****Winner of the 2016 Host Stories Contest. Please note, this story reflects the original user submission. The content has not been edited.****
Here for Keeps
No, we didn't really keep our Airbnb guests. But they are now fully located within our community and personally enscounced in our hearts - hopefully forever!
It all started as an inquiry in March from Yuana, stating they are a family of four - to include an eight year old girl and a six year old boy - in Amman, Jordan that would be moving to Oregon in August where her husband would be taking a teaching job at the University. Yuana stated they needed temporary accommodation while looking for a house and she booked our Airbnb loft for two weeks, from the end of August to the beginning of September. She explained that they would be traveling from Turkey, "therefore the Turkish cellphone number." The profile picture was of a man and a woman in a desert landscape, he unshaven and unsmiling; she wearing glasses and a hijab.
The Airbnb reservation was quickly confirmed and we sent a note that we were delighted they would be staying in our loft and that we would touch base with them again shortly before their arrival.
We were thrilled with the idea of Yuana and her family staying with us but wondered at the daunting enormity of hardships confronting them: traveling 7,000 miles with two young children to a new community in a foreign country; finding that the destination town is actually additional hours of travel by shuttle from the major city airport; coming to a city with a limited supply of housing; and arriving just in time to start work and school. We had no information as to any other local contacts they had or what, if any, support services and/or supplies they had or would need. We hoped, and crossed our fingers, that they had the where-with-all to make this move and/or would let us know otherwise. We couldn't imagine how anyone could pull this off.
At the end of May, Yuana let us know their itinerary was confirmed for arrival in the early morning hours of their reservation start date. We responded that we would gladly pick them up at the shuttle stop.
We had no further contact for two and a half months. We did hear, however, about the failed coup attempt in Turkey and the subsequent turmoil and confusion in that country. We had no idea if Yuana and her family were in Turkey nor how or whether the upheaval might be affecting them and their plans. We read that academics were being arrested and we suspected that travel might be disrupted. At the same time, our country was experiencing an increase in anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiments. We knew that our community would be welcoming but were not sure Yuana and her family knew that.
It was now ten days prior to their scheduled stay in our Airbnb loft and we initiated contact to say we were looking forward to their arrival and to let us know if there was anything we could do prior to their arrival to make their transition a bit easier. A few days went by with no response. This heightened our concern that something amiss might be adversely affecting their arrival to our Airbnb and to their new community and life. We realized that, as has happened to us with many of our Airbnb guests, we had already become invested in and attached to Yuana and her family.
Then the most welcoming and reassuring message came from Yuana stating they were in the middle of tying up loose ends but were planning to arrive on the scheduled date to the shuttle drop-off hotel. She wondered if we could suggest or arrange a ride for their family of four from the shuttle hotel to our place - along with at least eight luggages and additional cabin bags. We immediately replied that we would gladly pick them up.
We asked Yuana to give us a list of some grocery items to get them started and were able to stock the loft with milk, eggs, bread, cheese, Nutella, cucumbers and tomatoes, in addition to the coffee, tea, and fixings that are always present for all guests. We smiled at the Nutella request and the specification for white bread - signs that children, as well as non-children, are never really foreign.
Privately, we were most concerned about housing. They were moving here but did not have a home. We couldn't imagine anyone being able to find a suitable family rental in our community just before the start of the school year and then to actually move in - all within two weeks. Although we had asked Yuana about arrival issues, we had not asked her about subsequent living plans or arrangements. We didn't think it was our business to do so but . . . we nevertheless pondered a potential problem that might pop up two weeks after arrival: no home! We truly hoped that someone else was helping them with housing and settlement issues but . . . we didn't know.
We were waiting at the hotel when the shuttle and our family arrived - tired but safe and sound. After a quick greeting and introduction, we split the family and belongings into our two vehicles and brought everyone and everything home in one short trip. Much of the luggage went right into our garage for storage; the essentials went up to our Airbnb loft above the garage to settle in with Yuana, Serkan, Dilara, and Ali, all of whom needed sleep more than anything else in the immediate present.
On the short trip from the hotel to our home and loft, we did elicit from Yuana that they did not have permanent housing arranged and would love any help or suggestions from us on that matter. We agreed to get into that - as well as a grocery trip - the next day.
They had arrived. That part of their journey was over. But where and how to establish a home and life in a new city in a new world still lay in front of them. They were now part of our family and community and we knew we were going to be there for them. It seemed problematic, however, that we were a settled retired couple and they a young family on the move. Issues of finding homes, living, working, raising children, and schooling were in past places and times for us; these same issues were in the current place and time for them. What did we know and how could we help them?
Well . . .what we had were contacts. And it turned out that Serkan had contacts at the University and Yuana found a contact from her home country. And our contacts had other contacts and Serkan and Yuana's contacts had other contacts and bit by rapid bit, everything needed for life and living started falling into place for the family. And to our great surprise, they found a beautiful home in a residential neighborhood close to campus for Serkan and in a great school district for the children. And they actually were able to move in to their new home as their two-week stay with us ended and school started for the kids.
During their two-week stay with us, we came to know and love all of them and share in some of their new adventures. They are a beautiful family. Serkan is gentle, intelligent and quick to smile. Yuana is the beautiful and wise force that brings the family together and moves it ever forward. Dilara is a true charmer who loves to read and tell stories. Ali is full of cheerful mischief and is more likely to climb over the gate then to open it and walk through. It took all of less than a day for the children to become fond of chasing our dog, Jones, around and through the house and for Jones to become quite expert at stealing Nutella sandwiches from Ali and persuading Dilara to share a bit of cheese.
It has been three months now as we sit down to write this story. Yuana and the kids will sometimes stop by when they are at the nearby library. Dilara is always first through the gate and gets a welcome hug while she begins to tell us her latest news and as Ali climbs over the gate and begins his tracking of Jones. Yuana follows through with a smile and we catch up on life over a cup of coffee or tea while Ali climbs the cupboards looking to sneak a cookie or two. Jones usually ends up on Dilara's lap and gazes up at her sweet face as she relates a story or two. We have been to their home to fix things (we have tools), sip tea (they have great teas); and sometimes share a meal (including a terrific Turkish dinner last weekend). Christmas is less than two weeks away and they will join us at our home on Christmas day for a roast beef dinner - with pie because that is Ali's favorite food group.
It turns out that we could write a story about many of our treasured Airbnb guests and hosting experiences. We continue to have the best guests in the world and have many fond and funny and remarkable stories to tell. However, it is probably safe to say that Yuana and Serkan and Dilara and Ali are our favorite and most special people: once guest; now family. They are here in our community and in our lives for keeps - and it is we who are truly enriched.