Clad in T-shirts and jeans, covered with red dust from riding in the open back of a pickup truck, we approach the village of N' Tintoukoro, where we will build a chain-link fence.
Our arrival is heralded by the piercing bang of a flintlock rifle, fired by a toothless sentry dressed in fur cap and buckskin jacket.From behind scrawny shrubs of the barren land suddenly emerges a mass of shouting faces, brilliant batik prints and waving hands. Surrounding the truck, the villagers shout "I ka kene (Hello)" and shake hands with those who have come with silver wire and iron posts to construct their village fence - a fence, they later tell us, that they couldn't have built in 100 years because of its expense.
Awed and humbled by the welcome fit for royalty, we wish we could bottle the energy and spirit of that moment to take home to those whose contributions made the fence possible.
By giving honored gifts, through celebration and song, the Malians show their appreciation for simple tools Utahns have given: water wells that save lives and hours of walking, a metal fence that will keep the goats out of their gardens and increase marketable produce, a chain saw to cut firewood.
These tools will enhance the lives of generations. "Thank you," the villagers say, is "too short a word to express so much gratitude."