Pandemic Pen-pals

By Siddrah Alhindi

Social-distancing, a measure taken to ensure the minimization of the Coronavirus. This act has separated us from our loved ones, friends, colleagues, and pretty much anyone that does not live in the same household as us. It is the least we can do as average citizens who aren’t medically certified to save lives in the front lines, yet participating in this precaution has also proven to save lives as well. Quarantining and keeping our distance is the safest approach to helping end this pandemic, so we need to do our part despite the difficulty that has resulted in adapting to this new lifestyle. With accessible resources such as the internet, social-distancing might have wedged a physical barrier between us, yet we are still very much social. Social media for instance still connects us, messaging applications, virtual video chats, you name it. We can connect from anywhere in the world by the tap of a screen, something we have been doing even before COVID-19 took over our lives. Another outdated practice that can connect us socially is also available, just not very renowned and practiced during these technological times, this practice is a personal favorite of mine, and that is the ancient art of letter writing. 

The art of letter writing, I like to call it an art because the process is truly a type of craft. Letter writing is more than just writing on a paper, but it is the creation of a meaningful package that takes time and effort. Picking out the right paper/pen color, writing neat and careful lines, thinking of what to say, addressing and customizing the envelope, adding small contents into the package such as tea-bags or stickers, and sealing it off with a pretty wax seal. It is also perfect for using the old-school way of communicating through snail-mail or mailing letters. Nowadays a text will be sent in a fraction of a second, and a reply as well. Yet with snail-mail, you make sure you use your words wisely since it takes time for the letter to be received and responded to. Snail-mail will then introduce you to a pen-pal, which is a person you frequently write to through postal mail. The best part of having a pen-pal is that they could be anyone in the world, and the connection is much more rewarding than texting or meeting people online because the words you end up saying become more precious and limited due to distance and time. 

The gesture, in general, is very romantic and significant. Imagine getting a letter in the mail with your name written on it and a stamp in the corner from a location far away, there is an unmatched excitement and curiosity that comes with carefully ripping open the envelope that no notification on your phone can replace. So find some stamps, grab some paper, and get to writing. Your first pen-pal does not even have to be a stranger if you do not feel comfortable with that, you can ask around for your close friends/family members’ addresses and surprise them with a letter. You can even drop off a letter at the post office to be sent abroad, shipping and delivery are still taking place in major areas, so why not reconnect in this way? Letter writing to me has the same satisfaction as placing a needle over a vinyl on a record player or smacking the keys of a typewriter, it is a sense of nostalgia for a time I never existed in and practices I have only seen in movies and shows. 

A fun alternative to snail-mail that is a hybrid of classic and modern forms of communication is an app called Slowly. This free networking app creates very similar experiences as traditional letter writing/mailing. It allows you to write, or type if you will, letters to users all over the world. You simply create an account that consists of a username, selection of interests you can choose from, optional information (birthdate, country, languages), a bio if you want to add anything, and even a customizable avatar. The app matches you with people with similar interests as you, or you can select certain criteria you want and it will generate the results to your liking. For example, I am currently learning Turkish, so I filtered the pen-pal search to users in Turkey so I can practice writing letters in Turkish to native speakers. You can even share your user code and send it to your friends or post it on your social media to have people find you on the app and write to you etc. The most interesting part of the app that differentiates it from most online social forums/applications is that the letters you send take time to deliver. Depending on the distance between you and your pen-pal, the letter will take a certain amount of hours or even days to deliver, and the letter you will receive will also take time as well. Once you send out a letter or have one sent to you there will be a message indicating how long your letter needs to arrive/deliver which generates a sense of anticipation and impatience. This restriction on time gives you the same effect as waiting for your letter in the mail, and it allows you to be more thoughtful and purposeful with your words and replies. I have personally enjoyed using the app and have written and received many letters so far. At first, it felt weird to talk to strangers, yet carefully choosing what I decide to mention has allowed me to relax and enjoy the experience. There are also cute stamps you can purchase and win that you add to your letter, and the general graphics and designs of the app are very aesthetically pleasing. I have asked my pen-pals how they are spending their days in quarantine, how this pandemic has affected them, and how they generally are doing and feeling with all the uncertainty and changes that are occurring around us. This pandemic might have changed our lives and made it feel like life as we knew it has ended, but like the social beings we humans are, our ability to connect and create will never be put to an end.

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