Pen pals meet after 48 years

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HAGÅTÑA (The Guam Daily Post) — It took 48 years for Anna Diehl and Monica Baza to meet in person.

Anna Diehl and Monica Baza pose for a photo during Diehl’s two-week visit to Guam to meet her lifelong penpal.  Photo courtesy of Anna Diehl

Their story began in 1972 when Baza’s family moved from Canada to Guam to care for her grandmother.

Baza’s sister, Stella, returned to Calgary each summer to take figure skating lessons and stayed in a boarding home.

Diehl lived across the street and met Stella, who told her about her sister and gave her her sister’s Guam mailing address.

“She set us up as pen pals,” said Diehl. “She thought we would have a connection since we were the same age.”

Both girls, living thousands of miles away from one another, never having met each other, began a friendship via letters in the mail.

Diehl recalls getting Baza’s handwritten letters on delicate, pink floral stationery. “She always had matching stationery,” she said. “I don’t know who wrote the first letter.”

Monica Baza said the move from Canada to Guam was difficult for her and the “connection to Canada” through her new friend made it a little easier.

“The letters were almost like a diary,” Baza said.

“We didn’t wait for the other to write a letter, sometimes the letters were just arriving,” Diehl said. “It was great to have that connection.”

Baza wrote about life on Guam and the two often exchanged school pictures. “It was nice to put a face to the name,” said Baza.

When a major typhoon devastated the island, Baza left the island to attend ninth grade in British Columbia, Canada.

“It was a very difficult time. It wasn’t easy because all of the siblings were separated,” she recalled.

“We lost connection after she left island,” Diehl said.

Picking papaya

The two went on with their lives, occasionally wondering what had happened to the other. They remained out of touch until about 15 years ago when Diehl got on Skype and started phoning places on Guam in search of her long lost friend.

“I was phoning places and asking them if they had a phone book,” said Diehl.

She eventually found an online phone book and starting skyping different numbers.

“One day a woman answered. I asked, ‘Does Monica Baza live there?’ And the person said she was outside picking papaya.” Diehl said.

Baza appeared on the screen and Diehl was ecstatic.

“When I saw Monica moving on Skype for the first time, I thought it was so cool,” she said. “I couldn’t get the papaya out of my head. I thought, how decadent.”

The two picked right up where they had left off without skipping a beat, catching up on the other’s lives since they had lost touch.

“There’s so much we have in common,” said Baza.

“We both ended up in swim clubs. We both now are artists. Monica is much more prolific. Writing has been my forte,” said Diehl. “We both are into music.”

“Even those years when we weren’t connected, our lives took, in some ways, so many similarities,” said Baza.

'One day I'll go to Guam’

Their friendship continued over the years, thanks to technology, and the two kept in touch through email and messenger.

Diehl has been fascinated with Guam since she received her first letter from Baza. “I’ve always wanted to go,” she said. “I always said, ‘One day I’ll go to Guam.’”

Tired of hearing his mom talking about wanting to go to Guam but never making actual plans to go, Diehl’s son, Jackson, 19, pulled out his computer last July and made his mom pick from different flights.

“He said, ‘Mom, why don’t you just go, already, instead of talking about it?’ You deserve it,” she explained. “Within 15 minutes, my flight was booked. It wasn’t just a fantasy anymore. I was really going to do this.”

Diehl said if it hadn’t been for her son’s push, she probably never would have left British Columbia.

Three days before she was supposed to leave, the coronavirus hit and Diehl was torn between rescheduling her flight and taking a chance and flying through Taiwan to get to Guam.

Nineteen hours later, with Polysporin in her nose (a tip she took from her friend to protect her from catching any virus while on the plane), Diehl arrived.

‘I’m actually here!’

“As soon as the plane landed, I looked out to my left and saw a couple of palm trees and realized I’m actually here! I got choked up,” she said.

Having done some research before coming to Guam, she thought she could take a taxicab or a bus when she arrived, but when she got here she was told there were no buses and a cab ride was going to be expensive.

“I was so happy to be in Guam, but I thought, ‘Crap, now what am I going to do?’” she said.

She had to go back into the airport to get Wi-Fi and managed to call Baza via messenger, only to find her waiting for Diehl in another part of the airport.

“You’re here!” Baza exclaimed when she saw Diehl with her red luggage. “I couldn’t believe it. She actually chose to come all the way to Guam to visit me.”

‘Everybody is just so gracious’

Diehl’s two-week visit was filled with lots of CHamoru food, getting to know each other more, a sunset boat ride to see the dolphins, and of course, lots of hugs.

Diehl's biggest takeaway is the incredibly friendly people here. “I have not met a single cranky person. They’re so generous of spirit here. Everybody is just so gracious. There’s definitely something about the people that is a big thing.”

She said it won’t take her 48 years to come back. Diehl is already planning another trip in two years and is looking to stay longer next time.

Baza has cherished the time spent with her outgoing, fun-loving friend.

“It’s like I’ve know her forever,” said Baza. “We were reminiscing on the letters and, during her time here, I’ve been getting to know Anna even better than through the letters.”

The two said they kept each other’s letters for decades.

“I felt so special because I had a pen pal from another part of the world and nobody else I knew did. I thought that was so great,” Diehl said.

“We’re an example of pen pals that developed a friendship that lasted a lifetime,” said Baza.

The two are hoping their story will foster new long-distance friendships between students from Guam and students from Halfmoon Bay, British Columbia, where Diehl's son Jackson attended elementary school.

Baza and Diehl are also hoping that teachers on Guam will consider a class assignment so the kids from their schools can write to the students at Halfmoon Bay.

“Even if just one set carried on writing for more than a month. I think that would be very cool for the kids to connect with each other,” said Diehl, who has developed a lifelong appreciation for “snail mail” and collecting stamps. “With Facebook, Twitter and all those social media applications, to have concrete, physical, tactile letters and cards and postcards, that’s really different.”

“The letters were a treasured part of my childhood,” said Baza. “I loved them.”

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