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.