Literally, it was awesome.
— This is the only good use of “literally” I’ve seen in a long time. Because awe-some is very different than awesome, and sometimes I need to evoke the former.

Places You Can’t Safely Park Your Female Car Body

Yesterday I saw someone quoting the phrase “Instead of teaching girls how not to be raped, we should teach boys not to rape.” It’s a popular theme in the #yesallwomen Twitterfest that’s been going on.

One of the comments (never, ever the read the comments) made an analogy I can’t stop thinking about. To paraphrase, since the thread has since been deleted: ‘Women just have to use common sense. Don’t park your car in the projects if you don’t want it stolen.’ I won’t get into the connotations of “projects” but let’s test out the rest of this comparison.

Where do cars frequently get stolen? Public places with poor lighting, no surveillance, and low police response rates. (Is this true? It’s our assumption.)

Where do people frequently get raped? Public places with poor lighting, no surveillance, and low police response rates. Also private places, including the victim’s own home and friends’ homes. Schools and college campuses. There really aren’t a lot of safe places to ‘park’ your female body-car. Including, and my sarcasm demands making a joke here: parking garages. If the only answer to lowering rape occurences was locking women up, alone, in their houses, then…well, this girl who happens to like seeing the light of day from time to time is glad that’s bullshit. Yes, there are steps we can all take to protect ourselves from sexual assault, but there also needs to be a cultural shift where we stop accepting rape as a given and talk about real crime prevention, not just lowering your personal odds of being victimized.

And, for fun, here’s another side-by-side.

What happens after a car is stolen? It gets reported, it gets investigated, and usually either the car gets found or your insurance pays for it. You figure out how to get around until you can replace the car, and people give you sympathy about it.

What happens after someone gets raped?It might get reported but probably not, it might get investigated but probably not, and rarely is the rapist either found or punished. You get a lifetime to figure out how to deal with your new life/sense of body since you’re stuck with it, and people may give you sympathy about it if you can tell them.

In addition to teaching girls how not to be raped, we should teach boys not to rape.”

In my humble opinion.

Playing Yahtzee Under Mango Trees

A friend of mine is trying to raise money to go to Africa. She says everyone wants to donate things for her to take along. But the work she does isn’t material, she says, it’s intangible. The work she does is being present, building connections, fostering spaces for growth and love and leadership development. Another way she describes it is “playing Yahtzee under mango trees.”

She says the people she met in Africa don’t play a lot of games. The games they do have are competitive and often closed to women. They love learning how to play Uno and Yahtzee with her. And while they play together, they are opening up to each other, talking about the big life stuff that strangers and especially strangers from far-apart worlds don’t often share with each other.

She told me this while we were making 1,000 peanut butter sandwiches. She’d contacted the local Kids’ Food Basket organization and then organized a group of us volunteers to spend the afternoon together helping make sure local kids get fed. I looked around at the groups of co-workers out team-building and at the seven of us, each connected through her and this work we were all doing: pull out two pieces of bread. Use whatever kind was donated. Spread on the peanut butter. Press them together. Place them in sandwich bags. Repeat. When you get to the crust end of the loaf, spread the peanut butter on the crust and flip it inside so the kid won’t feel sad that they got the crust. This is like playing Yahtzee under the mango trees.

The people I know don’t usually make food in this large of a group, with strangers, for strangers. But while we do that, we’re connected. And we start talking, about our jobs and relationships and what our hobbies are, and then about what we want from our jobs and how our relationships are bringing us closer to or further from the kind of love we want and how our hobbies aren’t valuable only if we profit off selling our products but also if they make us more creative or help us stay energized or give us a community of people to do those things with. For two hours, we are passing around loaves and jars and ideas, and at the end I’m not even hungry from being around so much delicious, delicious peanut butter. I feel like I’ve been playing new games, like I’ve been been building up a temporary family, like I’ve been present and open in a brave way, without needing to be brave. I wouldn’t have had that experience if I’d donated the bread. I had to go and just be a person among people, to see how we would fire each other up.

I know my friend’s activities in other countries are more than two hours making sandwiches. I’m not saying this thing we did today is any measure of what she does on those service trips. But I understood what she was saying. It’s hard to quantify or, sigh, monetize playing Yahtzee under mango trees. It was like describing the impact of my neighborhood center where I served as an AmeriCorps volunteer. What good is helping someone learn to use a computer? Or giving a kid a taco-in-a-bag and doing math problems with them? Or how about getting them to teach you chess? What good is a community soccer game or picnic to neighbors isolated from each other by crime? You just have to be there.

You always just have to be there. You are (intangibly) so much more than a donated loaf of bread—or a pair of shoes—sent somewhere that you wouldn’t ever see the impact of anyhow. As that friend’s organization, Cornerstone Development, says: "Who we are is primary, what we do is secondary." By being around others, and helping them be around us, we are as active and valuable as anyone could measure. Or pay to support.