January 9th, 2018
Today began with an early morning wake up call- chai and biscuits in the hotel restaurant at 6:00 AM. We then left to tour the gardens across the river from the Taj Mahal. The early morning fog made it hard to see more than 10 feet in front of us. But as time passed, the dark outline of the Taj’s grand sculpas began to appear through the clouds. On our drive back from the gardens, we watched as the people of Agra began their days- with men brushing their teeth out in front of their houses and mothers escorting uniform-clad children to catch the morning school bell.
After returning to the hotel for a more substantial breakfast, we made the short drive down the street to Sheros, an organization dedicated to helping victims of acid attacks find their footing again. Acid attacks are far too common in India, often perpetrated by a woman’s own family as a result of unrequited love or failure to birth a son. Sheros runs a café in Agra where the women survivors of these attacks can work and sell their handmade products- in a way similar to Nashville’s own Thistle Farms. We were greeted (with more chai) by a woman named Rupa, who showed us a documentary about the survivors’ stories and answered our questions regarding the culture of acid attacks in India. At Harpeth Hall we are constantly reminded that women’s voices matter. But for these women, their voices were found only after a long and painful journey. Rupa spoke about how Sheros not only offers a haven for women who feel ostracized from their former communities, but also is helping to bring the issue of acid attacks to the public’s attention. Their success is most directly exemplified in Dehli, where as a result of their protests, buying acid is now a much more regulated process. Their beauty and strength instilled in us all a feeling of empowerment of the voice that is given too us and how we must use it.
After returning to the hotel again for lunch and a short debrief, we donned our new Indian clothing in preparation for out visit to the Taj Mahal. We made the 10 minute trek through back streets filled with children and vendors. We entered the compound through the western gate- one of the three large, red structures that mark the entrances. After a short introduction to the history of the Taj Mahal, we had time to wander and take pictures of the monument. During our exploration many Indian people asked for our pictures with their families. However, what began as comical soon exhausted itself once the tenth family decided to join the photo shoot. Yet this did not distract from the physical and symbolic beauty of the Taj Mahal and the wonderful experience that we now all share.
After the walk back to our hotel, we regrouped on the hotel’s rooftop for an opening ceremony to our experience in India. With the ground decorated with flowers and candles and the air thick with the scent of myrrh, our leaders read us a poem and a quote that served to guide our trip in India. We reflected on how this trip will not only teach us about a new place and culture, but it will also teach us much about our selves. We were each given a flower and a bracelet of red string. The red string serves to remind us of our connection to those around us and with our purpose on this trip. We each internalized what we hope to take away from this trip and had our neighbor tie the red string around our wrists.
Whether it be jet lag or the innumerable amount of naan we have already consumed, it is hard to believe we have only been in India for two days. The experiences and growing friendships we have already shared will last us a lifetime, and we have yet to embark on many more adventures in the coming weeks!
-Carly Horner, Emma Ryan, and Caroline Kiesling