An Ode to Jaisalmer

Sometimes I hear the harmonium

play in my dreams, songs of past

kings and lovers that walked

the same narrow streets as me


The streets seem to shift like the dunes

moving and changing as the city grows

but those who live here know

every corner and crevice by heart


They know where to tailor the best

kurtas and which stalls make the

tastiest momos and what places

offer the most beautiful city views


(The guesthouse’ rooftop wins every time)


The city is full with the lives of stray

dogs and families of cows and children

who chase after us, giggling and wondering

how this gori came to be here


Here, in the middle of the Thar desert

where the sun lingers high in the air

and a gentle breeze is the only

reprieve from the heat


From sunrise to sunset, the call to prayer

echos against the sandstone walls

as children are let out from school and

women begin preparing dinner


Parathas and chai, maybe khadi khichadi

or roasted mirchi, sabji roti, dal and white rice,

thalis are heaped to the brim for the men while

the women wait until dusk to eat their fill


In the night, the music of weddings blasts,

carrying with it the merriment of the families who

are newly joined, and the music of the Merasi

who lead the procession with power and precision


A reminder of the days of kings and lovers

who sat in the palace listening to musicians play

the harmonium, the dholak, the kartal, singing songs

about the generations of old


(Knowing their own stories would someday be told)


But life in the city is not so simple, nor is

it easy; with caste at the forefront of

people’s minds and daily lives defined

by their family’s trade


A simple interaction in the market

in a language I don’t understand

means more than I could ever know


The danger of speaking up or speaking

out runs rampant through every smile and

nod. Silence is more deafening than

the noise I often find myself surrounded by


And breaking the silence is

not a choice for me to make; I am but a

spectator, another privileged person

offering my power to those without


At night, when the dogs stop barking

and the drumming halts, I oftentimes wonder

if within the brief silence, there is a danger lying

in wait, ready to strike


(Because reality is never as clear as it seems)


A thousand tiny mirrors inside my bedroom but

I can never see my full reflection; reminds

me of how we never see the entire picture

until we are painted inside it ourselves



View of the guesthouse rooftop at sunset
View from the guesthouse’ rooftop at sunset

Ashley Benedict was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan and earned her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Creative Writing from Grand Valley State University. As an undergraduate, she acted as an ambassador for the Center for Women and Gender Equity; worked as a peer educator to provide on-campus presentations for sexual assault prevention; and led student volunteer trips to nonprofits throughout the U.S. Upon graduation, Ashley joined AmeriCorps NCCC as a Team Leader and cultivated skills working in a variety of fields, including disaster recovery, veteran support, community outreach, and addressing food insecurity. In recognition of her efforts, she received the Gold Presidential Volunteer Service Award as well as Team Builder of the Year Award. She then moved on to work as an AmeriCorps VISTA with the Iowa Disaster Human Resource Council in Des Moines, Iowa, where she built up the organization's capacity by conducting qualitative and quantitative data collection projects to inform and create a revitalized organizational strategic plan. Her most recent position included working as Logistics Coordinator for an international disaster relief organization, All Hands and Hearts, in response to Hurricane Ida in Louisiana, the North Complex Fire in Northern California, and flash flooding in Kentucky. Ashley acted as a liaison between All Hands and Hearts and community members; acquired and assessed homeowner cases; and managed quality data input, collection, and auditing for each program. Her experience has helped her strengthen skills in communication, facilitation, data collection and analysis, and community engagement. With a background in psychology, she finds that it has helped inform her work by providing more understanding and compassion when working with communities who have undergone emotional duress. Her continued passion for service work and community immersion is what motivated her to become an American Indian Fellow.

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