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“Sea to Source: Ganges” Dispatch: A Final Note

Land, water, people, plastic. This is the story of National Geographic Society's female-led expedition team as they track & characterize plastics in the Ganges River using land-debris trackers, community surveys & water-air-sediment sampling. Written by Lillygol Sedaghat and edited by Cory Howell.

It’s my last day in India. I’m at a cafe overlooking the river, eating a piece of chocolate cake and drinking an iced coffee. Beneath the open window, I watch the Ganga flow, families bathing along her banks, people screaming with glee as they raft down her waters. 

The expedition will be over in an hour, and I’ll return home, carrying stories, experiences, and emotions of nine river communities and two nations with me.

Did we make a difference? Did we learn anything new? 

I slice into my cake. The coffee here is good, the cake, fresh.

Our expedition brought people from different backgrounds, disciplines, religions, and cultures together to study one of the world’s largest life forces.

I’m confident that in this regard, we prevailed. We demonstrated the power of international collaboration, and the importance of a multi-disciplinary approach to science and solutions.

As for the Ganga, I realize that even someone like me–someone who lives thousands of miles away–has an impact on her survival and her people. What I consume, where my waste goes, how I live–in many ways, my life is just as connected to the Ganga as the people along her banks. 

Throughout the journey, I was consumed with understanding what she meant to people and why. I thought that the key to understanding plastic pollution lay in understanding people’s relationship to the Ganga. By understanding what she meant, I could create some greater meaning for our search.

I never found an exact answer. 

What I heard on the ground was the same narrative I heard even before coming to India and Bangladesh: She is a powerful force of life, a washer of sins, a waste management system, and a ferrier of plastic waste. 

And she was all these things. She just is. 

I realize that by accepting these fundamental truths, I’d come to understand her more. 

I take the final sip of my coffee; the cup clinks as I place it next to the chocolate-crumb plate. I ease my way through the cafe, stand in the open doorway, and look up at the sky. And it begins to rain.

Post written by Lillygol Sedaghat and edited by Cory Howell.

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