I’m a bit late on this – although I was given a beta copy to review, his book was launched on Amazon in November. Check it out here!
This collection of essays loosely drawn into a book by author and blogger J., depicts snapshots in the life and travels of a humanitarian aid worker. Unsurprisingly, it’s not all parties on the Serengeti. Like most jobs, it has ups and downs: long hours in dusty hotels, stuffy conference rooms, morally difficult decisions, poor coordination. Letters Left Unsent is the distillation of thoughts that come from twenty years of these experiences, for better and worse.
I’ve been following (rather, lurking) J’s blog Tales from the Hood and AidSpeak for a few years now. I check in when I need inspiration, provocation and a little moral outrage. Being mired in the day to day realities of life “in the field” (e.g. trying to get fuel into six cars and eighteen motorcycles on weekly basis while keeping rats from chewing up seed corn in storage and spilled generator diesel from starting the kitchen on fire), it feels so good to read about someone else’s thoughts, opinions and struggles with the Aid Industry writ large. Reading his words are like hitting a release valve. Throughout his book, I found myself nodding and laughing, relieved that someone finally understands, finally can advise. (I found his comments on having an exit strategy particularly useful...)
For those considering a career as an aid worker, this book gives a straight picture of what to expect. It even includes the Aid Work Suitability Self-Test, which is as snarky as it is real to life. Outsiders may bristle at some assertions throughout the book (development is for professionals, not volunteers) that may sound elitist and exclusionary on the surface, but I assure you it is not. I do wish there was more of a narrative arc, but I'm more a fiction person than I am an essayist, so it may be personal preference.
As it stands, Letters Left Unsent is a collection of essays, blog posts that represent a tome to development work, one that gives voice to a little acknowledged non-Hollywoodized perspective of humanitarian aid.
It is well worth the read.