JHB and the Couchsurfers (part 1)

My mom was the first person who told me about couchsurfing. She read it in the newspaper or somewhere and told me for whatever reason. I thought it sounded amzing and promptly forgot all out it. After the 2010 Fifa World Cup my friend told me about a long-standing couchsurfer she had hosted during this time and I was green with envy. How could I have forgotten about couchsurfing. I would have loved to host someone during the World Cup! That would have been awsome.

I wouldn’t let regret get me down though and promptly signed up at www.couchsurfing.org. The website intrigued me as did the sign-up process as you have to reveal parts of yourself that attain to what a great host you’ll be. Generally this involves being excited about your city and your country and talking about your travels. You need to be willing to trust people and they need to trust you. The site has good built in “trust” and “reliablity” featuers that I won’t get into but it was interesting me see myself in this way.

So, profile complete and photos posted I eagerly awaited for someone who wanted to come to JHB and then for that someone to want to stay with me (and husband and two enthusiastic dogs). I don’t know what the chances are of someone selecting you as a potential host but in a big city with not too many tourist (vs say Cape Town) it can’t be too high. That’s another reason why a good profile is important. You don’t want to be shunned by someone who doesn’t even know you.

Well, it took about a month to get my first request. I could hardly contain myself. A young female med student from Mexico who would be travelling with an Indian male med student who was studying in Texas has contacted me. They had never couchsurfed before and somehow I was the one to introduce them into a world I had never experienced before either. It’s a daunting thought.

I could write an essay about what we got up to but it’s my first personal encounter with them that I want to share here:

In my enthusiasm to be a good host and meet couchsurfer 1 and 2 I offered to pick them up from the Gautrain Station in Sandton on the morning of their arrival. The train system was still fairly new and it was the only station but luckily it was close to work and I worked a flexible schedule so it made sense to me. It was no bother as far as I was concerned.

I carefully worked out what time I thought they would arrive at the station. I took into account late flights and customs queues and the train ride and then still added on half an hour for good measure. Waiting at Sandton station for some time isn’t too bad when you’re excpeting a pick up from a person chaperone so it would be perfect.

It wasn’t perfect. The one who ended up waiting at the station was me. For a very very long time. Initially I didn’t mind because I marvelled at the staion and the people coming and going and I wondered if they liked the train and admired how clean the station was and how helpful the gaurds were. But then I waited for over 40 minutes and I got a bit paniced. Where on earth could by people be? What if something had happened to them? What if they had missed their flight? All these things go through your head. Worst of all, i had no way of contacting them. They had my cell number but I only had the couchsurfing website and an email address. And sitting at the station I had no way to access either of these.

After another 40 minutes I actaully had to go because I had to drop something at a client. I felt terrible at the thought of leaving two people stranded in the middle of JHB with no clue on where their host was.

So, I devised a plan. I managed to tear open a paper folder I had in my car which made it A3 size. I then wrote couchsurfer One’s name on it as big as I could. I walked up to a taxi (cab) driver and asked him if he would hold up this sign and wait for these people if I paid him 50 bucks. He said yes. I also wrote my number small on the poster and left with one instruction. Tell them to wait. I WILL be back. Just wait. And off I went leaving my faith in a stranger.

I was about 15 minutes away when my phone rang with cab driver calling me to tell me that they were by his side. I was so happy I turned the car around and went straight back to collect them. And there, looking tired, but exactly like their pictures, were my first ever couchsurfers. They embraced me with relief and warmth when I dashed out my car and I was as relieved.

This random cab driver had done more than give them a message. He had called me and kept them company until I got back. He had been a great ambassodor for a scary city. All while he could have taken the money and left the sign blowing in the wind. This story is about couchsurfing, but it’s also about him. That’s why I love it.

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