Postcrossing Blog

News, updates, and all kinds of goodies and stories from the postal world!

Posts tagged "spotlight"

In October last year, Ethan (aka Ebot) took part in a Postcrossing meeting in his hometown of Tampa, Florida, his first time attending one. The postcrossers there were charmed by this young postcrossers’s curiosity about the world, geography and stamps, and his enthusiasm for postcards! They suggested we interviewed him on the blog, so here he is, to tell us all about his favorite postcard, and the green initiative that he started together with his brother some years ago!

How did you come across Postcrossing? What got you hooked?

I came across Postcrossing as I was searching for pen pals a few years ago. After I looked into it a bit, I was instantly hooked because the thought of sending and receiving postcards from all over the world blew my mind!

Do you have any other interesting hobbies?

My favorite hobby is playing drums. I’ve been doing it for about 6 years and recently got my own electric drum set which I practice on almost every day!

Ethan's drumset
Ebot’s new drumset
Show us your mailbox, your mailman/mailwoman, your post office or the place where you post or keep your postcards!

I store most of the postcards I’ve received in special cardboard boxes I created myself out of shipping boxes.

Ethan's postcard storage box, made of a repurposed USPS box
Repurposed USPS box
Show and tell us about your favorite received postcard to date, and what makes it special.

My favorite postcard I’ve received during my time on Postcrossing is a card from a postal museum in Hungary. The front of the card is amazing with all the vintage postal contraptions and there is a spectacular moon landing themed stamp on the back!

Hungarian postcard, featuring postal objects
Hungarian postal-themed postcard
Hungarian lunar landing stamp
Moon landing stamp
Have you been surprised by any place that you have received a postcard from or sent a postcard to?

I was surprised to get an amazing card from Kazakhstan after 63 days!

Multi-view postcard from Kazakhstan, featuring monuments
Postcard KZ-46593, from Kazakhstan
Have you met any other members in real life?

Yes! I’ve been able to go to two Postcrossing meetup events in my area. One was in October 2019, and the other in January 2020. Both of the events were very fun and I even designed a meetup card for one of them!

Is there anything that you are passionate about?

My brother and I started our environmental organization called “Green Gasparilla”, about 5 years ago. The Gasparilla Parade occurs every January in Tampa. It is a mock pirate evasion where one main pirate ship and a few thousand other boats pass through the channel throwing cheap plastic strands of beads over the water to people on shore. As you can imagine, not everyone has perfect aim and over 50% of the beads land in the water and sink to the bottom. The goal of our organization is to combat this very harmful pollution, by stopping it and holding diver cleanups.

In the past few years, we have held 3 diver cleanup events with over 30 divers each time. Also, within the past year we have been able to work with the mayor of Tampa to create a campaign called “Bead Free Bay” to educate citizens of Tampa on the proper way to safely celebrate the parade without throwing beads over the water. We even created a PSA video that was posted all over the city’s social media.

Our work is definitely not done, but we have made lots of progress. I hope that this inspires people to speak up and do something if our ecosystem is being exploited in their community.

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Earlier this year, we started noticing a lot of tweets about articles featuring Postcrossing, published in newspapers like The Saturday Star in South Africa, or The Citizen in Tanzania… but also in a lot of other publications, from Ethiopia to Bangladesh. Our curiosity was piqued! Turns out, this was the work of Rainer (aka rainerebert), who was doing his best to spread the word about Postcrossing in these “rare countries” by taking the time to interview local postcrossers in each country, and then writing articles with their experiences for all these newspapers. We were in awe of his efforts and enthusiasm (which earned him the Ambassador badge) and decided to interview him for the blog. 😊

How did you come across Postcrossing? What got you hooked?
Posting a postcard at the Southmore Post Office, Houston, Texas, USA

I have been fascinated by the mail for as long as I can think. All you need is a stamp and your letter or postcard will be carried to (almost) any corner of the world. If you think about the logistics of it, the coordination and agreements between countries and private companies, the technology, and the vast network of planes, helicopters, trains, trucks, cars, boats, ferries, bicycles, and feet required to make the system work, it is simply amazing. I remember, as a child, whenever I went on a trip somewhere with my parents, I sent postcards back home. I wrote to my grandparents, my uncles and aunts, friends, my teachers, and the old lady who ran the little grocery store in my grandparents’ village. I imagined how finding the postcards in their mailboxes would put smiles on their faces. My postcards often arrived back home long after I did, but that did not matter. What I wanted is for the people back home to have a physical token that proves I was thinking about them while I was away.

This fascination for the mail persists to this day, and I got hooked immediately when I came across Postcrossing in 2015. How I came across Postcrossing, I do not remember, but I probably googled something related to the mail.

Do you have any other interesting hobbies?

I am curious about the world, and I love to travel! To date, I have had the privilege to visit about fifty countries. A distant dream is to have visited all of them someday. If I can make it at least halfway to achieving that dream, I think I will be satisfied.

My greatest adventure so far was a three-month motorcycle ride with friends in 2011, from my hometown of Adelmannsfelden in Southwest Germany to Cape Town in South Africa. We covered a total of approximately 13,000 km (or 8077 miles), crossing twelve countries: Germany, Austria, Italy, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, and South Africa. We made many friends along the way, and we found that Africa is home to some of the world’s warmest and most welcoming people. I have written about the motorcycle trip here, and here, hoping to inspire others to go and make friends in Africa as well.

Rainer in the Sahara Desert in Sudan in 2011
Rainer in the Sahara Desert in Sudan in 2011

There is much to learn and experience on all continents, but I am particularly fond of Africa and I think more people from other parts of the world should travel there. Too often, people think of Africa as if it was a single country, rife with disease, poverty, hopelessness, and corruption. This tiring image is at best misleading, and has little to do with reality! In fact, Africa is all but monolithic, and arguably the most diverse continent of all. Africa is full of hope, joy, and energy, and incredibly rich in history, culture, language, food, wildlife, and natural beauty.

I have been trying to capture some of the beauty of Africa, and the other places I have been to, with my camera, and photography has become another hobby of mine. You can see some of my photos on my website.

Show us your mailbox, your mailman/mailwoman, your post office or the place where you post or keep your postcards!

Besides Germany, where I was born and raised, there are three more places that I consider home: Texas, where I live and went to graduate school, Bangladesh, where I have family and friends and try to go once or twice every year, and Tanzania, where I taught philosophy at the University of Dar es Salaam from 2017 to 2019. I have sent postcards from all of these places.

University Hill Post Office, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
University Hill Post Office, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
My PO box at the University Hill Post Office, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
My PO box at the University Hill Post Office, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

In Tanzania, my post office is the University Hill Post Office in Dar es Salaam, where I still have a PO box. I went there so often that the two nice ladies working there, Leah and Winnie, treat me like family. The same is true for Romana, who works at the Jigatola Post Office in Dhaka, Bangladesh’s bustling capital. I will print copies of this interview and mail them to Leah, Winnie, and Romana! I hope they will be inspired to help promote Postcrossing in their communities, and maybe even join Postcrossing themselves.

Jigatola Post Office, Dhaka, Bangladesh
Jigatola Post Office, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Whenever I go to Bangladesh or Tanzania, I try to send as many postcards as I can, as both countries are sadly still underrepresented on Postcrossing. In Texas, the post office closest to where I live is the Southmore Post Office, where I usually go with my bicycle to send greetings from Houston to wherever the Postcrossing website tells me to send them!

My bicycle in front of the Southmore Post Office, Houston, Texas, USA
My bicycle in front of the Southmore Post Office, Houston, Texas, USA
Show and tell us about your favorite received postcard to date, and what makes it special.

Each postcard is as unique and special as the person who wrote it. But if I have to pick one postcard, I will pick the one and only one I got from Hungary, in 2016 (HU-111390).

Postcard from Hungary HU 111390
Postcard from Hungary, HU-111390

It is special to me because my grandmother was born in Baranyajenő in Hungary, and lived there until being expelled by the Hungarian government in June 1946. She then had to start her life all over again in Germany… When I was nine years old, our whole family went to visit my grandmother’s village home in Hungary, and the postcard brought back good memories of that trip.

Have you inspired anyone else to join Postcrossing or start collections of their own?

There are not many Postcrossers in Bangladesh and Tanzania, so whenever I go to these countries I try to convince new people to join, with some success. I especially encourage my students to join, as I think Postcrossing is a wonderful way to learn, about other cultures and places.

Postcards I have sent from Tanzania via Postcrossing
Postcards I have sent from Tanzania via Postcrossing

A few months ago, I spoke to some of the most active Postcrossers in Bangladesh and Tanzania, and also in Ethiopia, Ghana, and South Africa, to find out what keeps people in these countries from joining Postcrossing. One reason that I was given again and again is cost. Postage rates are relatively high, which is very unfortunate, as those living in low-income countries rarely have the opportunity to travel abroad and would benefit the most from exchanging postcards with people in other countries. My conversations with these Postcrossers were published in a number of newspapers in their respective countries, and I hope some readers were inspired by my articles to join.

Is there anything that you are passionate about?
Rainer s PhD graduation at Rice University in Texas in 2016

I am a moral philosopher by profession, and I believe that philosophers should not confine themselves to the ivory tower, but spend at least some of their time actively working to achieve a broader presence of philosophy in public life. Philosophy can make a meaningful contribution to society, not least in that it can help people to think more clearly and critically about important social and policy issues.

I try to do my part and apply philosophy in the columns that I regularly write for newspapers around the globe. I have written on topics such as same-sex marriage, homophobia, transgender rights, veganism and animal rights, everyday racism, anti-refugee sentiment, open borders, religious tolerance, free speech and censorship, capital punishment, children’s rights, illiberal populism, and effective altruism. A common theme of much of my writing is the importance of individual freedom, about which I am particularly passionate.

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Awhile ago, Dutch postcrosser Paulien (aka Paulienvdmeer) received an amazing illustrated postcard from India… and was so impressed that she immediately wrote to let us know about it. Following up on her suggestion, we reached out to Ashwin, the illustrator behind these special postcards, to ask him a few questions!

How did you discover Postcrossing? What made you stay?

It was on a 2015 trip to Ladakh in the Himalayas that I posted my first ever postcard — to my parents back home. By the time I got back home, the postcard had already arrived, and it was fascinating to know that something could travel 2000+ kms and from 11500 feet altitude to sea-level — for as little as 6 rupees (8 cents USD). Ever since I got back, I knew there must be more people in love with postcards and I googled for postcard exchange platforms. Postcrossing happened to be amongst the top results and I was impressed by its member base. I am a huge travel buff and the fact that you get to hear stories from across the world by the way of postcards is the secondary reason why I continue to use the platform. The primary reason, of course, is that I imagine postal services might be discontinued someday (they shouldn’t be) and my postcard collection will be worth millions then! 😄

Ashwin's sketched postcards
What attracts you to urban sketching? How do you choose the buildings/sceneries that you focus on?

My training as an architect-urban designer led me to sketch and doodle a lot of ideas. But it was my Bachelors thesis professor, Ar. Shrikant Sathe, who insisted that I never give up sketching. I simply followed his advice and now I end up sketching even while waiting at airports and train stations! Life in urban environments is very interesting and I usually pick a small frame of a large and chaotic surrounding to sketch it. At the moment, I am focusing on drawings humans better in my sketches!

Ashwin's sketched postcards
Do you have a favourite postcard that you’ve made?

I doodled a map of my city titled 'A-Z Bombay’ for a heritage travel company called Khaki Tours I work with. This map chronicled the 26 must-do experiences in Mumbai alphabetically laid out on a map.

Ashwin's sketched postcards

Since then, I have used the illustration across posters, mugs and postcards. It remains my favourite card till date. But I am always looking to find a new favourite.

What are members reactions when they receive one of these sketched postcards?

While posting the cards is a reward in itself, it is heartening to know that my recipients love my postcards. I have made friends with so many people from around the globe and many are in touch via Whatsapp/Instagram with regular exchange of postcards. I am happy when my sketches inspire people to visit my country. Perhaps someday my life partner will show up on a postcard too!

Which materials do you use to make these cards?

Sketches are usually done in my sketchbook that I carry with me at all times. They’re then scanned and laid out on my computer before being printed on a thick 300gsm textured paper. I am extremely finicky about the finish and take the delivery of the cards from my printshop myself.

Ashwin's sketched postcards

Thank you so much Ashwin! We love it when people pour their talents into the postcards they send — it’s so inspiring! 😍 If you’ve received a particularly nice handmade postcard lately, let us know in the comments below!

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Sometime ago, Simon (aka SimonBurrow) emailed us a very cool story about receiving snowy postcards in Arizona’s hot desert climate. Reading his profile and blog afterwards, we noticed we had a few things in common including a love for hiking, minimalism and Seth Godin’s philosophy… so it seemed like a good idea to invite him over to the blog, so he could tell about these passions, as well as the story which prompted his initial contact. If you’re curious, read on!

How did you come across Postcrossing? What got you hooked?
SimonBurrow's snowy postcards

I joined just over six years ago. How I first heard about Postcrossing is lost in the mist of time. But I recall that as soon as I heard I joined and spent a lot of time anxiously waiting for my first cards. Now I get a postcard almost every day and each one makes me happy so I extrapolate and am pleased to think that each card I write is making somebody else a little bit happier.

Do you have any other interesting hobbies?

I’m retired and I love to hike. I especially like endurance hiking. I have hiked the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim in a day and Mt Whitney in California twice. Around home I’m hiking all the trails in a book called “60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Phoenix.” Whenever I hear about a petroglyph that i can hike to, I start planning.

Once a week or so I volunteer as a tour guide at the Pueblo Grande Museum near the airport in Phoenix. Early people built a complicated irrigation base society in this area from about 300CE until about 1400CE and then they stopped. There are lots of mysteries that I enjoy talking about.

Show us your mailbox, your mailman/mailwoman, your postoffice or the place where you post or keep your postcards!

I walk to the post office about a half kilometer away to buy stamps but I mail all of my cards in the mail room in my building.

I was a collector of many thing for many years: books, maps, matchbooks, marbles and rocks to name a few. But now my collecting days are over and I’m giving things away. I scan all cards I receive and then give the physical postcards to an elementary school teacher who uses them for sorting exercises.

Show and tell us about your favorite received postcard to date, and what makes it special.
SimonBurrow's Burro postcard

I favorite every bridge postcard and mountain postcard I receive because I asked for them. But I often favorite the quirky ones I receive or that I see on other peoples walls. My current, non-snow favorite card is a Burro from San Miguel de Allende Mexico, since my name is Burrow.

SimonBurrow's snowy postcards

In June last year, I added a special request for snow postcards to my profile. I thought just seeing snow would help me get through this very hot summer (43C or 109F some days). By July, far more than half of the cards I’d received had been snow cards! It is really delightfully cool and cooling.

What is it your favorite part of the Postcrossing process?

I like it all but if I have to choose I’d say writing the cards. Trying to tell a story that relates to the recipient and that comes alive in four lines is a good challenge.

Have you been surprised by any place that you have received a postcard from or sent a postcard to?

I like it when I get cards from places I’ve never heard of, like Åland. I keep hoping to get cards from Cuba or Iran.

Is there anything that you are passionate about?

“If you are not curious, you are not smart.”, wrote Sandra Day O’Connor.

As an immigrant to the USA, I am passionate about making it possible for more people to move around in the world. I wrote a blog, made a documentary film and run a Facebook group about “Rational Immigration.” There is a long way to go on this issue because fear of strangers is built into our DNA. Postcrossing in a small way helps to break down this barrier.

Trip to France

I can’t end without mentioning how much I like to spend time with my wife and two grown daughters. Last year, we had a family trip to Lyon, France to watch the Women’s World Cup Football.

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Sometime ago, we received a wonderful handcrafted postcard from Noa (aka Chenoah) in Germany. On it, she mentioned the struggles of living with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), a debilitating chronic illness. She also mentioned how Postcrossing is an outlet for her creativity and helps her connect with the world while being housebound.

Over the years, we’ve heard from several postcrossers with similarly serious conditions, about how important this activity is for them — sometimes on aspects that hadn’t even crossed our minds. So, in an effort to raise awareness about these realities and understand them a bit better, we’ve asked Noa a few questions about her life and her interaction with the world through Postcrossing.

For someone who doesn’t know, what is it like to live with chronic fatigue? What are some of the challenges that you face?

Chenoah from GermanyWhen they stumble upon the word “fatigue”, healthy folks think of being tired… but clinical fatigue is more like an overwhelming exhaustion that healthy people don‘t experience. You’re so exhausted that you might be unable not just to move (thus leading to muscle weakness) but also unable to even grasp your own thoughts or speak. It’s not something that can be relieved by a couple of good nights of sleep or even a few weeks’ long holiday. It’s an exhaustion without a cause, that leaves you totally drained.

For instance, when I brush my teeth, I need to rest for a while afterwards, so that I can then attempt to slowly eat breakfast. And when I don‘t let myself have a break afterwards, digestion won‘t work well or even temporarily stop entirely. So it’s the little things that most people won’t even consider tiresome, which wipe me out entirely.

It’s hard to be taken seriously by doctors (especially as a twenty-something female), and it took me 8 years to arrive at an accurate diagnosis and to find a physician willing to treat me. And naturally, until your condition has been diagnosed, it’s hard to get health insurance companies to help. Besides these more technical things, are the very personal ones. I‘m relatively isolated. My regulars are my husband, my substitute carer friend, who lets him off duty for two hours each Friday, and my physiotherapist who does house calls.

Nevertheless, I am still fascinated that I have someone by my side. The more ill you are, the less opportunities of meeting people there are. Visits are a rare highlight, because they exhaust me terribly, and the same goes for phone calls. One friend is allowed to call on a regular basis. She‘s a “spoonie” too — which means, someone with illness that comes with extremely raised fatigability and difficulty in recovering energy. It‘s a whispered call with long pauses and lots of muffled laughter. Sometimes we cry together, which is a good thing. And then we laugh some more, because her jealous borderline-narcissistic cat Romi is screaming like an infant to get her attention.

How does Postcrossing work for you? What can you do yourself and on what parts do you help with?

Everything I do is slow and there are lots of interruptions, because I need some rest, but I am glad that the website is very well structured and I‘ve never lost my way so far.

Chenoah from GermanyPicking a card is a long process. I start with reading the profile and getting a feel for the recipient, sometimes looking into the favorites. I obviously can’t go out and shop for postcards, which I loved to do. I do have a huge stash, but walking to the boxes can be “iffy” and involve some help. Usually I end up in bed again, with 3 cards and the final decision postponed for after a break.

A concept or decoration will be thought up and I very consciously give my love, my time and my precious energy to the postcard. Art and creativity is totally my thing. I have found materials and ways to draw and paint in bed (I love water soluble crayons!), and I‘ve sent out some original artwork before or crafted cards using a print. My first two professional cards are in print at the moment, which is really exciting. They are published by a cooperative supporting initiatives helping people in all kinds of disadvantages, locally and globally.

Writing the Postcard IDs can be a little tricky, as my short-time memory is very impaired. My solution: I rap or sing them. This way, I manage to write four digits at once and the rest in a second go. Same goes for when I need to register the cards I receive.

My postcards are brought to the postbox by my husband, or the other two regulars. Even the physiotherapist has been my Postcrossing assistant a couple of times.

How does postcard writing help with some of the challenges?

Chenoah from GermanyI‘ve always been pretty active and busy… but no longer being sure that you can finish a certain task in time, is definitely not a good feeling. In this sense, a postcard can be quite therapeutic: it‘s just a piece of cardboard with an empty space, that even on not so good days looks manageable. I am able to take a postcard, hold onto it, focus my attention on the task of sending someone else a greeting. Though that might not sound like much, it actually is.

I‘d been studying psychology, when illness struck, and I am well aware of how easily chronic illness can lead to depression. Helplessness and desperation together are a really dangerous mixture. Being active changes your perception of the situation. You’re not as much at the mercy of your illness, but a human being doing something.

There are even some growth opportunities in Postcrossing. I don’t like profiles that are very demanding or defining what "real postcards“ are, or those that are mainly about collecting. As I have no way, to fulfill all those demands, in the beginning, I felt horribly cornered and was quite close to throwing in the towel. Now I am able to send them something made with love, time and more effort, he or she can imagine. Who knows when they last have been properly loved on. And of course I learned to let go, once I‘m done. I am not responsible for the happiness or contentment of another person. I try to do something for my recipients, the rest is entirely up to them.

What is your favorite part of the Postcrossing process?

I love how it allows me to re-enter the world. In average years, I leave the house like five times a year, mostly to go to doctor’s offices or clinics. I‘m no longer able to watch TV, listen to radio, or be on social media, so the world I formerly felt part of, seems now very much disconnected. I‘m 42 years old now, but do often feel a culture shock not unlike someone who has been imprisoned for a long time when I am confronted with developments, topics, … I have no knowledge of or experience with. And I do have an urge to know about the world and it‘s people, as well as be part of the world.

I‘m scared of disappearing from the public eye so entirely, that I‘m kind of buried before I am actually dead. And despite my limitations and my little overall energy, the quality of this energy is very much alive and I am not planning of changing something about it. It just feels warm and fuzzy, to be able to share it with some random stranger friends. I‘ve been blessed with a few even becoming friends. We communicate per mail and email.

The postcards I get are like colorful specks of the world I miss so badly. We Germans even have words for it, “Fernweh” and “Weltschmerz”. I think, self perception happens almost always in the context of the world or groups of people you chose to surround yourself with. Isolation is a bummer and has you redefine yourself without the world… but I wanted a context, structure, a frame. And there came a welcoming rectangle, called postcard and invited me, to fill it with whatever makes me me.

And so the world, even though still very pixelated, is becoming perceivable again. Which makes me feel very grateful. Thanks a lot Postcrossing!

Do you have other hobbies or causes that you are passionate about?

I want the world to become a fairer and more peaceful place. And of course, to keep the world inhabitable, so I always try to not rush into decisions, but to be conscious and make as many healthy choices as possible. Anyone can help. I’ve got a small amount of money invested as Kiva loans, and I think of it as a human investment. My gain is, that I helped getting someone come closer to safety and being able to support a family.

I love animals so much that I am the godmother of Frederik, a teenager pig, growing at light speed. He has done the unthinkable and jumped off a pig transporter, only a few hours old. And he survived. I’m still completely in awe. I support Hof Butenland, the sanctuary at which he is at home now. (It’s a senior facility for former dairy cows, but they do have some other animals too). I am vegan, as best as I can under my given circumstances.

Then there is music. I’ve always been a musician and my wonderful husband and I formed a bond over immediately clicking musically, grooving and improvising including vocal harmonies, as if we had done this for ages. He is now my main carer and burdened by my illness as well. We still attempt to do one concert per year, and I sing and play strapped to my wheelchair, with my legs propped up onto a piano stool, to minimize the risk of losing consciousness. Of course, health-wise it’s a tremendously costly passion, but for my soul, it is sheer bliss because it really is my husband‘s and my favorite way of being a close unit. And we always transport messages and support causes with our concerts. So this is not just music: it is speaking out, being heard, contributing to a world and global society that is more just and fair than it is currently.

MEmi dolls, from Chenoah

I am also an ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) advocate, and I became a crochet artist when I became bedbound. And I‘ve made about 130 small dolls, called MEmis for fellow ME sufferers and a few others in need of some comfort, love and connection. Each doll is one of a kind and was made especially for this person. This project is coming slowly to an end, as I‘m no longer able to use Facebook, where many MEmi recipients are connected and where I received most requests. But as some even have their own blogs or social media, it seems to live on. Most “live” in Germany, but about a dozen is scattered all over the world.

This is still just a fraction of my interests and passions, as I am easily inflammable when it comes to enthusiasm and joy. And my dedication, once formed, doesn’t just go away.

Thank you Noa, for putting so much of your precious energy into this interview! ❤️ If you have some minutes to learn more about ME/CFS, we recommend this TED talk.

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