Observing Life: Little surprise packages from the postman are a stamp of home

Our villa has a number and the street has a name, but unless we physically set up a PO Box at Emirates Post and pay for the delivery to the house, we will never get mail.

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I come home every day to a cute little two-bedroom villa in Dubai that my husband and I have spent the past two years turning into our first home. We have our pictures on the wall and colour-coordinated furniture throughout and we have placed bright pink bougainvillea plants out at the front to welcome visitors. But there is still one thing missing – a daily visit from the postman.

I’ve lived in the UAE for more than six years, so you would think I would be used to the fact that I don’t hear that familiar thud of mail hitting the doormat every morning. But it hit me this week – I really miss it.

It happened when I received a call from my mother saying that an elderly aunt in the United Kingdom had made the effort to go to the post office, exchange some pounds into dirhams and mailed them to me in Dubai as a birthday present. However, three months later (my birthday was in March) the sealed envelope arrived back on her doorstep, having been returned to sender.

My aunt, who is not at all technically minded, had gone to a lot of trouble to post those dirhams to The National's Dubai office, which is the address I give to anyone wishing to send me something from abroad.

So you can imagine her disappointment when all that time, effort and money had gone to waste, my birthday long gone.

Mum did manage to send the envelope out again, this time with a family friend who was flying this way, but it put a whole new spin on the phrase “snail mail”.

When I first moved to Abu Dhabi, I thought it was funny that we couldn’t give an address to taxi drivers, deliverymen or anyone wanting to visit. I got used to describing my location using the surrounding buildings and landmarks: “Go to the crossroads by the hospital, take a U-turn at the green mosque and we are at the second turning on the right.”

Then when I moved to Dubai, I had more of a semblance of a physical address. Our villa has a number and the street has a name, but unless we set up a PO Box at Emirates Post and pay for delivery to the house, we will never get mail. And even then, it won’t come through the door in the morning, like a little surprise package. No, I will have to be at home to open the door to the courier and that would get very annoying, very quickly.

So, I manage without a PO Box, making do with my husband’s or my office address for urgent deliveries. For every­thing else, I rely on other means of communication.

I know I sound old-fashioned; after all, no one writes letters or sends cards anymore, except for my old aunt (and I dare say a few more of her generation), and all my junk mail now comes in the form of text messages or emails.

But it is something I remember with fondness. Even if it was a bank statement or a mail-order catalogue, there is something reassuring about seeing your name and your address printed on those daily deliveries. It makes you feel at home, which, for us expats, is something we have learnt to treasure.