Ever since I was young, I have loved to get mail. To this day I get excited to check the mailbox in the afternoon, and be it a beautiful card from a friend or a letter from the DMV, I’m excited to find an envelope with my name on it.
I love the whole ritual that surrounds receiving a card or letter – the excitement of finding it in my mailbox, opening it and reading the words of a dear friend or family member, then sitting down myself to choose stationary and write a reply, and finally popping it in the mailbox.
While I’ve always loved getting cards, it wasn’t until I moved away to college that I fell in love with sending cards as well. I kept a pretty regular correspondence with my close friends and family throughout college, my various travels, and my year of studying for my master’s in the U.K., where trips to the post office were a weekly occurrence.
Then, when I moved to Algeria with my husband in 2016, it all came to a grinding halt.
The postal system is so dysfunctional in Algeria that it is hardly worth the money (and effort) to try to send cards or letters internationally. I once had to send a form into a government office via post, and to begin with, it took me hours to find a postal employee that actually felt like doing the work to send it. After being sent to a different store to buy stamps and finally watching the man pop it into the box, it took them ten days to receive it – and the office he sent it to was three blocks down the road. As you can imagine, the very few times that I’ve had correspondence from America it either never showed up, or got to my house three months late.
But, as with many aspects of life in Algeria, I got used to it. After a few months there I had much more pressing issues to deal with, so I pretty much forgot about it, letting my stationary begin to collect dust, still sitting in my suitcase. I didn’t give it much thought, and because I am terrible at answering text messages and emails, I gradually fell out of touch with many of my old “pen pals.”
It wasn’t until I finally was able to visit the U.S. again, nearly two years after moving to Algeria, that I was reminded of the joy that letter writing brings to my life.
I came home to a mailbox filled with all the cards and packages that had come, and my mom had kept for me, in my absence. One of the first things I did upon arrival was to send out cards to all of my friends and family that I so diligently used to keep in touch with. As the replies slowly began to trickle in, I began to rediscover my love for handwritten correspondence.
I stayed in the U.S. for three full months and as the time neared when I would have to head back to Algeria, I started thinking, “I should send some postcards out when I get back! I don’t know why I never used to send letters when I was there before…”
Then it hit me. I didn’t send letters because I couldn’t, or at least I couldn’t send letters with any expectation of them arriving or receiving replies. And I was going back to Algeria, which meant that all of this writing I had been doing over the past few months would all be coming to an end once again.
In those short three months that I was writing cards back in the states, many of my relationships that had sat long neglected while I was in Algeria were renewed. While I had occasionally emailed or texted many of my friends and relatives while I was gone, when we started exchanging handwritten cards I felt like our relationships became deeper and more connected again.
The fact that someone is willing to take time out of their day to write a note, the words that they carefully chose to be able to fit onto the space of the stationary, seeing their unique handwriting, all of these elements only add to the meaningfulness of handwritten correspondence.
When you write a card you unplug; you’re not checking your phone or looking at a screen. And while emails can indeed be kept in some folder forever, beautiful, handwritten cards are a special, physical memory of your most important relationships.
All in all, I can say I am grateful for having spent so much time being unable to send cards and letters, because it has truly showed me what a privilege and amazing joy it is to be able to correspond with friends and family in such a personal and meaningful way. Now, instead of taking my letters and cards for granted, I can cherish each one, whether sending or receiving, in a way that I could not have before.
Share with us in the comments below who you’re going to send a letter/card to today (or this week).
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Ashley Bounoura, a convert to Islam originally from California, is a linguist by education and a creative entrepreneur by passion. She recently joined on as a partner at The Dua Journal, where she shares her passion for Islamic spirituality and helps empower other Muslim women through journaling, reflection, prayer, and their relationship with God.
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