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David Cozart is an American teacher at a private school in Pristina. He’s also a couchsurfing king, having hosten 200 people in the last 6 months from all over the world.
You’re travelling somewhere new this summer, right?
You’re wondering about the accommodation you can find – cheap, environmentally-friendly, not too touristy?
Couchsurfing is your solution.
Better than cheap, it’s free, and it saves you not just money, but all the wasted resources of hotel rooms with their teeny plastic-packaged toiletries, their televisions for every guest, the towels relaundered every day. Moreover, couch-surfing is the way to get under the skin of a city, to understand it from a local’s point of view, and maybe have a chance to contribute something while you’re there.
Visit www.couchsurfing.org (‘the world’s largest travel community’) for the full definition, but in essence it’s a way of travelling that enables you to be put in touch with contacts who can host you (on a couch or with a spare bed, or with space to put up a tent, or without offering accommodation at all, but meeting you for a drink to give you advice about places to see) for your stay in a foreign city.
David Cozart is an American teacher at a private school in Pristina. He’s also a couch-surfing king. He’s hosted 200 people in the last 6 months. They’ve been from all over the globe – a little United Nations of travellers from across Europe and the English-speaking world, but also Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan, Israel, Russia, Brazil and Somalia.
“I just wish I’d got to meet the guy from Iran they turned back at the airport,” David says. “He had one digit wrong in my phone number and the people in Kosovan immigration didn’t believe that he had a host here, and he wasn’t able to contact me.
“They tried the same thing with an Egyptian couch-surfer but luckily he had my number saved and so was able to contact me to come and vouch for him at the airport.”
It’s a nice story, and you think David must be a nice guy. And then you think what that story really means. David has spent a day teaching. He’s got back to his flat, to find a number of couch-surfers hanging out there (he tells me that last week he had 12 people staying). He sits down to dinner, starts to settle into his evening - and then a stranger from Egypt calls from the airport, and so David gets in a car and drives the 30 minutes to Sllatina to negotiate with the immigration authorities and bring the traveler home to a safe bed.
It’s madness, and it’s marvellous hospitality, in the extreme Albanian version, where your home, as the Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini says, ‘belongs to God and the guest’.
It’s clear from the comments on the couch-surfing website that David is an inspiration to the people who stay with him. He’s a gentle, thoughtful man and his guests talk about leaving his home as better people.
While they’re staying, David shares his knowledge of Pristina, and he encourages guests to take part in volunteering activities – the ‘Let’s Do It Kosova’ clean-up campaign, or events for World Environment Day (or, yes, helping with sorting clothes and teaching kids at The Ideas Partnership’s activities in the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian neighbourhood of Fushë Kosovë).
David is typically modest about his generosity in sharing his home with others, “everyone that has surfed at my place has enriched my days and given me reason to smile,” he says. “I never turn on my TV because talking to real people about their real lives is much more interesting.”
David’s record of visitor numbers is unrivalled, but if he is the king of couchsurfers, he is not alone in the couch-surfing court.
There are 140 couch-surfers registered as hosts in Pristina, Most, of course, are Kosovars, though there is a handful of expats like David. They’ve all signed up to the couch-surfing code which includes the basic principles about tolerance, the community’s self-moderation, that the service is free (no asking for money or labour in exchange for your couch) and has the aim of friendship (one rule is ‘don’t go looking for a date… we will consider this harassment’). But there’s always room for one more – Why not join them?
And even if you don’t want to offer accommodation to others in Pristina, you can always use the service as a guest on your travels this summer. There is no requirement for direct reciprocity so you can couch-surf with someone else before hosting travellers at your home.
But, as David says, “what’s stopping you? These are life-affirming relationships you’re making.”
Elizabeth Gowing is a founder of The Ideas Partnership, a Kosovan NGO working on educational, cultural and environmental projects. She is also the author of the recently-published, Travels in Blood and Honey; becoming a beekeeper in Kosovo. She can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org
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