x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

I got a letter. On paper. With a stamp. How amazing is that?

Like most people these days, I suspect, all that seems to arrive in the "snail mail" for me is bills and commercial pamphlets

The other day, a friend of mine surprised me with a phone call out of the blue and a question: "Did you receive my letter?" I assumed she meant the usual electronic version of a letter, email. "I check my emails everyday and I didn't see anything from you," I said. She laughed and said: "No Rym, I sent you a real letter, a handwritten letter? with photos." When was the last time someone sent you a carefully handwritten letter full of little personal touches here and there, and if lucky, a whiff of perfume or "scratch me stickers" with flavoured scents. When, come to that, was the last time you saw a real stamp, and not one of those business franks? I can remember when my sister and I would regularly fight over who would get to keep the envelopes that arrived for my father from far-off, exotic places. I particularly liked the letters that came from Asia, as they had intricate, colourful stamps of animals and birds on them.

I feel old just mentioning the word "stamps". I can't even remember the last time I went to a post office or even saw a postman. Like most people these days, I suspect, all that seems to arrive in the "snail mail" for me is bills and commercial pamphlets, so it's no wonder that we don't get excited checking our physical mail boxes. I don't think my younger brother has ever seen a "real" letter, let alone written one.

Now what we get are emails and text messages, where even the "you" has been cut down to "u" and everything has been gutted to the bare minimum - and completely impersonalised in the process. "Miss ya," was a recent text message that I got from a friend I haven't seen in five years. Gee, thanks. That took a lot of effort. I particularly dislike those electronic greeting cards that are sent out during the holidays or birthdays.

But, coming back to my friend's letter, when it finally arrived after several days of anxiously scanning the mail box, it was worth the wait. It was thick, elegantly written, the photos carefully labelled, and - as an added bonus - my friend had sprayed the envelope with one of our mutually favourite types of perfume: Escada. "Dearest deer deer," it began, a private joke between us as both my first and surname mean deer in Arabic. I was touched as she also took the trouble to draw a stick figure of a deer.

Reading through the letter, I realised that I had forgotten how you can read a person's tone in a handwritten letter, something lost in emails and text messages. It is just overall more human. So, I decided to write her a letter in return. All I needed was some appropriate stationery: what I had in mind was a good quality paper that came with matching envelopes. That was two weeks ago; I am still searching for a nice stationery set. I have not been able to find anything suitable in the malls here in Abu Dhabi. I did find a plain business type letter set, though, and a mini-letter set for "quick reminders", and a set designed for children.

"Do you have letter stationery?" I asked a salesperson at one of the book stores. "Like for love letters?" he replied with a smirk. "Yes, for love letters," I said. "No," he simply answered. "The stock ran out several years ago, and since no one asked for them, we didn't get any more." With my quest for finding colourful stationery unsuccessful, I had no option but to create my own. I bought a sketch book, pastel colouring kit, a pair of scissors, glitter and ribbons. I spent hours designing, colouring and adding a creative touch here and there until finally I produced what I would say was an "OK" letter (though if I'm honest, it looked better in my head than in reality).

"This will have to do," I said to myself and added a glob of red candle wax as a seal for a final touch. Weeks later, my friend called me, ecstatic on the phone. "Thank you! It was so nice and you put so much effort into it," she said. Funny how one letter, with not much news in it, made both my friend and I happy. Both the writing and the receiving of the letters gave my friend and I a warm fuzzy feeling.

Later, I was complaining to my mother about how letter writing has become extinct. She confessed that she still had the love letters that my father had written to her during their courtship. "A letter written with love is a treasure as it keeps a piece of the writer's soul forever imprinted between its lines," said my mother poetically. As a surprise, I am going to design and write two letters, one for my mother and one for my father. I want my father to get a delightful surprise the next time he goes to the mail box. Next to his piles of bills and headaches, he will be getting a pink perfumed love letter from his daughter.

@Email:rghazal@thenational.ae