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18-YO Makes Friends in 43 Countries, Through Old-fashioned Letters and Post

Rezbin Abba from Kerala was left with a deep void after her parents’ divorce, which only deepened when people around her mocked her for what she had been through. But thanks to letter writing, she found hope, solace and friendship in her pen pals from all over the world.

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Rezbin Abba’s house in Areekode village of Kerala’s Malappuram district is a treasure trove. If you ever visit, you will find a vast collection of exotic chocolates, teas, and even leaves that she has collected from countries all over the world.

However, the real treasure are the several letters that she has lying around her home, full of kind words, personal stories, and words that affirm strong bonds.

Interestingly, the 18-year-old has never even stepped outside her village, or met the people who have sent the gifts. Yet, she knows almost everything about their lives.

These gifts and letters are all from Rezbin’s pen pals — a concept that might not be too familiar to many millennials today.

For three years, she has been writing letters to strangers-turned-friends from 43 countries. She has penned and received 70 such letters, and most people send a gift along. She says her hobby, which many people find bizarre, stemmed from a depressive episode, and that she found solace in letters.

Rezbin was eight when her parents separated, and she and her brother Abik chose to stay with their mother, Raheena Umminiyil. The separation not just left Rezbin with a void, but also had the villagers talking about her — she would often be ridiculed or mocked by her classmates and neighbours.

“I was in class 9 when I heard one of my friends address me as an orphan. Mothers warned their daughters against playing with me as I did not have a father. I would cry myself to sleep and at one point I stopped socialising altogether,” she tells The Better India.

“I received my first letter from Sara, a Mexican living in the US in 2018. She had chanced upon my Instagram profile and started following me. I would post a lot of pictures of art and craft on my feed, which she liked. So she asked for my address and sent me a postcard for Christmas. I was touched by the gesture and wrote back. That’s how it all began,” Rezbin, a first year student of B Sc Psychology, says.

“I was so happy to know that a stranger had taken the effort to make me smile. I realised two things. One, that our world is beyond our neighbours and relatives, and two, that I am not alone and there are genuine people out there. How could I have not scaled this project?”

After Sara reached out to her, Rezbin took efforts to connect with people living in other countries. After talking to them for a few days, she would tell them about her small hobby of exchanging letters. Many people excitedly said they would like to send some as well.

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So what does she talk about in the letters?

“The topics range from crafts to culture, climate, society, school curriculum, food and more. I know we can just Google such information, but it makes a difference when you hear from the horse’s mouth. I love telling them about Kerala, its customs, its beauty, backwaters, and everything else. With some, I even share my personal life, and vice versa. I have learnt so much from them, including normalising single parenting,” she adds.

Rezbin’s friend Maggie from Bulgaria is a globetrotter. After hearing about India and Kerala from Rezbin, she made plans to visit the country with her parents right before the pandemic. Another friend from Turkey writes to Rezbin about her cancer journey.

Given that the art of letter writing is slowly becoming obsolete, it takes weeks before Rezbin receives her letters. But she says the wait makes it more exciting.

She says she no longer cares about what her relatives or friends say about sharing postal addresses with strangers. Fortunately, her mother is very supportive.

“People have gone to the extent of saying that no one will marry a girl who talks to strangers. If there’s anything I have realised, it is that people are always ready to spew venom but I cannot let it get to me. I don’t care if others mock me for being old school in this tech-savvy world, as long as it makes me happy,” says Rezbin.

Featured image source: Satheesh Kumar

Edited by Divya Sethu 

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