I haven’t precisely traced the genesis of my rapture with all things postal but this geekish thrill includes postcards and letter boxes and mailmen and stamps from foreign countries and the billowing little joy of first receiving the letter and then of opening it.

When I was a young girl, my grandmother and I exchanged a steady correspondence. She lived in southern Alabama; I was growing up on the southern coast of Florida. Although I can’t recall the contours of her face with much clarity, in the eye of my mind I can see her looping penmanship, the blue scrawl and tiny ink blobs from her ballpoint pen, the flourish she added to her capital letters. She wrote on sensible stationary, and her letters contained small stories of her paintings, her dog, her latest outrage with politics. Nothing equalled the delight of coming home to find a letter waiting for me.

Those in my orbit now know I am a postcard sender. Not solely the mandatory holiday dispatch on the back of a glossy shot of locale soft porn, but the unexpected and oddball postcard from my stash of thrift store flotsam.  Even though I live less than a mile from one of my closest friends, she and I have a postcard relationship. We are almost gleeful in our tennis game of lobbing weekly postcards back and forth. The goofier the better.

I’d seen my letter carrier in her big white postal van toddling around the neighborhood, but had never met her. As I walked home from work one day, she veered toward me and introduced herself.  She had noticed the postcard exchanges between my friend and I. Not many people send postcards anymore, she said. Or letters. And that began our friendship.

Here in my Bishkek apartment building there is a row of blue postboxes on the ground floor and one with my apartment number painted onto it. But all the little doors to all the boxes are open all the time, and the insides are dusty and empty. The State Department dossier on Kyrgyzstan said it had “a working postal system.” I just don’t get the sense it will be working for me.



cccp2All I knew about the Soviet Union when I was a child: Grainy black and white TV news pictures showed Nikita Krushchev deplaning onto a tarmac somewhere with his boxy overcoat buttoned across girth as wide as a refrigerator. He looked kind of grumpy. At my school, St. Francis of Assisi, we had bomb drills because the Communists might press a button and a bomb would blow up. Mrs. McGibney told us that; she was my first grade teacher. To stop the bomb from getting us, we clutched our holy cards, crouched beneath our desks and said a lot of Hail Marys. In history class we learned about the Iron Curtain, but I never really did figure out how did it work? Who made it? How did they get it to hang there? I thought it was a giant shower curtain hanging on a giant curtain rod. Some people were on one side of the curtain and couldn’t go to the other side. Those people ate potatoes and wore grey clothes.

Now I know a lot more.