Friday, January 29, 2010

Couch Surfing

Oh the things that have been written about Eastern DRC this week.

There is this piece by David Smith of the Guardian, happily deconstructed here.

A selection:
I could see people sitting in grime on the streets, trying to sell whatever they could – live chickens*, sacks of grain, flimsy towers of eggs, pairs of shoes. Others occupied concrete shells and offered fruit and vegetables from unclean floors.

Then there are the nascent columns by Nicholas Kristof, notes jotted down in his blog, written about here by the always fantastically interesting Texas in Africa (whose links to all of the above pieces I have just shamelessly stolen, sorry & thank you, and who should always be read).

And then there is the article that I want to write. It’s also about Eastern DRC. (Actually, can I say “also about Eastern DRC” when those two pieces above are in actuality about sensationalism, self-congratulations, and hyperbole, rather than any specific place?)

I was out at a bar two nights ago and I met a few tourists who were passing through. They weren’t staying at any of the hotels in town. They were Couch Surfers. I feel that Mr. Kristof, who is scared to take a taxi here, should know that, in Goma at least, Couch Surfing is alive and thriving.

Haven’t heard of Couch Surfing? It’s what’s called a hospitality exchange network. Basically, it’s like Facebook, only you befriend strangers, meet them in person, and then sleep on their couches as you are traveling through town**. People do this all over the world. Congolese people from Goma are members of this network and people from other countries (I met an American woman and a Serbian man) befriend them on the website and then sleep on their couches.

Dear Mr. Kristof & Mr. Smith: This happens here, too.

*Note: If someone is selling, for example, live chickens, chances are that he didn't just stumble upon them and decide to sell them as he is selling anything he can. Chances are - obviously - that he is a farmer. Who has raised those chickens from eggs. To sell. And that is his job. And that is how he supports his family. And it's a respectable job. Is that truly so hard to understand?

**Disclosure: I know a guy who used to work for Couch Surfers and when he first told me about it, I told him I thought the website was a great idea as a way to get robbed and murdered and a terrible idea other than that. But I’m thinking I may need to rethink this former thought.

1 comment:

texasinafrica said...

Steal away! Thanks for the links!