Hi, my name is Linzi...and I would like to be your penfriend

October 15th, 2005. Maracas look out.
On this day, 20 years ago, I received a letter that would change my life. I anxiously opened the letter, and set my eyes on the ridiculously neat handwriting of a 12 year Scottish girl named Linzi O'neil. She wanted to be my penpal.

It was December 28th, 1998. A Monday if I remember correctly. I would have been 13, and in Form 2. After going to Mass with my aunt to celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents, we went to get the mail. Back then TT Post was not a thing, you actually had to go to the post office. I was used to collecting mail for my parents, but on this particular day, my trip to the post office was different. Why? Because there was a letter for me.

Linzi's first letter... yes I still have it
A myriad of emotions swept through me. After signing up for the International Youth Service (if you don't remember IYS, you're too young bruv lol), I got a South African boy named Jaco Prinsloo to write, but lost his address. This haunted me for weeks. However while I mourned the loss of what could have been an amazing penpal experience, God had another one in the making.

In this letter, Linzi told me about herself, the quaint fishing village where she lived, her family, her dog, horses and her daft rabbit and (I remember having to look up daft in the dictionary lol). Most of all, she looked forward to hearing back from me. I was in my glee, and consulted my mom about how I should respond. I think I sent a letter back to her a few days later.

Linzi and her love for horses, which was out of this world for me because who the heck in Trinidad has pet horses?
Thus began our letter exchange, or penship as I coined it. Eventually she sent me a picture. I remember being apprehensive to send her a photo of me, because I wondered if she would be okay being penpals with a black girl. I had a school mate colleague who was ghosted by her penpal because of this. I shared my concern with Linzi, and in a follow up letter she reassured me that race was not an issue. So I sent a picture. From then on we'd send so many photos of our countries, our families and so much more.

Linzi's nieces, Niamh and Ellis. I've seen these two grow up so much. They're teenagers now. I feel old. 
We'd eventually talk on the phone, planning months in advance for Linzi to call the house phone at my aunt's since we didn't have a landline at home at the time. Our first phone call was amazing! Her Scottish accent was thick, I didn't quite catch what she said a few times, and I'm pretty sure she didn't quite get my Trini accent too lol. Let no one fool you, English varies so much from country to country, but at the end of our conversation, I was more excited to share things about my life in Trinidad with her.

We would have been in our late teens when she sent this picture. 
As technology advanced, we started emailing while we still wrote letters, and we'd call each other more often as the rates to call abroad started to get cheaper. I'd even keep a version of MSN Messenger on my USB that I could plug in and use on any computer.
Years passed, dozens of letters exchanged, then came a phone call that would change the dynamic of our penship forever. On February 7th, 2005, Carnival Monday of that year, while I walked near the Queen's Park Savannah with my mom and Aunt Jenny, Linzi's mom Jean called to find out if October of that year would be a good time for them to come over. Amidst the noise of steelpan and music trucks I gave them the all clear. Thus the countdown to them coming over began.

On October 15th, 2005 I'm sure that the entire Piarco International Airport heard Linzi and me scream as we hugged each other in complete shock, disbelief and euphoria. This trip had been 7 years in the making. We went to Maracas beach in the day. I tried to get her to eat a bake and shark, but that wasn't happening lol,;and then roller skating back when there was a skating rink in San Fernando. Linzi and I spent our time together just talking, sharing, catching up, the whole lot. They left to go back to Tobago on my birthday, but a few days later I flew over to the sister isle to spend time with them before their departure.

Sadly, I had another commitment for part of my birthday, so I missed this, but still, our time spent together was amazing!
I remember Jean commenting on how similar our mannerisms were, and that Linzi pretty much ended up with another sister and extended family. I couldn't agree more. That trip solidified that our penship, was more than a friendship. Our families would forever be intertwined.

An old blurry Skype screen grab. 
We may not write letters anymore, but Linzi is always a quick call or video chat away, and we do this regularly. Technology has helped us bridge the gap so much, so it doesn't feel like she's so far away any more. I had hoped that Linzi would have been a bridesmaid for my wedding, but alas, due to health issues, she wasn't able to make the trip. Thank goodness for Facebook live, she and her family were still able to share in our wedding day.

Speaking of big day, the day LInzi asked to be her matron of honour for her wedding, I cried my eyes out. I always knew I would be there for her special day, but to be asked to play such an important role, I was overwhelmed. I plan to very much be there in 2020 to fulfill my matron of honour duties. They journeyed all the way here to meet me, I think it's about time I return the gesture. Besides, I'm game for seeing my husband in a kilt, heh.

We did a FB live for our ceremony so that Linzi and her family, as well as some of our friends abroad could be part of it.
My dearest Linzi, thank you for being brave to write to me. For being there to celebrate my ups, and comfort me when I'm down. Thank you for sharing your life with me. Thank you for crossing the Atlantic and making my 20th birthday one of the most memorable birthdays ever. Thank you for entrusting such an important role in your wedding to me, even though I'm thousands of miles away. I promise I'll be the best matron of honour I can be (I've never been one so let's see how this goes lol). Thank you for being my friend. Actually, scratch that, thank you for showing me that family doesn't always mean blood, and that real bonds can be formed across oceans and time zones. You have no idea how excited I am about coming over. I just need to work on dealing with your cold weather lol.

20 years of friendship, praying to God we get at least 40 more.

Tshenelle aka Nelly B.