Dear readers…

Dear readers (all 7 of you)

After some reflection and growing disquiet, I am reaching the opinion that this blog risks being narcissistic. Particularly the last post, about how I started in aid work, which is why it is now protected. If you are really keen to read it, ask me for the password. It is not that fascinating, nor extraordinary.

I have had concerns before about the power of the internet to distract, diminish and disengage us (which is why I deleted my embryonic Facebook account, back in 2008. Information doesn’t necessarily lead to action (a point proven time and time again in development work – you really need three things for change to occur: knowledge, resources and motivation – development agencies can provide or assist with the first two, but motivation is something you can not manufacture in someone else, though you can buy it temporarily – another great error of many development efforts. But I digress).

I am not a popularist. I like to stimulate people to think about the ambiguities and complexities of development, but I am disinterested in attracting people. But I think I have been a little seduced of late. My wife and I do write newsletters about our work here, about every two months, and I think that might be a better means of achieving that original aim, so if you want to be on the email list, let me know. *

I will be reducing posts to this this site; perhaps using it just to show photos from here on. For anyone who shares my concerns, I recommend Neil Postman’s seminal book, ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death’. It is dated now – written in the ’80’s, I guess, certainly pre-internet, but his observations are just as pertinent.




*Addendum: An additional reason for being unsure about continuing this blog is the sense that these days, I generally interact with the worst of Afghanistan. When I worked in villages, back in the early days, I had plenty of good, bad and in-between stories to wrestle with and to tell. Here, now, in Kabul, and for the last few years, my contact with ordinary Afghans is much reduced: the most it gets is when I am the field, visiting staff or training. Otherwise, it consists of talks with my guard, the office staff, vegetable sellers at the bazaar, angry encounters with bad drivers. We are also more exposed to  the ongoing, degrading security, and that creates its own negative momentum.

I don’t want to tell only the bad stories.


15 thoughts on “Dear readers…

  1. Hey Phil….

    interesting thoughts…

    I agree that in this age it is easy to fall into narcissism.

    However the other side of the coin that I’d invite you to consider is that it is stories that often help us connect with powerful ideas and political realities.

    I’ve been grateful for the very personal entry point you offer into these issues and the relationship of Aid organisations and their host countries…..

    I’d enjoy more blogging if you would indulge us…….

    If not…yes please do put me on your e-list!

  2. I think many blogs are a bit narcissistic. Maybe blogs as such are narcissistic… Personally I don’t see anything wrong with that, Phil… 🙂


  3. I’ve appreciated your blog too! After working in Kabul for a couple of years, I like to keep updated on thoughts of those there – those in the real Kabul and your blog has helped with that. I would enjoy it continuing, but if not, I would definitely appreciate receiving your emails.

    • thanks Kristen for the encouragement. I’ll have a bit of a think about how to continue this, and in what form. Of interest, who were you working with in Kabul?
      Best, Phil.

      • I worked for Loma Linda University. From what I’ve gathered, I know a few of your team members (Dr. L the best).

  4. To be honest, I hope you will keep posting. You do what you have to do, but just know that there are those of us who really want to read what you write about, particularly as it pertains to the people you are trying to help. If it’s just pictures, then so be it, but I hope it will be more.

  5. I agree with Jessica, Kristin and Dan.

    I was in Afghanistan for two and a bit years from 2005 working for the organisation you now work for. When people ask me what it was really like in Kabul I tell them to read your blog. It tells us what it feels like. Your blog about being caught by a wave in the surf and then being dumped by another before you had time to recover gave such a good illustration of what it felt like living from setback to setback. Then the blog about going to get a bottle of wine gave such a good idea of the bizarre that always exists in Kabul. Your blog about your conversation with your chowkidar about voting says more about what the ordinary Kabuli feels than anything else I have seen.

    I think you have the worry that many people who teach (which is what you are doing) using their own experience have. It is about being proud. Many of us know that we area where we are becuse of a string of choices made with little knowledge of where they would take us. Often they have the appearance of being organised by someone outside ourselves. And if you are worried about it, it is probably all you need to proof you against it.

    Enough of the metaphysics. Please carry on with your blog, and yes I would like to get your newsletter.

    • Thanks Robin. Of course I remember you and after we came back in 2008, I sat in your old offices. I clearly remember evaluating the project up in Kapisa – excellent quality work there. Thanks for the encouragement to keep writing. I am thinking it over. Maybe I just need to modify things a little.

  6. Dear Phil,
    A shame that you’ll be writing less. I’ve just discovered your blog — through the post you mention. I read other blogs about “development” but few of these talk about what it’s like to really get to know a place and the culture. So I was excited to see your insistence on learning the language and on staying a long time.
    I don’t think that writing in the first person (as I am in this comment) is necessarily narcissistic. We know the world through our own experiences of it, and writing more abstractly covers up the processes by which individual experience gets turned into larger narratives. One of the things that I liked about your writing was about how you were connecting the personal and personal narratives to the grander ones of “aid work”, “progress in Afgahnistan”, etc.
    But please do what you feel comfortable with!

  7. Or, in other words, I’d love to receive your newsletters, if they’re open to strangers like myself. I couldn’t see your email address: mine is on my website. Thanks!

  8. Thanks Peter. Again, I appreciate the encouragement. Perhaps I can find a way to continue that doesn’t tell just the bad stories and leaves me feeling like I haven’t been self-absorbed.

  9. Phil, I just want to add my voice to the chorus. I appreciate the way you relate life in the situation you find yourself living in, especially contrasted with the narratives that appear in the papers. I related your story to several people this fall when you shared the impact of the crazy Southern pastor who was threatening to burn the Koran. I’m just a lurker, but it always makes me smile to see your posts appear on my feed reader.

  10. Broadie and I discussed it and he reckoned you should quit the negative narcissistic navel gazing and just give regular updates on the Kabul sports scores.
    I tried to talk reason to him but his mind seemed made up, you know what he’s like!
    I on the other hand would like to continue being enlightened, educated and exposed to life in Afghanistan as experienced by the only Aid worker on the ground I know there.
    So, don’t go underground, but if you do, whack me on the email list.

    Meanwhile, the Clean Up the River idea sounds great to me.


    PS. Just in case the news hasn’t reached Kabul, Gary Ablett has been named captain of the Gold Coast Suns. Will send newsclippings shortly. 🙂

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