by Janice Nigro
How do you remember your holiday? It feels so great when you first arrive home, that holiday reverie, and suddenly it disappears when you realize that no one else has had a holiday and they are stuck in the same problems that existed at work when you left. By writing postcards-to me-while on holiday, I accidentally discovered a unique way to get a small secret surprise that would re-establish that holiday feeling, albeit momentarily, once I was home again.
I know exactly when this quirky habit began. I was in the Seychelles. An incredibly exotic island nation that I did not think anyone I knew of had even heard of (except for the German who recommended the Seychelles to me). I write a lot of postcards in general-I am a dinosaur in this age of technology where you can blog to the world from a boat in the middle of Raja Ampat (yes, where is that?). I am a scientist, and I simply wanted to know when the postcards to my friends arrived because I was so far from home. But my next thought was, since no one I know has any knowledge of this place, maybe I should send myself a postcard, otherwise I will never get one from here. So I did.
I was pretty shy about writing to myself at first. The first postcard that I wrote was just two words in Italian; “Ciao!” which means both hello and goodbye, and “Baci” or kisses, which is a typical way to end a letter in Italian. So few words in fact mimicked the postcard writing style of a real Italian, which apparently comes from a time when people were charged for the number of words that they wrote in a postcard rather than a standard fee per postcard. I included a date of course (most important), and it arrived a couple of weeks after I returned home. And yes, it went up on my refrigerator. I thought it was kind of a strange thing to do so when I did write postcards to myself, I would write them in another language in case someone would take them off the refrigerator to read (I have postcards to myself in Italian and Norwegian!). And of course I never signed them.
It never occurred to me what a great idea it was until one time I sent a postcard to myself from Bonaire. Bonaire seems not that far away and with a stopover in Puerto Rico on the way down, it feels really close to the USA. So when I sent my postcard to myself I was surprised that it did not arrive as soon as those that I had sent to my friends, which was within a week to 10 days. Hmm, I thought. Another week went by, a third week went by and then I forgot about it.
But one day, one month after I returned from Bonaire and was well into the work return, a handwritten postcard fell out of the mailbox. I thought, “Who am I expecting a card from?”, but recognized the handwriting immediately. There it was, a wonderful description of my last day in Bonaire. It had been an easy day of snorkeling where some squid displayed all of their glorious skills-synchronized swimming while changing color-for many minutes. I had written the card in Italian, the best that I could do without a dictionary (good thing they were squid because I know that word in Italian). It brought one of the biggest smiles ever to my face and reinforced memories of a special trip to Bonaire with my sister’s in-laws.
I have no idea where my postcard went during that month which brings up the original reason for writing postcards to myself. How long do they take to get to where they are going and exactly how do they get there? I have sent myself postcards from Yap and Palau, Fiji, the Philippines, and even Sorong, Indonesia. The ones from Sorong were actually transported in the safety box that carried money from the island resort to the resort’s main office in Sorong. My postcards arrived from all of these places and sometimes much too soon. A week or two after my return home is too soon, but such an arrival demonstrates the efficiency of the mail from those countries.
One experiment failed entirely. Only one time have postcards never arrived; I sent them from Ambon, Indonesia (sorry Ambon). I left them in the hands of a king, literally; Hafez was the king of his tribe in Indonesia so I assume they got to the post office but no further. He in fact recommended that I wait until I arrived back in Bali to send the postcards because he did not trust that they would ever arrive. I gave him some extra money for the post office; he suggested that the money would help, only about 5 USD which is a lot there. And I explained to him that it was partly an experiment and that he was now part of the experiment. The postcards never arrived, so honestly I am not sure at which point the protocol failed. But who knows, maybe they will still show up…
Sometimes postcards take even longer than a month to arrive. A postcard from Gangga Island took nearly three months to arrive home. My brother asked what mode of transportation they use to deliver the mail, “an outrigger?” Perhaps (and probably), is all I could say. And he might hand it off to the guy on a motorbike who balances it all on his head in some kind of handmade basket, etc. Your imagination can run wild here if you have ever seen how people get around in Southeast Asia.
And how is it that some cards arrive whereas others do not? Friends often write and say thanks for the card. One of my friends never mentioned a postcard nearly two months after one of my holidays, and well it can be embarrassing when everyone but one has received a card so I asked. She replied that no card came, but of course, “thanks for thinking of me” (very lovely woman). A week later I got a message that she had just received the postcard. It was remarkable that it arrived, and yet, you have to wonder where the postcard was during this time because everyone else had received theirs. In the postoffice? In someone’s car? On a boat (and then what kind of boat)? Where exactly are they until they get shipped out?
I thought that it was an odd habit to send myself postcards as I said until I received the one so long after my trip to Bonaire that it reminded me of what a splendid adventure it was. One night in Fiji I was conversing with some newly arrived divers at a resort, and they casually mentioned to the group the same peculiar habit. Oh yes, we send postcards from everywhere that we travel to, to ourselves. I could now publically admit that I send postcards to myself. Now I tell people that I write to myself, and some laugh. And then I remind them, ok well who else will send me a postcard from here? It does not have to be Gabriel Garcia Marquez, just something with a few final thoughts or events on it. Because even “with love, from Kri Island” will work.
The last time I sent a postcard to myself, it was from Panglao Beach, Bohol, the Philippines. I sent it from a small shop in “town” for about 1.50 USD and thought it would take a while to arrive. I had to register at the “post office”; write my name down and where I was from. I was on an island to the island of Bohol so the postcard had to cross a bridge and then probably take a ferry to Cebu City and then perhaps fly to Los Angeles and then travel somehow to Phoenix. Sending myself a postcard ensured that I would receive one from the Philippines. It was written to remind me of not only of my last day in the Philippines but nearly one of the last days of my swimabout. I have to admit that the Philippines is too efficient because the postcard arrived way too quickly-only about ten days after I left the Philippines and perhaps only one week after my swimabout was over. At the moment that I sat down on the bench outside of the dive shop, a coconut dropped about one meter away from me. It was kind of a moment that summed up the purpose of the swimabout, which was to live in the present.
Sending a postcard to yourself is a great travel ritual-when you check to see if you have packed everything, make sure you have sent the postcard. I would not be shy about it. Write the message as if you are writing to someone at home…because you will be.
The reverse experiment, sending a postcard to someone on one of those islands, is still in progress.
©2014 Janice Marie Nigro/janikiink.com