And yes, she changes lives. As you can surmise, I highly recommend this book – it’s a treasure.

Read more about Bonnie Lee Black and her Mali project at Wandering Educators.

How to Cook a Crocodile
And see A Traveler’s Library review of her first book, How to Cook a Crocodile, here.




Don’t forget to check out the page where you can contribute $10 to build schools in Mali and get a chance on a fabulous prize at Passports With Purpose.


Note: The book covers are linked to  A Traveler’s Library is an affiliate of Amazon, and during the holidays, when you are shopping on line, we appreciate your going to Amazon through our links. It costs you no more, but it helps us pay the rent on this space.

Award Winning Authors

ALICE MUNRO–NOBEL Award Winning Author

Award Winning Authors: Munro

Alice Munro. Photo from her Amazon author’s page.

The big book news of last week, of course, is the announcement that short-story writer Alice Munro was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Since I’ve pledged to pay more attention to Canada and  Alice Munro is from rural Ontario, Canada, I am searching for some of her stories that strongly reflect Canada.

A Traveler’s Library frequently writes about award winning authors. So why not Alice Munro? That’s the downside of writing about books that influence travel, I sometimes have to bypass wonderful literature because it achieves universality.  Yes, universality is a good thing in literature.  But here at A Traveler’s Library, we have a narrower goal–books that emphasize place and culture and will encourage people to visit. So the main question is not–is Munro worth reading?–which she certainly is, but should we put her books on the Traveler’s Library Shelf because they inspire us to see Canada or understand Canada?

A rare negative review of Munro in the London Review of Books says she writes about ordinary people…

Ordinary people turn out to live in a rural corner of Ontario between Toronto and Lake Huron, and to be white, Christian, prudish and dangling on a class rung somewhere between genteel poverty and middle-class comfort. Occasionally they move to the vicinity of Vancouver, only to go back to Ontario again.

Are you a reader of Alice Munro’s work?  Do you have suggestions of her work that might help people understand Canada–as well as the human condition?


Award Winning Authors: book cover
We can’t help getting excited when a book that has been reviewed here is nominated for or wins a major award.  Becky Masterman, who sets Rage Against the Dying in Tucson, is on the short list for a Golden Dagger Award from the Crime Writers’ Association.  This is a MAJOR accomplishment for a first novel, up against stiff competition for best crime novel recognition against many award winning authors. The nail biting ends on October 24th, when Crime Writers Association announces the winners. But being short listed, Becky is already a winner. Fingers crossed, Becky.


Award Winning Authors: Book Cover
If you have not yet discovered what a fan I am of Robert Wilson, take a look at my previous reviews of his books set in Portugal (That one won the Golden Dagger when it came out) and Spain and Spain.  His latest novel, Capital Punishment, which is set in London, is on the short list at Crime Writer’s Association for the Steel Dagger Award (for thrillers). My copy is in the mail, and I’m looking forward to it, particularly looking at the very mixed reviews on Amazon set against the fact that its short listed for this award. Wow! Time to form my own opinion–and take a tour of London. As for the award–best wishes, Robert.

CHRIS PAVONE–2013 EDGAR WINNER for Best First Novel by An American Author

Award Winning Authors: The Expats
My apologies to Chris Pavone. I somehow managed to miss the Edgars this year when they were presented in May, and I definitely should have been paying attention. The Expats: A Novel, which was reviewed here, won the Best First Novel Award.   I thought Expats was a delightful and creative novel, and it may be the ONLY book we ever have that is located in Luxembourg.

I would not have known who to cheer for, though, because I’m also a fan of Kim Fay, whose The Map of Lost Memories was also short-listed for that award that Chris Pavone won. Her book set in Cambodia combined archaeology and both present and past mysteries. Her nomination is certainly something to cheer.

The Edgars are the awards of the Mystery Writers of America and we’ll have to wait until around January 19, 2014 (Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday) to learn what award winning authors are on the next short list.

 KEEP READING A Traveler’s Library

Because despite the narrower focus of books chosen for A Traveler’s Library–we’ll keep introducing you to  Award Winning Authors.