JEDDAH: Irfan Mohammed
Wednesday 10 October 2012
Last Update 10 October 2012 5:24 am
Saudi Arabia is home to the largest expatriate communities from Asian and Arab countries. Moreover, large numbers of expatriates working in the Kingdom are singles who have left their families behind in their native countries. Postal mail is the only means of communication between these expatriates and their loved ones, thousands of kilometers away and across continents.
Whether literate or illiterate, postal mail was one of the few channels of communication, transferring stories, emotions, promises and dreams across the abyss of distance.
The long journey of the postal mail was etched on the faces of the recipients in their expressions of joy and excitement at the site of the postal deliveryman.
Every day numerous expatriates waited anxiously for the moment their mail would arrive, and the same excitement prevailed back home. Those who couldn’t wait for the postman to deliver the mail to their doorsteps, rushed to the post office on a regular basis to enquire about their expected letters. However, all this is now merely memory in the current fast-paced digital era.
It pains the older generation to witness the demise of the traditional postal system, with all its emotional bondage with the Diaspora communities, not only in countries with large numbers of expatriates, such as India, Egypt, and Philippines, but globally. Advanced information and communication technology is an obvious advantage but we have lost the human touch that was evident in the postal era. There was agony if mail didn’t arrive promptly, and expatriates would travel long distances to visit friends or family who have returned from vacations in their home countries, to enquire about the well being of family members and get the latest news. Moreover, extended family and friends who were either coming back from vacation or going to their home towns would usually be entrusted with bundles of letters and photographs to deliver to their loved ones.
Many expatriate workers who were married used to receive mail, containing pictures of their newly born children, which they would look at frequently until the next batch of photographs arrived by post.
Every first week of the month there were long queues in post offices across gulf countries, where mostly Asian expatriates would wait patiently for their turn at a counter to send their mail through the registered post. The expatriate community in particular used to gather outside post offices in Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dammam and later these destinations became symbolic gathering locations for expatriate workers.
The postal queue was an integral part of the expatriate worker’s recollection in the Kingdom. It was a memory lane that in the past encompassed a vast array of emotions and experiences, including receiving festive greeting cards, cassettes, photographs of loved ones and any and all news from back home.
Indian Postal foreign mail service known as Videsh Dak Sadan in Mumbai, used to handle 40 tons of foreign mail per month in the past, and has now been reduced to a bare 4 tons per month. The purchase of postal stamps and mail covers drastically declined in the last four years alone, recording more than a 30 per cent decline in sales in the country. Prior to the capacity of the cellular networks to reach rural Indian areas in 1997, the postal department used to deliver 157 billion mails, and has since dropped to 6.61 billion only.
The scenario is repeated elsewhere in the world. For instance the Philippine Post, despite not having vast postal offices like India, was still one of the largest countries with out-bound mail for Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf countries, recording 5 million mails per annum to MENA region. The Overseas Philippine Workers (OFWs) are vital for the Philippine postal system, and in recognition of their importance Postmaster General Josie Dela Cruz, visited the Kingdom recently in order to promote door-to-door remittance delivery services to the Kingdom.
These days, the postal systems in India, Pakistan, Philippine, Egypt and several other countries are adopting marketing services for their survival. Total income that Postal systems of these countries are generating in traditional postal mail share has not crossed more than 40 percent. Many countries have embraced new approaches to slightly boost income, such as in delivery and remittance. Even in the Kingdom, the Saudi Post indulged not only in promoting ‘speed post’ but also selling sacrifice coupons during Haj session.
In our digital world, traditional postal service has declined, however the postal systems in many countries have quickly adapted, and have begun integrating new technology trends. The postal systems in India and Philippines were the first to recognize the dire need to adopt new technology and new routes for survival. They collaborated with leading global money wiring entities and introduced the same concept in their respective countries.
It is indeed sad to witness the departure of the traditional postal system from our means of communication, as we have lost the human element in our modern-time digital world.
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