The Trouble with Petra's CouchSurfing Bedouin
Umm Sayhun, Jordan
We've found ourselves in the midst of a small Bedouin CouchSurfing skirmish, and I just thought I'd toss in my 2¢ on the Bedouin hosts and problems at hand.
We've spent a good chunk of time of late with the Bedouin. Our current host (Mohammad) and our first host (Talal) are pretty much exempt from the issues of this post, as these fellows seem to be genuinely on the up-and-up.
I believe Talal hosts CouchSurfers because he's a little reserved and introverted, but genuinely loves making friends and being needed. Talal's happiness comes as a result of being a host, a source of information and in the company of people he's genuinely curious about.
Mohammad's fresh on the scene, but seems to be veteran in the regional tour guiding business. He certainly gets his fill of foreigner exposure from his job, so I think there's more a business motivation behind his recent insertion into CouchSurfing. But Mohammad has been a wonderful (albeit busy) host, and never once attempted to sell us anything. More than anything, I think he'd like to be helpful and to spread good word of mouth about his guiding services amongst travelers.
Ghassab and Nawaf
I'm going to say upfront that I didn't like Ghassab much from the moment I met him. After traveling for several continuous years I tend size up folks pretty fast, and something just wasn't right with this guy.
Having spent recent years in Germany, Ghassab brought CouchSurfing to this area—likely looking for an edge in attracting business to the tour guiding service he and his brother (Ghassan) started up upon his return.
After several encounters with Ghassab over the past week I've solidified my opinion of him: If you aren't a guy that's going to be his party and drinking buddy, don't bother. He's not interested in families and likely tolerates male/female couples (as an opportunity to mix with his business or drinking/wackiness). Judging by past hosting feedback, his preference is clearly to host women.
Without a doubt Ghassab has grown accustomed to the comparatively easy seduction and no-strings sex found in Europe… and CouchSurfing probably seemed like an excellent way to keep the party going. As the only contact in town he quickly collected a strong profile full of hosting experiences, many of them female.
Alas, Ghassab couldn't keep the CS market cornered for long, as his Bedouin brethren observed what he was doing (both personally and professionally), and at the onset of 2009 Nawaf (our former host of three nights) joined the CouchSurfing community.
I'd describe Nawaf as a businessman above all else. He clearly enjoyed having our 16-month-old son mixed in with his family, but he seemed to be about as standoffish/emotionally unavailable with them as he was with us. Perhaps it was the CouchSurfing drama that he had recently found himself mixed up in…
Exposing the Issues at Hand
A few days ago Nawaf was showing us his parent's home (also here in the same village, where most of the area's resettled Bedouin now live), when we got to talking about CouchSurfing.
He booted up his computer to check his e-mail (and give us chance to do the same), when he started asking me if I'd heard about the problems he and Ghassab were having with each other, and some Dutch woman named Esther (who was supposedly romantically involved with Ghassab).
The recent drama was all over his profile page:
"Esther, did you sleep in a cave with your CS," Nawaf asked me. When I asked why, he didn't reply, and I felt something was wrong.
A German woman, married with children, went this day alone with him to do a tour in desert, and was suppose to join him in his camp with her own tent. She came back, and she'd been crying. First she told me being ill, but it came out Nawaf had been harassing her. Then I suddenly understood his question to me, about sleeping! Nawaf said nothing happened.
Anna, a 26 year old Russian girl, told me that she was asked by Nawaf: "Anna, do you like sex" when she was alone with him in desert. She ran away from him.
Yesterday I heard a complaint from a 50 year German woman, also being harassed by him, staying in a cave. She'll probably write her feedback herself, being a CS.
Nawaf invited me by CS, and I'm glad I didn't join him to his place, knowing this all…
I do feel sorry for writing negative feedback, but have to warn other woman.
This "fun girl." she not know me and she find Ghassab and he give her recommendation who to write about the CouchSurfing in Petra. i swear by god he tell me he make with her sex in the cave. i don't know about that just he tell me. she is selfish and not say the truth, for me she is nothing and ling. you do good help to your lover to have more girl like you.
OK. Clearly, Nawaf's got zero game with foreign women… So when he tried pulling in some European lovin' like his buddy Ghassab, it totally backfired in a very public way.
Nawaf responded to all this by deleting his CouchSurfing profile right in front me.
Were we to be his last CS guests? Maybe.
As I discovered only moments later, Nawaf had other profiles created, but hidden from returning in the search results. One of these profiles had another nasty exchange of negative feedback involving some Polish girls just a month earlier.
Ghassan, Ghassab's brother, apparently tried to defend Nawaf by leaving negative feedback for the girls with his own CS profile:
…and blah blah blah. Boring, right?
The Bedouin Solution to Negative Feedback
OK… The overarching problem here is that these men live in one of the most heavily touristed spots in the Middle East, and (for lack of interest or capability) there just aren't enough Bedouin CouchSurfers.
These guys have clearly figured out that the feedback system is their reputation (and thus of great importance), and that the best solution to riding themselves of any unwanted remarks is simply to delete their profile.
Deleting one's CS profile is extreme, but seemingly an acceptable loss for a Bedouin who has no qualms with creating another… and another after that.
Such actions are typically avoided by most of the community—for to lose your record of hosting/guest experiences is to be thought of again as new, green, inexperienced, or unproven within the collective. But profile deletion/recreation works well in the case of these Bedouin hosts, who probably won't ever become a guest via the system.
Since the Petra area is overrun with (young) travelers on a budget or individuals seeking enlightening contact with locals, there's a continuous flow of host-seeking travelers entering the area.
The resultant is simple: Lots of traveling CouchSurfers looking for hosts and very few Bedouins (or other hosts around Petra) in the system means guaranteed hosting if you want it. Travelers will hesitantly, but happily, reach out to Bedouins with seemingly inexperienced or freshly-created profiles because that's what's available.
They might never discover that their host had previously deleted profiles, perhaps with salacious feedback that would make them think twice about surfing with them.
It doesn't take long for a willing Bedouin CouchSurfing host to amass another collection of positive reviews in such a heavily trafficked area—a profile clean of unwanted comments (either by learning from their mistakes or by omission from fear of feedback reprisals).
So, what's a CouchSurfer to do for a host in Petra?
For starters, I'd probably suggest passing on the cave sleepover invitation if you're a woman.