I sensed something strange when I arrived. The hostess was a middle aged Italian woman called Floriana. She seemed nice at first, but immediately told me she has a cat that is very unfriendly and attacks people, so I need to shut the door wherever I go. Also, her son is staying there. None of these were mentioned in the airbnb description. Though I felt strange, I thought I could live with that. So I continued to smile brightly to her and tried to be nice to her. At the first breakfast the following morning, she came into the kitchen, saw I was having coffee and tea in the same time. She told me I cannot have tea or coffee anytime after breakfast. Because only breakfast is included. Then she screamed at the little bit of water I just spilled on the table, not knowing how to work the kettle. She screamed to me with a very loud voice,”ah!!! Look at this! What you have done! You have to clean everything you use, ok?!” So I said I’m sorry, cleaned everything immediately. She then said “You are not allowed to be in the kitchen after 10:30am, because I have to cook for my son. You can only stay in the kitchen from 8am-10:30am, you understand?” Even though none of this was mentioned at the listing, and I would have never booked the stay if there were such restrictions, as a long term practitioner of Byron Katie’s Love and Peace belief and the philosophy of Taoism, I said to myself, it was all just me, in my own head, that I am projecting this. She is a nice person and I don’t need to pick a fight with her to ruin my stay. And so, I didn’t have more tea or coffee after breakfast, and didn’t set my foot into the kitchen after 10:30 am for the rest of my stay there.
Then on the day of my departure, my flight was at 3:30pm and I planned to leave the apt. at 1:30pm. Since she asked me about my arrival time, but never the departure time, I assumed it was quite flexible. I walked out of the apt. around 11:30, sitting at a cafe quite far from the apt. I texted her just to inform her and ask her if it’s OK that I check out at 1:30pm? She said “no, the check out time is at 11.” I wrote back, “I’m sorry, I didn’t see that earlier and normally, all the hosts on airbnb have asked me before I leave to arrange the departure.” She wrote, “It’s written on the side of your bed. How could you have not seen it? You need to come back and get your luggage.” I said, “OK, I’m sorry I didn’t see it. I’ll need 20 minutes to come back and pack my luggage. Or…I’ve already packed my luggage, you can take it out of my room and leave it in the living room. Please let me know what you prefer to do.” She wrote back. “I will move your luggage.”
When I went back, she immediately fired at me, screaming at me hysterically. Calling me blind, I don’t have eyes, i don’t say thank you, (which is really not true. I feel I’ve said the most thank you and I’m sorry in my life in these three days, also a few of them recorded on my sms exchanges with her.) She called me a bad person, and many ugly names, and did not seem to want to stop after more than 10 minutes of screaming at me. Meanwhile, her grownup son was at the apt., which added more to my fear. At first, I was stunned by the violence and anger coming from this woman, then I thought about an earlier news on NYTimes about an Airbnb user raped by his host. I realised how helpless I was in that situation. Being in a foreign country without speaking the language. Even if she doesn’t physically attack me, though it felt she could any moment, she could have called the police and accused me of some crime. And I would have no way to defend myself in a place most people didn’t speak English at all. Being a 5’3 tall, rather petite Asian-American woman, I never felt unsafe traveling the world. It is what my professional and life requires, and I was proud I didn’t have problems with it. But this time, for the first time, I was seriously scared. The best I could do was to take some short videos of her screaming at me. I think every time I raised my phone, she saw it and would quiet down a bit, walk away. You can view one of the videos here https://www.facebook.com/jenny.q.chai/posts/573688777541. As soon as I put down my phone, she would come back and scream at me again. This went on for a few times for another while. At some point, I told her I have to use the bathroom before going on the long ride to the airport. She said “no, this is not your time anymore. You cannot use my bathroom.” I said, “I can’t even use your bathroom? I really need to go!” She then screamed to me with this abusive attitude, “say ‘thank you!’” I was too afraid that time, thought the best way would be to comply to her craziness. So I said “thank you.” She seemed to be pleased a little, so I used the bathroom. As soon as I came out of the bathroom, she started firing at me again. At a certain point she went into the kitchen, I thought I saw her coming out from there grabbing something in her hands. I grabbed my things and ran out of her apt.as fast as I could I got on a cab and was still worried that she could call the police to accuse me or harm me somehow. I called the Emergency help line of Airbnb on the cab. Broke down to tears as I was describing the situation to them. I told the representative I was so traumatised. The person was very nice. Said he will wait for me to upload my videos, meanwhile, he’ll cut the contact from that host, because for me, to hear or receive anything more from this person would add more to the trauma. Even though I appreciated the empathy I received from Airbnb, I now feel, what can they really do if terrible things happened to me in that apartment in Bari, Italy? If I were in U.S. or even China, where I speak the language, I could have called the police immediately. I would also like to take legal action to the abusiveness this person demonstrated on me. But in a foreign country, without speaking the language, and Airbnb being the official party, who operates all the way on the east coast in the U.S. while real trauma was happening to me, what could they have done?
Now Airbnb does nothing after even receiving the video.