Saturday, February 9, 2013

Couchsurfing Guest Post: Anne

Couchsurfing. A verb which can make you go around the world. At no cost. And you end up gaining a lifetime of friends and a whole lot of stories. Thought I'll share a few with everyone. Straight from the horse's mouth! Anne was my first couchsurfing experience; and a brilliant one at that! Wonderfully warm and sweet, we hit it off almost instantly. Here's her guest post! 
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Hello all! My name is Anne, and I’m a dear friend of Suravi’s. I’m from the United States, but I’ve had the great fortune to be able to travel to several interesting places – including Austria, India, Togo, and Madagascar! Much of my traveling has been made possible through an organization called CouchSurfing, which is, in fact, how I met Suravi.



CouchSurfing is an organization for those who like traveling and meeting people from other places. There are “surfers” and “hosts.” Surfers are those who are looking for a couch to sleep on, and hosts are those willing to provide it. For surfers, it’s a way to travel on a budget and/or to meet people in a new place. For hosts, it’s a way to show people the highlights of your town while also learning about where your surfer comes from. There is no monetary exchange involved. The idea is that valuable cultural exchange takes place as a result of this sharing of space.

All CouchSurfers (both surfers and hosts) maintain a profile, kind of like a Facebook profile, where they can write a bit about themselves, indicate whether they’re surfing or hosting, and receive recommendations from other members. The recommendations feature is what makes CouchSurfing a lot safer than many people would initially assume. If you’re looking for a host abroad, you can see if prospective hosts have good recommendations from people who have surfed their couches in the past. Likewise, hosts can see if prospective surfers also have positive recommendations. This helps you ensure that the person you’ll be hosting in your home is an honest individual who won’t steal your valuables. Thanks to this security feature, almost 100% of CouchSurfing experiences are outstandingly positive.


CouchSurfing can also be used to meet people even for those who aren’t looking for a place to stay. Many members indicate that they are interested in “meeting for coffee” and the like. This is exactly how I met Suravi. I was staying in a cheap hotel in Chennai at the end of my trip to India, and I was feeling lonely, so I went on CouchSurfing to find some nice young people in the area to hang out with. Thank goodness I found Suravi! I sent her a message asking if she would like to meet up for a meal and interesting conversation, and she responded enthusiastically. I met her and her friends and dined out at a wonderful restaurant. Then, she had me over at her place for a dinner on the night before I flew home from India. The most amazing goodbye ever! It really put a cherry on top of my trip to India and enhanced what would have otherwise been a few boring days in Chennai. CouchSurfing is an excellent way to make new friends and connect with people who you might not otherwise meet.

I’ve had tons of amazing experiences as a result of CouchSurfing. There is one in particular that I’d like to write about: surfing at the home of a married couple – the husband an artist and the wife an anthropologist – living in Antananarivo, Madagascar.

House in Madagascar
Upon arriving at their place, I was greeted with elaborately painted walls of their home (see above). This was the home of an artist, indeed! The couple gave me a warm welcome and fed me a delicious rice and beans dish, homemade guava juice, and pieces of a cake they had baked in their solar cooker. Then, they showed me the place where I would be sleeping – a very comfortable guest bedroom! They treated me with great kindness and made me very comfortable during my stay at their place.

View from a hill
During the few days I spent over there, I walked up the hill upon which they lived and saw amazing views. I also got to observe the development of one of the husband’s painting projects, which he did in collaboration with a neighbor. The two did a graffiti project that questioned the nature of graffiti and the idea that it only belongs on city structures – by placing two canvases on one of the walls of their homestead and painting a giant graffiti word over them. The word was “kol’sen,” a shortened version of the Malagasy word for “culture.” He then removed the two canvases and took them off for display in his art gallery downtown. See the pictures below!


At another point, the wife, having learned that I study plant biology, walked me over to another neighbor’s house to show me his amazing garden. That neighbor then gave me a tour of his grounds, and fed me guavas after every time we passed a guava plant (much guava was consumed during my stay here).  He then offered to invite me back someday and pay me to do a survey of the plants on his plot! It was so thoughtful of my host to take me over there to meet him.

I really enjoyed spending time with this amazing couple. I learned about what it’s like to be a permanent resident as a non-Malagasy (the wife is originally from France) and about conducting anthropological research in Madagascar. I ate amazing food and listened to excellent music. And, I expanded my artistic horizons (I paint as a hobby) by seeing the development of a fascinating graffiti project. This was, without a doubt, one of the greatest CouchSurfing experiences I’ve ever had. (Although there are many other amazing experiences to speak of, too!)

This experience encapsulates the enormous scope of enrichment, learning, and making connections that is possible through an organization like CouchSurfing. Although it’s hosted on the internet, it facilitates the meeting of people out in real life, something which is otherwise very difficult in this day and age. CouchSurfing enables you to enhance your life wherever you might be – whether that’s your hometown or on the other side of the world.

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