[janet gunter]

It may seem absurd but when I finally returned to California to see my parents in January this year, after two years of not seeing them due to the pandemic and being disabled by it, one of the things that struck me most about arriving in their house was the lack of ice in the freezer.

I grew up in the Midwest of the US, where access to unlimited ice is some strange human right. That along with unlimited ketchup, sugar packets, napkins. Doesn’t really matter what season it is. If the drink isn’t hot, it comes smothered in ice.

As a child, I learned that people in other parts of the world have a different relationship to ice.


A while ago, I “quit” international development. I never considered myself an “aid worker”, but I’d spent 5 years in total working internationally in the sector.

Mostly at “headquarters” but partly “in the field”. I’d grown tired.

At the time I wrote an unsigned “Dear John” letter to development which stated “no amount of earnest critique, satire, or wounded camaraderie” could help me stay on.

People ask me how I did it. I am always surprised when people approach me for this kind of coaching. While I am happier and more stable than I can remember in my adult life, I remind people I am by no means materially better off.

So. This will not help you decide how to make money or choose a new career. If you are looking for advice about how to feel ok again, and (re)construct meaning in your life after working in international development here are some tips.


Living in East Timor, a far-away, post-colonial place (not my own city which lived its own fraught history), I became fascinated with the gaps in history.

What is told? What isn’t told? Amateur oral histories led me to the archives, which led me to ethnography, a form of translation.


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