Almost every day I get mail. I mean post. As in real paper correspondence, delivered directly to my house. I come home from work and I find a pile of envelopes and papers waiting at my door. Most of it is junk: advertising flyers addressed to the past tenant, or thin “newspapers” showcasing the products on sale at a local supermarket. But usually there is a letter or two in there addressed to me personally. It’s awesome. I feel so special.
Of course, inevitably it’s an electricity bill, or a statement from my bank, or yet another annoying notification from DC Health Link (I’ll write/whine more about my experience enrolling in health coverage in a future post). But it’s still awesome. Because it’s been so long since I’ve gotten any real mail. Or even had a mailing address at which to receive mail.
I spent most of the past 3 years living in Africa, in countries with limited to non-existent postal service. In Somaliland, there was literally no national postal service in the entire 23 year history of the country, either national or international; the same was true of southern Somalia (although apparently just recently, in November 2013, the United Nations’ Universal Postal Union brokered a deal with the government of Somalia to resume shipment of international mail via Dubai).
In Liberia, at least a postal service existed. But, not in the way a westerner would know it. Like many developing countries, the streets in Liberia had names (well, at least some of them), but there were no street addresses as such; the houses had no numbers. So, while it was possible to mail something into the country, there was no such thing as a postman making household deliveries; you had to go to the post office to collect it. I would like to see a Liberian postman trying to deliver a letter to the address “Mr. Kamara, Red House Near the Mango Tree, on the Dirt Road after the Church in Caldwell, Monrovia.”
I did manage to successfully send several post cards out of Liberia, and I also received post in Liberia (although I was advantaged by the fact that I was using the post office box of the government Ministry where I worked). But, needless to say, some of the correspondence went missing…
So, a lover of post, post cards, and stamps (both sending and receiving), I’m delighted to be back in a country with a functioning postal service. That said, I am slightly shocked at how many practical things are still done by post (e.g. electricity bills, bank statements, health insurance enrollment). I would have thought most of these things would be handled entirely electronically by now. But it seems hard copy is still the default, and you have to opt in for electronic communications after you are in the system.
But for now, getting any letter in my name puts a smile on my face. I mean, how incredible is it that letters directed to you individually are hand-carried to your door?