Sharing your space with strangers
I got an email that said my wife was inviting me on a trip to Canada and to sign up with Airbnb to see the details.
Excited, I punched in my details and found out that we were booked in someone’s home. “I can’t live with some stranger,” I told my wife, though when I landed in Dubai I initially shared flats with people I had never met in my life.
A couple of acquaintances had advised me not to rent a place for myself, but to share as it would be much cheaper and I could save oodles of money. “Rent is expensive, but food is cheap,” they said. It sounded like a Marxist slogan.
It was not illegal to share a flat in Dubai with someone at that time, unlike today when you are looked down upon disdainfully as a ‘single bachelor’. The other day, a couple I know said their building has been invaded by “bachelors”. “Strange people stare at me in the lift,” said the friend’s wife. It sounded like an alien invasion and I wondered whether I should get a black suit and dark glasses.
During my early days in Dubai, when I went visiting a friend, I found masses of people stumbling out of tiny rooms and greeting me. “This is my friend, his wife, and that’s my uncle who is visiting us [actually, he is here on a visit visa and looking for a job] and that’s my uncle’s friend who is visiting from RAK, and I don’t know who that is,” said my friend joking.
I told him that I was advised to share an apartment and that I was in the market. “Where are you staying now?” he asked. I told him the name of the hotel in downtown Dubai. He was horrified.
“Nobody stays in a hotel when you have friends in Dubai. You should have called me,” he said, suggesting that I should have shacked up with this crowd.
I am a private person, I like my own space. After work I like to ball up into a sofa, switch on the TV and watch my favourite soap opera or dig into a book. I did not care what psychologists said about loners and how dangerous they are, I just wanted my “me time”.
Sharing a bathroom was the ultimate horror for me. Most probably I have OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and I tend to wash my hands a lot.
A couple of years later when I covered the health beat as a reporter, doctors said the best way to avoid any serious infection was to wash your hands, but they did not say how many times, so washing hands took a lot of my free time. I was always trying to place my toothbrush onto a dry spot on the shelf which somehow always got wet and sloshy whenever someone else used the bathroom.
With the past reeling in my brain like a forgotten bad dream that somehow had resurfaced, I shook my head at my wife. “Why not book into a motel?” I said. “It would still cost a fortune for the month we will be there,” she said. “This is a split-level apartment,” she said.
I looked up Airbnb and it said, “travel like a local, book homes in more than 191 countries and experience a place like you live there”, said the blurb on the website.
“Hey, this seems like a great idea,” I told my wife. “We should rent out our flat while we are on vacation,” I said. Then I found a website that said, “Airbnb Hell-hosting stories and guest stories.”
“We booked a two suite-apartment in Miami Beach…” started one story and then it slowly turned into a Stephen King tale of horror.
Mahmood Saberi is a freelance journalist based in Dubai