Buying, writing, sending postcards in Kabul feels almost like being in short story by Borges or Calvino.
The disruption of the postal service is one of the overlooked side effects of wars and conflicts – imagine a postman cycling streets with no name with shifting piles of rubbles or a mail van driving across a country where roadside bombs are a pretty ordinary occurrence.
Not an easy job.
This is perhaps one of the reasons why the postal service in countries in conflict is one of my (many) obsessions and this is perhaps what makes sending a postcard to those who contributed to The Little Book of Kabul Indiegogo campaign quite an extraordinary adventure.
It all starts with us roaming around looking for a place that may sell postcards.
We finally finds them in Shah Bookstore – which happens to be the protagonist of the book The Bookseller of Kabul.
For someone like me, who collects ugly postcards, the chance to choose 160 postcards is just pure bliss. Children climbing on tanks, 1960s out of focus landscapes, knife sellers.
Greetings from Afghanistan, y’all!
To make things even more special and unique Lorenzo thinks that a rubber stamp can become our signature. For the postcards now and for the photo prints later.
Looking for a stamp and having it made becomes an adventure in itself.
We choose a grim rainy day to do it, one of those with a lot of rain and no parking space anywhere.
It takes us some wandering and negotiations after being lost in translation to get the stamp made.
The first attempt was a total failure: we climb four storey of slippery and wobbly stairs to be asked 70$ to make a stamp of pure rubber : “But it has a five year guarantee!”
Ouch… not quite within our budget.
Off we go again looking for something more reasonable. We finally manage: 8$ – quite a difference.
It takes a bit of struggle though: the thick moustachioed man shows Lorenzo – not me, God forbids – a sample.
Lorenzo asks for something bigger.
“This is the standard size” comes the answer.
“Still, we want something bigger”.
Blank stare in return.
Fifteen minutes later we got something bigger.
Once we manage to get hold of postcards and the stamp it is time to write them.
Many are those who thought that we would send an e-card.
Who actually writes postcards anymore?
One by one, hundred and fifty-nine of them.
Writing the addresses gives us a wonderful feeling: our supporters are all over the globe: Australia, USA, Hong Kong, Europe, Lebanon.
The Little Book of Kabul will travel a long way.
“We are looking for a post-office”
“Oh, you need to mail things? I take you to the internet cafe” is his answer.
After a lot of pointing, showing, gesticulating he seems to get what we are asking.
“You want the good one or the bad one” he enquires.
“The good one” we say.
He drives around for forty-five minutes, side lanes and unpaved roads. Where the hell are we heading to? – we wonder just before landing at the doorsteps of DHL.
It feels a bit like crying, half of the morning is gone.
“POST OFFICE, post office NOT currier.”
“Ah, you want the bad one?” “Yes, let’s try the bad one”
And see what happens.
It turns out that the bad one is the actual post office.
We venture in hoping to find someone we can communicate to.
To our surprise, the whole place is run by women. A big smile appears on my face. I suddenly feel confident and tentatively ask “English?”
Lorenzo shrugs at my hopeless optimism.
Until we meet Mrs Manzoor.
“Yes English” she says. “What you want?”
I take the plastic bag full of postcards and hand it to her.
“Where?” she asks.
“Everywhere” I say.
She takes the postcards and counts them.
She comes across one address from Ukraine. “What is that?” I read it out loud. It seems to make no difference to her and puts it aside.
“37 Afghanis to Europe, 43 Afs to USA, 31 Afs to Dubai. OK?”
She takes a piece of paper and starts adding and multiplying, then takes a calculator and crosschecks everything.
Lorenzo asks to take her portrait – she invites us both to the other side of the counter.
Her golden-ringed hands meticulously cut and stick stamps on the postcards.
The face of Ahmad Shah Massoud stares at us from her desk.
The postcards now are ready to travel.
We hope it will reach you – sooner or later.
When it does, please do take a photo of it and send it to us.