Sunday, November 18, 2012

From Hand Drawn Comics to Undisclosed Lice: An Analysis of the Spectrum of Couchsurfing Experiences

A fine looking Ex-Pat-Pack at Tirana Rocks

My favorite form of travel magic, when living and working overseas, is stumbling into finding fantastic people with whom to share the journey. Ex-pat life brings people of all nationalities together, bound by the commonality of being foreigners in a new place. Thanks to the internet and social networking, it’s become easier and easier to make these connections. One of the most popular places to make these connections is Couchsurfing, a huge hub of travelin’, likeminded strangers, gathering together online to give and take lodging, free of charge. The tagline of "stay with friends you haven't met yet" is endearing, right? Couchsurfing can take responsibility for often fostering interesting, brief encounters with strangers from all over the world, complete with late nights over good food exchanging travel stories, tips, and future plans and dreams for roaming the globe. The people you meet via Couchsurfing are bound to be interesting, for better or worse. I’m sure no one is surprised that there is, of course, a flip side to the positive. It’s not necessarily negative, but it’s not as enjoyable, or idealistic, and is often tedious and annoying. Hey, we’re all people, messy piles of humanity, it’s bound to happen. I can’t say I would consistently be an enjoyable person to be around after weeks and/or months of snatching sleep on a parade of strangers’ couches, indulging in intermittent showers and cobbling together each leg of the trip right before I do it.

Now, until last weekend, I had never formerly hosted a Couchsurfer. Scott was a frequent host in the first month or so here in Tirana. Through him, Bobby and I enjoyed the pleasure of several couchsurfers, from Julius, who went to Dirty Durres with us and in turn baked an onion cake, to Anna, who stayed for a few days before leaving the best tiramisu I’ve ever eaten, to Dameon, who crafted golden origami cranes out of the wrappers from the chocolate I gave him. We used the cranes to decorate the top of Bobby’s 33rd birthday cake. We shared dinners and gave advice, and altogether it was a ridiculously charming situation of people giving and taking, sharing in community. Ah, community. My liberal heart is bleeding all over the keyboard. It’s beautiful.

Excitement builds while waiting for the onion cake

A long-life crane: perhaps the most perfect birthday cake topper

 The indisputably best outcome of Couchsurfing, however, came not from a traditional couchsurfer host relationship. One can use Couchsurfing as a way to meet-up with people, and there are frequent social events. To that end, Malwine reached out to Tiara around the time of the Tirana film festival, and it was love at first sight. 19, from Germany, an artist, also working in a school, and most importantly, one of the kindest people I’ve ever met, Malwine easily joined our group. 

This was the night we told Malwine about the Canadian tuxedo, made famous by Bryan Adams

From there it was pastry parties and nights out and cursing in English with a Texas accent lessons and roadtrips to Macedonia. 

She drew this comic for Bobby, to illustrate that roadtrip and the weekend in Ohrid. I can’t handle how much I love it.

Really. I don’t deserve the humans in my pack here in Albania. What luck.

But rainbows and kittens notwithstanding, let’s get back to that flip side I referenced. After so many positive experiences co-hosting Scott’s couchsurfers from across the hall, and being gifted by the couchsurfing universe with Malwine, she of all that is Good and Wonderful, I thought it was finally time to get in on some of this feel good action directly. I made a profile. I set my couch to “Maybe”, so I could meet for coffee and help travelers, dipping my toe in before going whole hog there’s-a-stranger-sleeping-in-my-house. A few days after, Scott said he had received a couchsurfing request from a group of three travelers. In the interest of respect, I’ll refer to them as Trio. One was from my home state of Texas, which seemed like fate, so I told Scott that Bobby and I could split Trio between our two homes. We picked them up on Sunday, and caught up over some snacks before heading out for dinner. They regaled us with stories, they were interesting and funny, and all was well. We stayed up far too late, and then it was off to the factory school for the teachers on Monday morning.

Monday afternoon I came home to a well-used home, but hey, no big deal, let’s clean real quick like and I’ll make dinner. I cooked a huge pot of Indian curry (mmmm, vegetables) while Bobby and Scott had an after work beer and gave Trio advice on how to rent a car, and where to go down south. Malwine, she of all that is Good and Wonderful, came over, as well as Tiara, my oft mentioned and also kick ass co-worker. We ate, drank, and were merry. We gave Trio more information on their travel plans, and again, got to bed too late.

Tuesday night we picked up another couchsurfer, and Wednesday evening the plan was to meet up at Malwine’s house. She was making byrek, and I was making a roast of the meat I had received from Eid al-Adha. At this point there had been little of the give and take harmony I had witnessed in previous couchsurfer/host interactions. By “little” I mean “none”, so I was happy when Trio asked if there was anything they could bring to dinner. Bobby said yes, they could bring dessert or perhaps some wine.

Well, spoiler alert- they brought neither. And they didn’t buy water the four nights they were here, instead opting to drink ours. And yes, they were kind of messy. But you know what? I’m totally willing to let all of it slide. They were young, and genuinely sweet, and I happily agreed to let them come back to our house after a road trip to the south. They even left their things in my apartment, because why not? We have an extra room. Let’s help them out. They left trash and dirty dishes in their wake, but I let it roll off after some good natured ribbing with Scott, Bobby, and Tiara. 

Trio came home on Saturday night, right before the Fabulous Four of us headed out for dinner. We let Trio in for showers and laundry, wished them a good night, and set out. We came home a few hours later, to find them out to dinner of their own. Scott walked into his bathroom, which had towels strewn on the floor, along with random bits of their detritus- ribbon and rubber bands and random road treasures like scraps of paper. More curiously, the flap of a box poked out from under a towel heaped at the base of the washer. Scott picked it up, froze, and then turned and said “What’s THIS?”

What WAS this? I stepped into the square of light from the bathroom, and beheld the object of his disbelief.

Dear Two Blog Readers-
It was a box. of. lice. shampoo. That’s what it was. The nit comb sat on the edge of the sink, complete, almost artistically so, with a perfectly placed louse.


What in the actual f$#k?

Lest you think I’m a terrible person, I should preface the following rant by saying that I am in no way mad that they got lice. I’m a primary school teacher, ya’ll- I could get lice tomorrow. It happens, they’re traveling, and that sucks. But, pray, tell me, who stays in a stranger’s house, realizes the lice problem, and simply shampoos and goes out for dinner like it’s any old Saturday night? Who, dear Reader, leaves the box on the floor, mixed among other personal items, letting the box do all the talking? I cannot imagine finding out I had lice, and deciding that the best way to deal with it would be to flippantly wash my hair and then leave the house for dinner. No, I would be cleaning the house, washing my clothes, washing the sheets and towels of my host, and most importantly, I would for damn sure be waiting at the house so that as soon as my host arrived home I could tell them immediately.

In contrast, we came home to two silent apartments, clothes and towels spread about the house, no clothes in either of the washing machines available to Trio, and nothing but a discarded box and a louse bespeckled comb to tell us the story of what had happened while we were gone.

We immediately got to work doing what Trio should have done- washing the sheets, the towels, sweeping up for hair, wiping down couches, and generally rolling our eyes at the complete ridiculousness of the situation. Scott sent a text that simply asked “So who has lice?” and Trio said they would come home soon. Malwine had slept in the bed the night after they left, so I immediately thought of her curly little head. I gave in to a good old fashioned rant, ending with “And so help me, if they gave Malwine, whose soul is like fine gossamer, LICE, I will lose it.” Even in the midst of parasite invasion, one must have humor, and one must think of one’s sweet German friend.

I don't drink, but this situation calls for a drink

Once Trio returned, I had to play teacher lady and give a lecture about the socially acceptable way to go about dealing with a lice infestation when one is staying in a gracious host’s home free of charge. Trio seemed genuinely baffled as to why the situation was inappropriate, which just made me sigh and remind myself that kids have to be told how to act. I didn’t yell, I wasn’t mad, but I was beyond annoyed and I had reached the point where couchsurfing had flipped from a social adventure to “When are they leaving?” 

I gave my short and stern “Guys, it’s just plain weird the way you handled this, flat out. Don’t do it like this again. BTW, you all need to wash your hair and all of your clothes” speech and then went to bed. I made sure to end it with “Have safe travels” which I sincerely meant.

I’m about to be 30. I feel like I can officially say “Kids these days.” My good friend, Gordon, summed it up nicely when he said "I don't care how chatty your lice box is." That's a true story.*

*And this one is told with a wink. I find it all highly amusing, to be sure.


  1. "random road treasures like scraps of paper." bahahahaha! so true!

  2. I'm glad that the tone came shining through the type on that one ;)

  3. I want Indian food. Couchsurfing wouldn't be an adventure if it weren't for secret lice people! Ah, life. Did you just take the picture with the wine or are foreign countries getting you to drink a little?

  4. You're right, Arielle, and I'm still glad it happened, if only because I enjoy telling the story and I've been laughing at that pink bunny baby for a few weeks now.

    I did drink the wine. I still don't like wine, though, so I'll stick with drinking too much Coke and sweet "coffee" aka coffee flavored sugar milk.

    Come to Albania. I miss you.

  5. I'm coming! I'm coming! I'm totally buying a pink bunny baby suit for my kid(s).