April 23, 2009

Misadventures in CouchSurfing - Part II
Giv'atayim, Israel and the Palestinian Territories

Previously: Part One

In the Giv'atayim Ghetto

I'd done some final coordinating with Sara on the 21st, the day before we came over:

I will be busy at noon meeting with my new landlord but before that or after that is fine. I need to take my mom to the airport tomorrow night so please come before 8 so I will be here to let you in, or at least to give you a copy of the keys, otherwise you'll have to wait until 11pm when I will return from the airport. Whatever is fine for you is fine for me. I'll be here all day and you can come in the morning or night, I just need the apartment to be empty at noon when I meet with my landlord.

We opted to take Aidric to the beach during the day and meet up with her in the evening, after Lee and Nir had returned from work. And with the help of Google Maps, I'd discovered that Sara lived just a five-minute drive (or maybe a 20-minute walk) from the flat.

The lackluster experience kicked into full gear almost immediately after we'd loaded up the car and given Lee some big departure hugs (there just wasn't enough room in the vehicle for her with all our gear). At our destination, Nir parked the small car next to the curb outside what was supposedly Sara's apartment building.

This part of the neighborhood looked nothing like any other part of Giv'atayim that I'd seen. It was dark. Streetlights were burnt out all over, casting ominous shadows through the overgrown trees and shrubs. The depilated building sported a gang of delinquents and obvious drug dealers drinking and barbequing out of their ground level apartment.

I popped out of the car (before Tatiana could give me a look) to go find Sara's place, leaving her and Nir (and Aidric) in the car with the bags. It took me some time, and knocking on the wrong neighbor's door, to finally find the place.

The building was a mess. Burnt out lights and overgrown bushes meant that I'd totally missed one of the two paths that lead into the smallish structure. It was rather creepy—like the kinda place you'd probably walk around with a can of pepper spray at the ready.

I knocked on the door—the correct one this time—absent of numbering on the exterior. A middle-aged woman partially revealed herself.

"Sara?" I questioned, confused for a moment.

A slight smile, and then the woman stepped back and called into the apartment—it was her mother.


It was right then and there that I should've just said, "Wow. OK. Thanks for the offer, but this isn't going to work."

I figured that Sara's apartment-in-transit would look either one of two ways: a total disaster zone, or neatly packed into boxes. But to be totally honest, I didn't give it a terrible amount of thought. After all, an experienced CS hostess inviting a family with a baby into her home should know if her place is appropriate for hosting or not.

This assumption (complacency) was easily my biggest failure regarding Sara. I intensely regret not opting to check out her place before we arrived, especially since it was so close.

Sara's place was revealed to be way beyond disastrous. Nightmarish would probably be more accurate. It was just an absolute explosion of clutter, with hardly a path to walk through the place.

You should've seen the look Tatiana gave me as I brought her and our stuff into the apartment…

Her overwhelmed eyes locked onto mine and I could tell we were both thinking the same thing: Should we give this a shot (for a night), or should we just beg Nir to take us back to his clean, comfortable home right now? How embarrassing it would be to ask and leave.

But before we knew it Nir had gone, with me agreeing to keep in touch about the family joining him for a little beach outing the following morning.

Getting Settled

The apartment was just about as cheerless on the inside as it was on the outside. I quietly warned Tatiana not to keep backpack unzipped, as it surely seemed the kind of place where you'd eventually uncover an evil spider, cockroach or worse camping out inside your bag.

Aidric checking out the cleanest room in the apartment.

Tatiana felt the kitchen to be totally unusable—a disaster of epic proportions where you scarcely find room to wash a cup. There were dangerous/lethal items all over the place that Aidric could easily get to, like bleach and bottles of cleaning chemicals. We were warned that "the toilet needed to be snaked," and that we should hold off using it until the plumber (that she'd already called) arrived.

As we chatted and got to know our new hostess, Tatiana kept a tight hold on Aidric (who was quite determined to touch everything and place the worst of the lot in his mouth):

Sara's an American, spending the majority of her life in the U.S. (San Francisco), only relatively recently moving to Israel. She's an anarchist. She's a veganish vegetarian. And that she's certainly got a lot of shit for a person that moves around so frequently.

A very sweet girl, but there was no absolutely chemistry—most notably with Tatiana (who doesn't think highly of coming all the way to Israel to be with an American who requires a different set kitchen supplies to keep things kosher).

Spare Keys

The evening was growing late, and we were in need of baby diapers and some time to talk with each other in private. As we excused ourselves to head to a large grocery store within walking distance, Sara handed me a spare key to the door.

Even though we were only going to be absent for 30 or 40 minutes, our hostess told us that she'd probably be gone by the time we got back (taking her mother to the airport, who was flying back to the U.S.).

I was rather uneasy about leaving our belongings unattended—yet another reason I knew we wouldn't be sticking around.

Just moments earlier Sara said that she thought someone had entered her apartment using a key (copy) and had stolen some items while she was in the process of moving in. Oddly though, they were rather low-value things (just a bag containing some tools), while more expensive stuff like her computer was in plain sight (or at least is now).

She said that she really wanted to get her locks changed, but was totally broke, so it'd have to wait.

Tatiana and I both agreed that she'd probably just misplaced it in the disaster that was the apartment, but given the shady neighborhood and higher than average potential for our belongings to be stolen, we decided to keep the trip out as short as possible.

We'd briefly debated whether one of us should stay behind in the apartment or not, but ultimately decided to go out together—a choice that we'd instantly regretted as soon as we returned to the apartment.



The United States


August 5th, 2009


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