Surfing Couches

by tkos on August 17, 2012

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Over the last 85 nights we have slept in many different surroundings, from beaches to forests, parks to olive groves, cheap hotels to chateau’s. Some more memorable than others due to their exotic beauty but all amazing in their simplicity and variation. But something is missing. Something that every single one of those places lacked.

An insight into true culture.

We were yet to be invited to stay in somebody’s home so we decided to find a way to invite ourselves. Welcome www.couchsurfing.org . It may not be the truly adventurous, fate led journey of two separate parties of kind strangers crossing paths via unplanned random acts, resulting in the uniquely cultural experience of local hospitality. It’s probably closer to online dating… for travellers.

‘Couch Surfing’ is an online social network facility for local people to offer their couches or spare rooms to interesting people passing through their town. The host gets to hear the travel stories, meet new people and the traveller gets to experience some home grown hospitality. It’s win-win, so nobody has to pay. It’s brilliantly simple and with profiles and plenty of privacy if you want it, it’s faultless. But it’s still like online dating in that it brings people together who would otherwise not find each other.

With only 40km to reach our host, we just need to cross the Albanian Kosovan border and find our way to the small ‘city’ of Prizren, then follow the instructions in the email from our first couch surfing host, Roma. Time was not a factor as we had all day and just needed the morning. Roma was working till five, so today was the perfect day to get three consecutive punctures and find some shelter in a street side garage. Despite all this, we still arrived before four o’clock outside her apartment, let her know via text and began to enjoy an ice cream in the sun for the next hour or so.

Just as the ice cream wrapper was being ripped and lips were being licked, a beautiful young woman, with a black corporate suit doing nothing to hide the eco warrior and human rights fighter within, approached and greeted us with a big grin. ‘Hey guys!’ she shouts. ‘I have to go back to work, but that is my building over there and it’s the flat to the left on the second floor. Here’s the key, have a shower, help yourself to food and put your feet up. I’ll be back in an hour or so after work’.  Then she was gone as quickly as she appeared.

Kimmi and I looked at each other in disbelief. A complete stranger to us, gives out a key with complete and utter faith, whilst saying all the right things about showers and food. This was incredible. The ice cream starts to melt over my fingers.

We lock our bikes to a stairwell and lug our bags up the stairs. We unlock the heavy front door to reveal a well furnished and stylish one bedroom flat. It’s kind of weird being inside a strangers home alone, but we take the opportunity to shower and sort some fresh clothes out. We finish the cup of tea that we make ourselves and return it to the kitchen to clean. The flat is clean and tidy, but there are a couple of plates in the sink. Kimmi and I debate the socially correct act as to whether or not just to wash our cups, or go beyond and wash her plates as well. Isn’t that somewhat intrusive and a little creepy, a stranger washing your plates? Or is it simply just a lovely gesture of thanks before we even properly meet our host. What is the correct social etiquette in such an unusual social situation such as this?! Kimmi just ignores me and washes the two plates in the sink.

It turns out that Roma is a human rights lawyer for EULEX. An international arm designed to empower local authorities to exercise within international laws. Basically to train local lawyers and work toward eliminating corruption throughout Kosovo. We sat in awe as her boss and her revealed stories of their work, where their daily decisions make such an impact on lives of the local people, and at times, can even result in deaths. Wow. All we do is cycle a lot.

So maybe the internet did put us together and provide the couch we found ourselves falling asleep on. But this wasn’t any couch. This was the couch of a human rights lawyer with amazing insight and contacts in the NGO world. These are the people that can help us with our charity. Help us find a project and learn about the lives of Kosovars, the history and life post the ‘99 conflict.

And that is exactly how we found our first charitable project.

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