Last Day in the Bay

As I drove across the Golden Gate Bridge one last time today, I realized that the Bay Area and its mighty bridges would no longer be insulating me from the hazardous, lively, and constantly bustling streets of Varanasi. For the next 9 weeks, instead of gazing out across the Pacific Ocean on any given day, the Ganges river and the holy water it harbors will be my glorious view. After thinking about how I wanted to spend one of my last days in Marin, I trudged up Mount Baldy, one of my favorite hikes, and upon reaching the top, I listened for the silence. I realized that pure silence will not be a sound that I will be hearing for a long while.

After finishing a delicious last meal with close friends and family, ironically including steak, I laughed to myself when I foresaw my currently tame meal crossing highways in differing directions, all simultaneously mooing in one glorious chorus. Later, I zipped up my backpack filled almost solely with antibiotics and baby wipes, and pondered the incredible opportunity in front of me.

Who knew that undergrads could pursue fellowships? Turns out, you can go to India for the summer to pursue a cause that you have a vehement desire to tackle and you can even use the power of staying put to authentically engage with a community teeming with culture and personality. After being introduced to the epidemic of sex trafficking in India by a beloved mentor, a class at Michigan, countless newspaper articles, and the Human Rights Center at Berkeley Law, I will land in Varanasi, India, in two days time to a family with whom I will be living. I will be working for Guria, a non-profit organization that is dedicated to fighting sex trafficking and the exploitation of women and girls on the larger scale of inequity and injustice. Although the impetus to this trip has shown up over and over again throughout my life, I sense that I have barely scratched the surface of this complex epidemic that Guria so passionately combats.

Enthralled to step into a country where every person I have spoken to thus far has left permanently altered, I am ready to submit to all of the inevitable frustrations, rich spices, and even the harrowing images. Although the picturesque train rides in Wes Anderson’s portrayal of Darjeeling Limited may not be my first impression of India, I am committed to my overarching intention of remaining patient and open hearted to all upcoming experiences.

Whether I engage in the religious fervor for which Varanasi is so well known or help one child at the second-generation prostitute victim center create art, I am certain that I will be further challenged emotionally and intellectually than ever before. I am also certain that the predicted 110 degrees will alter my disposition permanently. However, mostly, I know that the independence of this fellowship opportunity, India, and Guria are all going to teach me more than I could ever hope to contribute. For that, I will feel grateful and humbled as I board my flight tomorrow morning.

Although the dichotomy of the privileged versus the underprivileged, the advanced technology versus the lack of infrastructure, the incredible foods and spices versus the starvation may be grueling to bear witness to at first, I hope I can reconcile these challenging images to eventually see something beautiful.

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About Talia Rothman

Talia Rothman is a sophomore intending to double major in History and Women’s Studies in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts. Talia wanted to further explore her passion for human rights in an NGO setting after the experience she had as an intern with the Human Rights Center at Berkely Law in the Sexual Violence Program. Talia will be volunteering with Guria in Varanasi. Guria is an NGO that fights the sexual exploitation of women and girls with a focus on forced prostitution and human trafficking. As a volunteer, Talia will participate in outreach campaigns, marketing materials and shadowing senior officials within the organization. Her research will focus on the efficacy of Guria and will also explore how employees work with second-generation prostitution victims and their perceptions on what makes this population most vulnerable to prostitution.

3 thoughts on “Last Day in the Bay

  1. Talia, you have embarked on what will be an incredible journey. I remember being warned when my wife and I left for India that I should be prepared to feel that I had landed on the Moon. So much will be different and at odds with everything you have ever known. Your blog entry clearly indicates that you are aware of this and have prepared yourself (as best as one can) for the draining, enriching, frustrating, exciting, teeming, exotic, enlightening and wondrous reality that you are about to experience. As you say, you will be forever changed, in good ways and in ways that you will not even comprehend until long after you return. Enjoy, take the time to seek the quiet of a room when you need to, revel in the great work you are doing, remember that helping one person changes the world and don’t beat yourself up when you run up against someone who can’t/won’t be helped (welcome to my world as a teacher). I can’t wait to read your blog and hope we can meet for coffee (or chai) somewhere upon your return.

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  2. When I dropped you off at the airport yesterday, International flights, and we said our good-byes, I flet a surge of emotion, both love and pride and fear, that has stayed with me, as if your leave-taking will have ramifications which I intuit but can’t articulate. Know, as I hope my eyes said, I love and am proud of you: your determination to explore and help, to expand and be touched, to be a citizen, an intimate of the pain and suffering, the laughter and renewal, of our purblind and large-hearted species.

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  3. I wish you the best of luck at the beginning of what is sure to be a transformative journey, Talia! Your mindset going into this is invaluable! It has been a pleasure working with you over the past several months and I cannot wait to follow your experiences and adventures in India!

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